THE outbreak of violence in and around the Gaza Strip earlier this week, which resulted in the deaths of 25 Palestinians, including five civilians, was a reminder of how other crises in the region have overshadowed the Arab-Israeli conflict. Scores of people were injured during heavy Israeli air and ground attacks.
The violence followed a common pattern: the targeting by Israel of Islamic militant leaders, the firing of rockets into Israel, and a devastating Israeli military response. Egypt stepped in as a mediator, and, despite some early failures, by midweek a truce had largely taken hold.
One difference from previous conflicts was that Hamas, the Islamist group that governs Gaza, did not become involved. The rockets were fired by members of Islamic Jihad and other smaller Palestinian factions.
Leaders of Hamas have indicated that they are not keen to become embroiled in a wider conflict with Israel because of the huge loss of life and material damage that Israeli attacks invariably cause. Hamas is also keen not to derail Egyptian-brokered attempts to mend relations with the Fatah-dominated Palestinian Authority in the West Bank.
But the outbreak of fighting across the Gaza-Israel border reflects, in part, the frustration felt by Palestinians at the way their grievances have been side-tracked by the conflict in Syria. Several Arab commentators have contrasted the zeal with which the Gulf States have taken up the cause of the Syrian rebels in their struggle against the Damascus government with the decades of indifference towards the Palestinians’ struggle against Israel.
Abdel Bari Atwan, the editor of the pan-Arab daily Al-Quds al-Arabi, citing the call by Saudi Arabia and Qatar for arms to be supplied to the Syrian opposition, wondered why similar action was not being proposed for Palestinians who opposed Israeli occupation.
The latest Gaza violence should also be seen in the context of the deepening crisis in Iran. Israel seemed keen to send out a message that it would respond swiftly to any attack on its territory, and showed that its missile defence system was effective; most Palestinian rockets were destroyed before impact. This outcome was intended both to deter would-be attackers and reassure Israelis.
The relative ineffectuality of rocket barrages from Gaza, and the disproportionate Israeli response, appear to be significant factors in altering Hamas’s thinking on the whole Arab-Israeli conflict.