Although Israel and Hamas, the Islamic militant organization that governs the Gaza Strip, are bitter enemies that have fought many times over the years, the current bloody clash has the potential of igniting a full-scale war. And if war does come, it could easily spread through the Middle East.
The time bomb has been ticking in that troubled part of the world for some time, with the civil war in Syria and the spread of Islamic extremism in Iraq making a tense situation even more acute.
The fighting between Israel and Hamas, which is sworn to the destruction of the Jewish state, is the heaviest since the eight-day battle in November 2012. A truce was declared after Egypt, governed at the time by the Muslim Brotherhood, brokered a cease-fire.
The Brotherhood, which is an ally of Hamas, is no longer in control of Egypt. It was overthrown in a 2013 coup and has been replaced by a government that sees Hamas as a threat and has made moves, such as sealing the tunnels between Egypt and the Gaza Strip, to curtail its operations. The tunnels are used for smuggling goods and have become the territory’s economic lifeline.
Thus, the situation today is much more tenuous and dangerous because Hamas has vowed to retaliate for the air raids conducted this week by Israel.
The Israelis have been bombing storage sites said to house the rockets that are Hamas’ weapons of terror and are targeting the homes of known terrorist leaders. Thus far, almost 30 people in Gaza have been killed and more than 100 wounded.
An Israeli missile strike in northern Gaza reportedly took the life of a commander of the Al-Quds Brigades, the armed wing of Islamic Jihad. Also reportedly killed were his parents, a woman and two children.
Early this week, Israeli forces built up along the border, and the government authorized the activation of 40,000 reservists, to bolster the 1,000 soldiers and 1,500 reservists called up previously.
While the military operation was confined to airstrikes, Israeli officials made it clear that a ground invasion would be ordered if Hamas fighters did not cease the rocket attacks.
The danger of this situation getting out of control and spreading throughout the region is not lost on the Arab League, which urged the United Nations Security Council to stop the violence.
The Israel-Hamas bloody clashes were triggered by the kidnapping and murder of three Israeli teenagers by suspected Hamas operatives, and the retaliation by Jewish settlers against a teenage Palestinian boy who was forced to drink gasoline and then set on fire.
Considering the tensions that are ever present between Israelis and Palestinians, the chances of a lasting peace are becoming more remote by the day.
The U.N. may well be the last hope for a cease fire.