Skirmishes Have Israel, Hamas on Brink of War

Neither side appears to want one, but neither is backing down, either
By Newser Editors and Wire Services
Posted Apr 19, 2022 4:59 PM CDT
Skirmishes Have Israel, Hamas on Brink of War
Palestinians shoot fireworks at Israeli police in the Old City of Jerusalem on Sunday, April 17, 2022.   (AP Photo/Mahmoud Illean, File)

Days of violence in Jerusalem and an exchange of fire in Gaza overnight have raised the possibility that Israel and Gaza's Hamas rulers will once again go to war, as they did less than a year ago under similar circumstances, per the AP. This time around, both Israel and Hamas have strong incentives to avoid all-out war. But neither wants to be seen as retreating from a Jerusalem holy site at the heart of the century-old Mideast conflict, so further violence cannot be ruled out. "At this stage it’s political theater in which everybody is playing his part," said Gideon Rahat, a senior fellow at the Israel Democracy Institute, a local think tank. "But sometimes the gun that appears in the first scene will shoot at the end."

For Hamas, another war would devastate Gaza, which has hardly begun to rebuild after the last one. And Israel would wield a potent new weapon—the ability to revoke thousands of work permits issued in recent months that provide an economic lifeline to Palestinians in the blockaded territory. For Israel, war could set back efforts to sideline the conflict and damage burgeoning ties with Arab states. The broad-based governing coalition, which lost its majority this month, is at a small but growing risk of having a key Arab partner bolt, which would set the stage for new elections.

All of those factors help explain the relative restraint up until now: Israel intercepted the Gaza rocket, its airstrikes caused little damage, and no one was hurt. Neither Hamas nor any other group claimed the launch. At the same time, neither Israel nor Hamas can be seen as backing down over a major holy site in east Jerusalem that is sacred to Jews and Muslims, where Palestinians and Israeli police clashed over the weekend. The Al-Aqsa Mosque is the third holiest site in Islam. Palestinians view it as the one tiny part of their homeland that has yet to be taken over by Israel, which seized east Jerusalem, the West Bank, and Gaza in the 1967 Mideast war.

(More Israel stories.)

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