How the Kidnapping of an Israeli Soldier Could Change the Course of the Conflict

The complexion of the three-and-a-half week battle between Israel, Hamas, and other militant groups in Gaza, could be completely upended by the reported kidnapping of an Israeli soldier on Friday.

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1:55 p.m.: Following word of the kidnapping, the violence has skyrocketed with Palestinians reporting dozens dead in Rafah, near Gaza's border between Egypt and Israel, where Hadar Goldin was said to have been abducted. Throughout the day, rocket fire from Gaza continued to put communities larger in southern Israel on alert.

Meanwhile, the reported kidnapping continues to garner international condemnation with the United States and United Nations among those chiming in. As Chemi Shalev points out, this development has at least temporarily altered the nature of the conversation about the conflict, which for the past several days has been focused on the high Palestinian death toll and incidents in which shelters and schools have come under Israeli fire.

The accompanying international outcry was cited as a major factor in what drove Israel to accept a temporary ceasefire on Thursday. Shalev writes:

But the suspected capture of Goldin near Rafah, more than the simple fact that Hamas had violated the cease-fire, could change that game completely. While ministers and army generals may agree in theory...that Goldin’s capture should not change Israel’s overall strategy, the political and psychological elements that come into play could override otherwise cool and calculated considerations. 

Jeffrey Goldberg, in a post entitled "The Most Dangerous Moment in Gaza," adds this:

 If the events of earlier today happened as initial reports depict, then Israel will consider this incident an engraved invitation from Hamas to launch something close to a full-scale invasion of Gaza.

Israel being both a small country and a place where army service is a compulsory and almost universal rite of passage, the abduction of a soldier has already already prompted a large search operation in the southern Gaza. Should that fall short, expect things to get worse.

As it goes, a further widening of the Israeli operation in Gaza was the subject of an Israeli security cabinet meeting. In an attempt to avoid this outcome, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry has called upon "those with influence over Hamas" to press for the release of the soldier.

Original Post

The complexion of the three-and-a-half week battle between Israel, Hamas, and other militant groups in Gaza, could be completely upended by the reported kidnapping of an Israeli soldier on Friday.

The details of the attack, in which 23-year-old Hadar Goldin was reportedly taken by  Gaza forces, is still a matter of conjecture. Hamas confirmed and then unconfirmed that it had abducted Goldin, who is being described as "a British-born distant cousin of [Israeli] Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon." Israel says the abduction took place well after the 72-hour ceasefire began, something which Hamas also denies. The White House said this (via Times of Israel):

Earlier, White House spokesman Josh Earnest called the abduction a “barbaric violation” of the ceasefire agreement, and said it merited international condemnation.

The attack was said to have happened when fighters from Gaza emerged from an underground tunnel, killed two Israeli soldiers in a suicide bombing, and kidnapped Goldin. As we noted earlier, this brought a swift end to the 72-hour U.S. and U.N.-brokered ceasefire. Israel has resumed shelling and several Palestinians have been reported dead.

Undermining the Ceasefire and the Negotiating Partners

Last week, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry came under fire in Israel for offering a draft of a long-term ceasefire deal that was put together with the help of Hamas' allies Qatar and Turkey. The Israelis viewed the plan as too tilted toward Hamas.

Thursday's enactment of a temporary ceasefire signaled, perhaps, a small bit of hope that a long-term truce might be reached. But with the (very) quick collapse of the ceasefire and the kidnap of an Israeli soldier, the will for a long-term ceasefire seems destined to dry up, especially within Israeli quarters where polls already showed strong support for the operation.

The ostensible violation of the ceasefire by Hamas also deeply undermines its champions in Qatar and Turkey and reveals that there may be some fracturing within Hamas itself, whose leader Khaled Meshal operates out of Doha.

A long-term ceasefire has remained elusive in large part because Hamas has sought to declare some kind of victory for its actions, which has brought unspeakable misery upon Gaza from Israel, and because Israel doesn't wish to budge by offering concessions that might "reward" Hamas' tactics.

The kidnapping changes things. Over at The Guardian, Ian Black noted:

The Hamas move suggests that the al-Qassam brigades had not been prepared for negotiations without a significant victory – and a strong negotiating hand – to show for the sacrifices of the last three weeks, in which more than 1,400 Palestinians have now been killed.

The Specter of Gilad Shalit

The kidnapping of Goldin immediately brings the name Gilad Shalit back into public consciousness. Shalit, an Israeli soldier was kidnapped in 2006 during a Hamas raid that also used underground tunnels from Gaza into Israel. Shalit was held by Hamas for over five years and eventually traded for 1,000 Hamas soldiers in a (very) controversial deal that divided Israelis.

Some of the released fighters were reapprehended recently by Israeli forces as they swept through the West Bank looking for the killers/abductors of three Israeli teenagers.

But rather than strengthen Hamas' hand by giving it a bargaining chip, the conventional wisdom seems to point to the idea that this will only make Israel want to continue its push into Gaza and target the Hamas leadership more forcefully.

Some other thoughts on the goings on here:

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.