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What Makes This Round Of Violence Between Israel And The Palestinians Different


This latest round of fighting, the fourth major battle since 2008, did not resolve any of the core issues between Israel and the Palestinians, but it did reveal new dynamics that could influence the conflict in the coming years. NPR national security correspondent Greg Myre is with us to talk about that. Good morning.


GARCIA-NAVARRO: Greg, you and I have covered this conflict going back many, many years. And I'm just wondering, did anything strike you as new and significant this time?

MYRE: Yeah, I think the sustained Hamas rocket attacks were quite noticeable - more than 4,000 rockets that landed all over the southern half of Israel, especially in the cities along the Mediterranean coast, including Tel Aviv. When Hamas was first making these crude, homemade rockets in the early 2000s, they were so feeble, they sometimes didn't make it out of Gaza. You talk to the Israeli military, and they'd say 10 rockets were fired from Gaza today, and five hit Israel. And what about the other five? Well, some landed inside Gaza. Some splashed into the Mediterranean. These rockets literally missed the country they were aimed at. They were - and they were wildly inaccurate for a reason. Hamas would cut down lampposts and use those for the launching tubes for these rockets.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: I mean, we should say Hamas, which rules Gaza, doesn't build bomb shelters for its peoples. It amasses weapons. So how did Hamas manage to develop this huge arsenal of rockets?

MYRE: Well, in a word, practice. You know, they also smuggled some rockets - Iranian rockets into Gaza using tunnels under the Gaza-Egypt border. But Egypt's President Sisi, who's no friend of Hamas - he shut down these tunnels by pumping in sea water and sewage. And as Daniel Estrin mentioned, Gaza's been under a blockade for years. And so this really led Hamas to cobble together rockets with all sorts of dual-use items, machine parts, metal tubes, homemade explosives. And they've also built this extensive tunnel network inside Gaza, so they can store rockets, move them around underground, pop up and fire them and disappear again. I spoke about this with Michael Herzog. He's a retired Israeli general living in Tel Aviv, and he's now with the Washington Institute for Near East Policy.

MICHAEL HERZOG: Hamas started firing. We met a bigger arsenal with longer range rockets and some of them with heavier payloads and with the ability to fire a barrage to try and overwhelm Israel's defenses.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: So Hamas tried to overwhelm Israel's defenses. But as we've just heard from Daniel Estrin in Gaza, this is still a very uneven battle. Could that dynamic ever change?

MYRE: No, not really. Israel's Iron Dome defense system took out about 90% of the Hamas rockets. That still means about 300, maybe 400 rockets got through. And this sustained fire kept Israeli civilians pinned down in shelters. It led foreign airlines to suspend flights into Israel. It was far more disruptive to a larger part of the country than ever before. But Israel does have this Iron Dome system. It has state-of-the-art drones, F-16 and F-15 fighter jets, navy ships just off the coast of Gaza. Israel's military is very high tech, and all these systems can communicate with each other. There's no other army in the region that can match this, let alone a militant group that's still making homemade weapons.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: And just briefly, to take a step back and assess where the Israelis and Palestinians are after this round of fighting and what we should be looking for.

MYRE: Well, in the past, cease-fires would often be followed by calls to restart peace negotiations to address the big issues. But that's not happening now. Hussein Ibish, who's at the Arab Gulf States Institute in Washington, explained why.

HUSSEIN IBISH: There's no call for a return to negotiations because there are no negotiations to return to. What we're looking for is the return to a really unsatisfactory status quo. This is a heavy lift to get to a terrible place, and that's the reality we face.

MYRE: If there's any possible silver lining, it's that these Israeli-Hamas fights are usually followed by a few years of relative calm. And perhaps now the international and regional focus will be on rebuilding Gaza.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: That is NPR's Greg Myre. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Greg Myre is a national security correspondent with a focus on the intelligence community, a position that follows his many years as a foreign correspondent covering conflicts around the globe.