A host of Israeli newspapers have published calls for Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu to obliterate Hamas, not just suppress it. Those calling for a full-scale invasion admit the war will cost the Israelis a high price, but say local public opinion is willing to accept those costs.
Some see the battle as a rare opportunity, considering the Egyptians’ preoccupation with their own domestic affairs and their general dispute with Hamas. Previously, Egypt played the role of the mediator and exerted pressure on the Israelis to prevent them from altering the status quo in Gaza. Late Intelligence Chief Omar Suleiman used to open up tunnels, turn a blind eye to the smuggling of arms to Hamas and negotiate on behalf of Hamas’ leaders. But that situation has changed drastically since Hamas sided with the Muslim Brotherhood against the government of Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah El-Sisi.
The most serious aspect of these calls for a complete invasion is the uprooting of Hamas from Gaza, like Israel did to the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) in 1982. At that time, then-Israeli defense minister Ariel Sharon surprised the world when he sent his forces towards the Lebanese capital, Beirut, announcing he had one mission: eliminating Fatah and its leaders, most prominently PLO chairman Yasser Arafat. Sharon succeeded in eliminating the armed Palestinian presence on Israel’s borders, and Fatah’s leaders were exiled to Tunisia, Sudan and Yemen. Israel forced Arafat into exile from Lebanon to Tunisia, believing it had gotten rid of him. But with the Oslo Agreement, Arafat returned to Palestine itself, to Gaza and Ariha, along with tens of thousands of his fighters.
The Israelis are now threatening a full invasion that aims to get rid of Hamas’ leaders and force them into exile, probably to Qatar and Iran, in my view, as part of a push towards totally lifting the siege. But Israel knows that Hamas—despite its extremism and connections with hostile parties such as Iran—may pose less of a danger to Israel than Salafist jihadist groups that may be linked to Al-Qaeda. Over the past few years, Hamas has taken it upon itself to curb extremist powers in Gaza. Hamas dared to destroy a mosque over the head of an extremist group in Gaza—so who has the power to police the front with Israel?
The miracle that this tragedy could achieve would be for Israel to reach a political solution with Hamas itself—one that would lead to the lifting of checkpoints and the boycott, and to opening a port to allow fishing. In return, Hamas would have to commit to an agreement similar to that which the Palestinian Authority agreed in the West Bank.