In over five years as U.S. Ambassador to Israel, I found no issue more impervious to solutions than Gaza. We were constantly preventing, managing or responding to crises -- trying to head off terror attacks by Hamas and others, supporting Israel’s right to defend itself, negotiating ceasefires and working to alleviate human suffering.
I also learned that Gaza wars follow a kind of routine. Hamas upgrades its attack capabilities, and tensions build. Both sides prefer to avoid an escalation, but some incident, perhaps unintended, leads Hamas to increase the rate of rockets fired into Israel. Eventually, Israel deems the provocations intolerable, and launches a heavier response, such as when it conducted a targeted strike on Hamas military wing chief Ahmed Jabari at the start of Operation Pillar of Defense in 2012. A full-on conflict ensues, with ceasefire negotiations competing with Hamas rocket and tunnel attacks, Israeli airstrikes, and calls from the Israeli public for a ground invasion to “finish the job.”
Unhappily, there are growing signs that this cycle is about to start anew. Rockets are fired by Salafist groups (hardliners such as those affiliated with Islamic State) into Israel, actions that Hamas either permits or fails to prevent, and Israel responds with carefully placed airstrikes. Few casualties have resulted on either side so far, but the exchanges are now coming every few days. Hamas itself sends test launches of upgraded rockets out to sea. In plain sight from the Israeli side of the border, Hamas brazenly digs new tunnels. At least 15 of them, according to Israeli estimates, now extend under Israeli territory. Israeli patrols periodically encounter explosives placed along the border fence.