I just returned from a 10-day visit to Israel, my first in 2 years - quite possibly the longest break in what has turned out to be more than 25 visits. My flight from Ben Gurion airport occurred on the eve of the discovery of the corpses of 3 Jewish teenagers who had gone missing 2 weeks earlier. This came after an over-the-top security crackdown in the Palestinian West Bank in which 5 Palestinians were killed in confrontations with the Israeli army.
Within 24 hours of the discovery of the 3 teenagers, a Palestinian teenager was found dead in a forest on the outskirts of Jerusalem, and the most reasonable conclusion is this murder was a revenge act carried out by Jewish civilians. The Israeli capital has since been witness to ongoing and growing skirmishes which have wrecked the municipal light rail connector to a northern Jewish suburb of Jerusalem. All this takes place during the first week of the Islamic commemoration of the first divine revelation to the prophet Muhammad - a time of increased religious sensitivity - coinciding with the Muslim month of Ramadan. Israeli authorities blocked the family of the slain teenager from congregating at the Noble Sanctuary of the Dome of the Rock, and this Friday morning's upcoming communal prayers at the Noble Sanctuary hold the potential for a new crescendo in intercommunal violence.
At the same time, and quite certainly unrelated to the savage death of these children, a barrage of Gaza-based rockets have been falling on southern Israel, with the predictable Israeli response: air attacks on targets in crowded Gaza with the attendant "collateral damage," a visible strengthening of ground forces around the Gaza ghetto, and behind-the-scenes consultations with Egypt, who convey Israeli demands to the leaders of Gaza, and provide assistance in closing off Gaza from the Egyptian side.
Israel is now descending into a cruel kind of hell - not unprecedented - but heavily laden with potential regional repercussions. Within hours of the discovery of the 3 teenagers, the inner sanctum Israeli security cabinet held an emergency meeting, where a significant rift emerged between one camp that wanted to "go medieval" on Hamas and the Palestinian territories, and one camp counseled a more attenuated response. The security cabinet has now met 4 times in the last 3 days, unable to reach a unanimous consensus on how to proceed. In the meantime, Israel's army anticipates a limited mobilization and contemplates far more.
Nothing of the last 4 days represents a change in the broader regional equation. There will be no truly destabilizing state-to-state conflict as a result of this blood revenge. Egypt's generals are not going to go to war even if Israel launches yet another full-scale assault on Gaza; Syria is completely consumed with her own struggles with ISIS, as is Jordan. There will be no war in Israel-Palestine this summer.
But there is the possibility of two kinds of unmanageable outcomes: a growing Palestinian expression of despondency and humiliation in the form of a new "shaking off"/intifada, which would mark a historic low point in the Israeli/Palestinian struggle; and a sudden escalation of the missile strategy on the part of Gazan rocketeers and possibly Hezbollah to the north, placing far more than the southern Gaza-ring Jewish citizens under potential threat. Either scenario is judged manageable by Israeli security analysts (armed with UAVs and Iron Dome), but if history teaches us anything, it is that events can often go careening off into trajectories not anticipated by the wisest of generals.
The "peace process" is dead. The Palestinian unity government, which is a precondition for any successful 2-state solution, is teetering, to the delight of Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu, who has no interest in consummating any kind of political deal at this time.
Both Israelis and Palestinians are frustrated and enraged, but both sides hold chess pieces in a complicated balance-of-terror calculus. What is true of this dangerous moment in the Arab-Israeli conflict is the same truth that has dictated the conduct of all sides since the struggle commenced. There are no peacemakers amongst the government in
Jerusalem, the council of clerics in Gaza, and the technocracy in
Ramallah. In any event, the general populace of Jerusalem, Gaza, and Ramallah are taking matters into their own bloody hands. All sides sadly must play out their bad positions until they conclude they must try another way. The history of this conflict is that each side is convinced that the other side only "understands" violence and threat. In the absence of a political process, communal violence and more-tit-for-less-tat reprisals are the standard operating procedure.
This slow-motion descent into savagery will have to play itself out, until someone says "uncle." Innocents and guilty on both sides alike will die as a result. Be prepared for a rough, but not apocalyptic, Ramadan intifada for the month of July.