Israel's strategy has five components. Striking Jabari was meant to frighten Hamas' military leaders -- both with death and with the prospect that their organization could disintegrate under a continuous loss of senior leaders. Second, Israel is actually trying to degrade Hamas' organizational capacity -- and thereby render it incapable of protecting or providing for Gazans -- by hitting other leadership targets, police facilities, and elements of Hamas' military and political infrastructure. As the conflict has worn on, Israel has gone from strictly military sites to political and media ones, demonstrating to Hamas that Israel can increase the pressure. Third, Israel has destroyed many of the long-range rockets that enabled Hamas to target Tel Aviv and Jerusalem. (At the same time, it has accepted that small towns near the Gaza border and large cities like Ashdod and Beersheva will be in range of Hamas' shorter-range rockets, which have proven harder to destroy.) Fourth, Israel is relying on the "Iron Dome" missile defense system to shoot down incoming rockets (the government claims a 90 percent effectiveness rate) and to serve as a visible symbol that the government is protecting its people. Finally, Israel has called up reserves and threatened to send ground troops to Gaza, signaling to Hamas that it can dramatically escalate the conflict.
Israeli leaders often cite the struggle against Hezbollah as a model. The 2006 war went poorly for Israel's military, and the continuance of rocket attacks throughout the conflict led many observers at the time to declare it a political win for Hezbollah. But Hezbollah seemed deterred in the war's aftermath. It has kept the peace along Israel's border, and the last six years in the north have been quiet and rocket-free.
In a different way, Hamas' strategy is modeled after Hezbollah's approach during its 2006 war with Israel. Hamas cannot beat Israel, but it hopes to prove that it can outlast it. If Hamas can keep firing rockets, it can demonstrate to its own people that though it is bloodied, it is also unbowed. Moreover, by striking not only areas near Gaza but also firing on Tel Aviv and Jerusalem, Hamas is trying to bring the war home to all Israelis -- and score points with Palestinians at home with television images of Israelis running for cover. Ghazi Hamad, Hamas' deputy foreign minister, told CNN that Hamas wants to make it clear to Israel that it cannot "do everything" it wants in Gaza. "We send a message to them that Gaza is not an easy bone. ... You can't eat Gaza in one minute. If you do something, we will react." Hamas also hopes that continued rocket attacks will wear down the Israeli people, while international pressure will force Israel to give up the fight. Finally, Hamas feels confident -- or at least more confident -- that it has Egypt's backing, which it lacked when Hosni Mubarak was in power.
For now, both sides think they can win. Gaza is being hit far harder than Israel, but Hamas has far more tolerance for the casualties of its own people and fighters than does Israel. In fact, its military side is probably braying for revenge for Jabari's killing, and giving in too early would be risky for Hamas' political leaders, who worry that some of its military wing might join rival groups if they are seen as kowtowing to Israel. For Israel, on the other hand, calling for a ceasefire as rockets fall make it hard to claim that it restored deterrence and is bending Hamas to its awl. The fighting not only may continue for a while, but it could even expand as Israel in particular feels the need to ratchet up pressure.
Israelis believe that, even if Hamas agrees to a ceasefire now, they will probably have to hit Gaza hard again in future years to keep Hamas deterred. Cast Lead in their view worked -- but if Hamas is not regularly reminded of Israel's military superiority, Israel's deterrence will decline. However, in addition to the cost in lives and property, continued strikes will make Israel an even greater pariah and hinder any long-term hope for peace. Instead, Israel's coercion needs to be balanced with real incentives. For Hamas to again act as Israel's subcontractor, it needs to be able to score political wins among Palestinians by governing Gaza. It must have a chance to restore economic and social normalcy to the Strip. This achievement can then be held at risk if it uses violence -- or if it allows other groups to do so. Rather than be both a government and a resistance movement, Hamas must be forced to choose, with real rewards if it goes along a path toward peace and harsh punishment, internationally supported, if it refuses to reject violence.
To break the stalemate and end the fighting, both sides have to believe they will gain more from peace than from violence. For Israel this means a permanent end to rocket attacks from Gaza, including those fired by other groups. For Hamas it means that it must gain more of an ability to govern. Without such gains, any ceasefire is unlikely to hold.