As it seems to be embarking on its third war with Hamas in less than six years, Israel faces a foe that has lost most of its key allies and the attention of the international community.
The outrage that accompanied last week's discovery of the bodies of three kidnapped Israelis and a suspected revenge attack in which a Palestinian teenager was kidnapped and murdered has dissipated, even as the violence that followed has escalated. On Wednesday, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announced yet another expansion of the Israel Defense Forces' ongoing operation in Gaza. Here was a similar declaration yesterday:
›We have therefore significantly expanded our operations against Hamas and the other terrorist organizations in Gaza.›— Benjamin Netanyahu (@netanyahu) July 8, 2014
Ordinarily, this moment would be accompanied by a cascade of international opprobrium from Palestinian supporters, demands for restraint, and perhaps calls from Israel's own allies to rein in its forces. Yet even as the death toll in Gaza grows from the Israeli campaign — Israel has reportedly struck 400 targets in Gaza since yesterday morning from the sea and the air — there has been relative quiet about the battle. Hamas continues to fires its rockets, hundreds of them, deeper into Israeli territory than ever before, but the normally raucous international chorus has barely made a peep so far.
In an interview with the Times of Israel, a senior Israeli official said as much:
The international community is totally disinterested. Yes, there were a few press releases from [UK Foreign Secretary] William Hague and a few others, but generally the world doesn’t show any particular interest in this.”
There are many reasons for this seemingly peculiar insouciance. Here are a few:
The war-wrecked region
Officials and diplomats are exhausted, spread thin, and focused on seemingly bigger problems, as Syria's civil war grinds on and ISIS continues marauding across Iraq.
A Groundhog Day Syndrome
It's surreal to think that just nine weeks ago the deadline for Israeli and Palestinian negotiators to produce an outline for a comprehensive peace agreement passed, fruitlessly, and the American-brokered peace process collapsed. Now Israel and Hamas are battling for the third time in less than six years, in a conflict that more or less resembles the two previous ones.
The isolation of Hamas
In late 2012, the last time Israel and Hamas had more than just their conventional exchange of fire, the landscape looked much different. Hamas had an ally in Egypt President Mohamed Morsi, who hailed from the more sympathetic Muslim Brotherhood. Egypt even mediated the ceasefire that ended that round of hostilities between Israel and Hamas. With Morsi deposed and with military ruler pushing to keep Islamists and the Muslim Brotherhood at the margins, Hamas doesn't have a neighbor to turn to. Moreover, Egypt actually seems disinterested in getting involved at all.
Hamas has also lost Iran's patronage, with whom it split last year over Hamas' criticism of Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad and his attacks on Sunni Muslims in the Syrian civil war. Iran remains as one of Assad's few friends.
In other words, while Qatar and Turkey remain in Hamas' corner, so long as the group continues to fire rockets into Israeli civilian centers, the Israeli counterattack, which comes with a qualitative military edge, will seem warranted. For the time being, everyone else has lost the interest, energy, or willingness to do anything.
Hamas, which has ruled Gaza since 2007, has now lost the ability to govern, control the other rocket-firing terrorist groups in Gaza, easily replenish its weapons, pay salaries, and keep the electricity on. One could argue that this escalation is, in part, about Hamas seeking to assert itself again, in the only way it can. Or perhaps, as Zvi Bar'el suggests, it could even strengthen Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas.
Of course, this could all change in an instant given the volatility of the situation. But for now, the calm is particularly eerie, even as a war rages around it.