Could Israel's strike on Hamas military leader lead to full scale war? Q & A


Smoke rises following an Israeli air strike on a house in Gaza City, on November 14, 2012. Israel killed a top Hamas military commander in a targeted strike in Gaza, prompting outrage from militants who said the Jewish state had opened "the gates of hell."



The Israeli airstrike that killed Hamas's senior military leader Ahmed Jabari was part of "Operation Pillar of Cloud" launched in Gaza, after days of escalated conflict along the Israel-Gaza border.

What kind of long-term consequences will the airstrike have on an unstable region? GlobalPost spoke with William Martel, an associate professor of International Security Studies at Tufts University's Fletcher School of International Affairs, about the fallout.

How crippling is the death of Ahmed Jabari to Hamas?

The precise answer, and this will sound like an evasive answer but it’s the right answer, is that it depends on the specific capabilities, role and responsibility that Jabari had. It’s always hard to know how crippling this attack would be on Hamas. One suspects that it will have an effect, though it’s hard to know now. It’s a psychological advantage for Israel. How operationally crippling it is, is to be determined.

The Israeli military said this airstrike was the "start of an operation to cripple militant organizations that launch rockets from Gaza." Is this likely to escalate into a full on war like we saw 4 years ago?

It clearly signals Israeli resolve. It will likely be interpreted as a challenge by Hamas. I am skeptical that it would escalate into a full on war, but having said that I would prepare to be surprised if it does. I think 50/50 is the answer right now. It depends on the resolve Hamas detects on the part of Israel and also on Hamas’ capability to escalate matters, going forward.

There has also been news of Egypt recalling its ambassador to Israel. How likely is it that this will spread into a regional conflict?

Given that we’ve seen these kinds of military struggles between Israel and Hamas, I think the odds of it spreading are relatively low. In the last decade or so, we’ve seen these kinds of attacks launched by Israel. The two wild cards are that Egypt is a very different geopolitical space than it was a year ago. The other wildcard is Iran, and its increasing geopolitical influence in the Middle East.

How effective is taking out a commander like Jabari in stopping the rocket launches that Gaza militants aim at Israel?

The military command structures in organizations like Hamas are designed with redundancy. They are designed to function if anyone in a higher position is killed or otherwise incapacitated. Others would be able to step into the fray – that’s point one. Second, it’s always hard to know how these organizations are wired, as far as who actually has authority. The third point is that Hamas has to decide how risky it is for someone to step into the fray, to fill in Jabari's position. I think it has had a psychological effect on Hamas, and Hamas has to determine how effective Israeli attacks would be against individuals such as Jabari in the future.

What does Hamas gain from the rocket launches, since they are not likely to hit military targets? Is it psychological warfare?

It is precisely psychological warfare on Israeli society. It causes political uncertainty, fear and anxiety in civilian society. I think the consensus would be that it has been very effective... it has caused anxiety and concern within Israeli society to the point that the Israeli government decided to retaliate against a military leader of Hamas. The rocket launches by Hamas are a political and psychological tool to deplete the morale of another country.

What impact will this have on any peace process between Israel and the Palestinians?

There isn’t much of a peace process to talk about now. This [incident] will likely harden positions now. There is the possibility that as both sides watch this unfold it may provide some motivation, that this may be a time to engage in a peace process. However, I think any kind of peace process between the Israelis and Palestinians at this point is beyond moribund; it’s non-existent right now.

What we’re seeing now is growing uncertainty and growing instability in the Middle East, including the events in Iraq, the intervention there, Iran, its nuclear program, Egypt and its increasing regional influence, given its decision to recall its ambassador to Israel. I think we’re seeing a geopolitical shift in players and alliances in the Middle East.