The ongoing conflict is Gaza is weird in many ways. First, there's the obvious question of why the Hamas suddenly decided, on December 19, to end their truce with Israel, and revert to their annoying habit of firing rockets at their neighbors. There are two plausible explanations, both related to elections. There will be a major election in Israel in February, and it's possible that Hamas leaders imagined naively that Israel wouldn't wish to get involved in military operations before then. Then there's the US situation, where Bush is about to leave, and Obama about to arrive. Maybe Hamas imagined that they could take advantage of a narrow "window" (to use space jargon) during which they could get away with mischief, with no threat of backlash.
A French military expert provided a quite different speculation for the Hamas decision. Everybody knows that defense research and development are leaping ahead in Israel, and that they'll soon have a sophisticated protective system capable of detecting and destroying the relatively primitive rockets that are being fired from Gaza. So, this might be a kind of last offensive fling for Hamas.
One has the impression that, if the Hamas really wished to end the beating that Gaza has been receiving from Tsahal, the obvious simple solution would consist of ceasing to fire any more rockets. But Hamas is basically a terrorist organization, and it simply doesn't reason this way. In a pure terrorist style, they're firing their rockets at civilian targets in Israel, and they're using their own Palestinian civilians as protective "padding" around their launchers.
In angering and provoking the military might of Israel, could it be said that the Hamas is behaving in a suicidal fashion? No, not really. Insofar as the Fatah and the West Bank "nation" have ceased to be credible, the Hamas has nothing to lose, and everything to gain. Besides, we must never forget that they were elected by Palestinians to play exactly the kind of role that they're playing at present. It might be madness, but there's method in it.
Then, there's the unexpected mission of Nicolas Sarkozy, which started today. Like many people, I was surprised to see the Israeli minister of Foreign Affairs, Tzipi Livni, dropping in on the French president in Paris on New Year's Day... an hour or so after Israel's refusal to accept a cease-fire with Hamas.
It was barely a day earlier that an unofficial announcement on the Israeli radio revealed that the French president would be setting out, during the first week of the new year (that's to say, as of today, January 5), upon an in-depth peace-seeking trip through the Middle East. It was as if Tzipi Livni jumped the starting block, the following day, in deciding to visit Sarkozy in Paris. Does Livni really imagine that Sarkozy's rapid trip around the Middle East (including a visit to Syria) might bring peace to Gaza? Does Sarkozy himself imagine such a possibility? The answer to each of these questions is a resounding no. All this rushing around is merely a way of spending time and putting on a show while the dirty work of eradicating the Hamas is conducted in an orderly and systematic fashion, taking all the time that's required.
A terribly incongruous aspect of this conflict is the fact that the Hamas still refuses to recognize the existence of Israel... which is beating the hell out of Gaza. That's not merely an incongruous situation; it's frankly surrealist.
With the arrival of Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton on the international diplomatic scene, are we likely to witness, at last, the creation of an authentic Palestinian nation in the foreseeable future? I don't think so. Little by little, that grand idea is being transformed into an impossible dream, a permanent legend.
Last but not least, the most incongruous thing of all is the fact that, in spite of Israel's understandable irritation about all those small rockets fired from Gaza, it would be absurd to suggest that Israel is genuinely upset in any serious way by the antagonistic behavior of Palestinians in general, and the Hamas in particular. Think of what's happening today in Gaza rather as a kind of training session or warm-up for the real action, which will come later on, against an authentic heavyweight enemy. I'm referring, of course, to Israel's determination to knock out, sooner or later (and probably sooner rather than later), the nuclear capacity of Iran.