NORMAN — If the Israel-Hamas fighting feels like a rerun, that’s because it is.
This is the third round of Hamas rockets and Israel airstrikes since the Islamic militant group seized control of the Gaza Strip in 2007. And issues each time seem much the same: How can Hamas be compelled to stop firing rockets? Does Israel really have the will to reconquer a Hamas-ruled Gaza and oust the militants? Can the world tolerate Israel reacting with far deadlier force than the rockets themselves, as evidenced in the hugely lopsided casualty count that each time appears anew?
This round of violence came after peace talks collapsed, Israel tried to scuttle a Palestinian unity government and violence ratcheted up. With the Gazans now suffering more, one might expect internal pressure on Hamas to end the rocket fire, which would likely bring the airstrikes to a stop. But in a region where honor is key, and with the two sides not talking, outside mediation is badly needed for a mutually face-saving cease-fire.
In a strategic stalemate where neither side seems able to accept or defeat the other, here are some key issues at play:
It’s all about the rockets: The Israeli point of view is that Hamas has grown accustomed to firing rockets and no country would tolerate such attacks. Doing nothing is not an option, and pounding Hamas hard enough seems to eventually win some quiet. It views civilian deaths in airstrikes as regrettable but blames Hamas for locating launchers and weapons at civilian sites. Israel’s makes efforts to minimize “collateral damage,” like warning calls to residents and preceding big attacks on buildings with smaller bombs, a practice dubbed “roof-knocking.” Beyond this, Israelis see Hamas as a ruthless mortal enemy that cannot be accommodated and, due to its radical Islamic tenets, can barely be reasoned with.