Just an update, for those of you who haven’t been watching this. A few days ago, Hamas attacked an Israeli position, killing two soldiers and capturing another one. They took him to somewhere in Gaza. Israel massed armored units at the border and warned them to return him at once.
In the days since then, it’s become clear that the part of Hamas that took power in the parliament has been repudiated by the rest of Hamas; the “political wing” has been asking them to return the soldier, and the looming crisis got them to start talking with Abbas and forming a real functional government. In the process, they accepted the idea that Israel actually exists and that they will negotiate with Israel. (Granted, in varying degrees of good faith, but something positive here)
However, the bulk of Hamas seems to be taking its orders from Khaled Meshaal, the head of Hamas who operates out of Damascus, with the Syrian government’s blessing. They responded by (possibly – reports are still unclear) taking two Israeli civilians hostage in two separate locations, apparently with the aim of using the threat of killing them to prevent Israel from trying to rescue the other. They’ve told the political wing of Hamas to go stuff it.
Today Israel started to attack positions in Gaza, blowing up bridges and a power station. (I’m still a bit unclear on the tactical objectives behind that. I’m just going to hope there was a good reason, apart from now making Gaza’s only source of electrons be in Israel) This is being combined with an attempt to stop the barrage of Qassam missiles that Hamas has been firing out of there over the past several weeks.
The White House and the French governments have both called on Hamas to release the captives immediately. (France because the captured soldier is a dual French citizen)
And since Meshaal is operating with the Syrian government’s OK, it’s pretty clear that Bashar al-Assad is the one who can exert the pressure to make this crisis end with something short of a full-scale invasion. Today Israel decided to put a little “pressure” on al-Assad by sending four F-16’s to buzz his house in Latakia (in southern Syria). While he was home. Apparently al-Assad went right back to Damascus and met with the Jordanian PM, who used to be Jordan’s ambassador to Israel, to discuss all of this situation. Sources say he was significantly agitated about the overflights… not that I can blame him.
This isn’t a big, world-shaking event; it’s a regional crisis, with the potential for having real regional effects, but it’s not something that you absolutely need to be following unless you care about Middle Eastern politics. In fact, I’m just posting this because I know a lot of people don’t follow that, and may just want a quick summary of the week’s news.
Edit: Here’s a link to New York Times coverage of the various things going on. Not all the details, but a fair roundup of events with minimal editorializing.