In Gaza and Israel, different political forces are seeking a new Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
And although you're unlikely to hear it from many non-Israeli media outlets, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is the main voice against a new showdown.
Under significant economic pressure with no obvious prospect of relief, Hamas leaders are willing to roll the dice with escalated aggression against Israel. Because Hamas fighters are deeply ideologically motivated towards Israel's annihilation, it is easy for Hamas leaders to galvinize the organization around escalation. And each week they're doing so with more ferocity. At the same time, exceptionally savvy towards western media sympathies, Hamas continues to organize violent protests along the Israeli border. Here, Hamas' strategic objective is basic: provoke Israel into killing as many Palestinians (many of them terrorists disguised as civilians) as possible.
The situation is more complicated in Israel. There, momentum toward a showdown is largely driven by the competition between defense minister Avigdor Lieberman and education minister Naftali Bennett. Netanyahu leads a multi-party coalition government, but opinion polls suggest that Bennett's Jewish Home party could draw some conservative voters away from Lieberman's party if an election were held today. Bennett, always an exceptionally shrewd political operator, is thus seeking to appear as the more conservative candidate.
In that context, escalating Hamas activities have given Bennett excuse to discredit Lieberman as too weak to take action. But where Lieberman had largely ignored Bennett's pressure until now, he has recently started adopting a tougher tone. As Ynet News noted on Wednesday, Lieberman is now pushing the Israeli cabinet to authorize a wider air offensive targeting Hamas.
This puts Netanyahu in a difficult position. Soaring in the polls and with the Israeli Left in disunity and disarray, Netanyahu senses he could win a major victory by calling an early election. Netanyahu's legal troubles also give him reason to want to consolidate his government. Still, the prime minister also knows that the risks of a major operation in terms of Israeli lives and strategic outcomes, and international pressure, are significant.
And while Netanyahu has no major policy differences with President Trump aside from his close relations with China, he'll be keen not to risk any action that might jeopardize Trump's always-unpredictable temperament. Netanyahu is particularly dedicated to ensuring Trump maintains his pressure on Iran in Syria and beyond. The Iranian concern must not be discounted here: the Iranian hardliners are actively mobilizing towards a Syria-Lebanon-centric conflict with Israel if U.S. sanctions on Iran's oil sector – due for November – cause major harm to the Iranian economy.
Yet with Hamas continuing to fire rockets and plan attacks, his own ministers calling for escalation, and with Iran and the Lebanese Hezbollah paying close heed to Israeli responses, Netanyahu is left with little wiggle room. In short, with neither side willing to back down, the ingredients for a new conflict are brewing.