When Israel assassinated Hamas military chief Ahmad Jaabari this week, Hamas said that Israel had “opened the gates of hell.” Jeffrey Goldberg says this morning:

According to various press reports, three Israelis were killed in a rocket attack in the southern town of Kiryat Malachi. All bets are off now — including my bet that the Israelis won’t launch a ground invasion of Gaza. Hamas has crossed an Israeli red line. I’m about to leave on a long flight, so I won’t be able to update this, but prepare for the worst.

What would “the worst” mean, aside from an Israeli ground invasion of Gaza? It is hard to figure that Egypt, now under the leadership of the Muslim Brotherhood, will launch a war against Israel. But it is very easy to imagine that, in the wake of an Israeli invasion, Egyptian president Morsi will be under immense popular pressure to abrogate the peace treaty with Israel. Many people do not realize that Hamas is the Muslim Brotherhood in Palestine. From the Hamas Charter:

Article Two: The Link between Hamas and the Association of Muslim Brothers

The Islamic Resistance Movement is one of the wings of the Muslim Brothers in Palestine. The Muslim Brotherhood Movement is a world organization, the largest Islamic Movement in the modern era. It is characterized by a profound understanding, by precise notions and by a complete comprehensiveness of all concepts of Islam in all domains of life: views and beliefs, politics and economics, education and society, jurisprudence and rule, indoctrination and teaching, the arts and publications, the hidden and the evident, and all the other domains of life.

And remember that Hamas explicitly rejects any possibility of peace with Israel as the equivalent of apostasy:

Article Thirteen: Peaceful Solutions, [Peace] Initiatives and International Conferences

[Peace] initiatives, the so-called peaceful solutions, and the international conferences to resolve the Palestinian problem, are all contrary to the beliefs of the Islamic Resistance Movement. For renouncing any part of Palestine means renouncing part of the religion; the nationalism of the Islamic Resistance Movement is part of its faith, the movement educates its members to adhere to its principles and to raise the banner of Allah over their homeland as they fight their Jihad: “Allah is the all-powerful, but most people are not aware.”

These are the facts. Here is another: Israel’s south has endured nearly 800 rocket attacks from Gaza this year alone, without Israel responding militarily. What nation can let its people endure this kind of attack from another country indefinitely? The United States would not. Hamas, which governs Gaza, has been picking this fight all year, and it has been picking this fight because it believes the destruction of Israel is its religious obligation, and dying in that cause makes them martyrs for the faith, with all the blessings in the afterlife promised by Islam.

I say all this to point out that Israel is not the real aggressor here; Hamas is. No rocket attacks from Gaza, no Israeli strikes on Gaza. All the fulminating in comboxes about the Zionists this and the Zionists that will not alter that fact.

That Israel has been willing to live with all these rocket attacks from Gaza all year tells us that Israel is capable of staying its hand. Why the attack now? Is it strategically wise? Goldberg suggests it was not:

What is this Gaza conflagration about, exactly? Or let me rephrase the question: What are the goals of the Israeli counter-attack on Hamas? Right now, we’re seeing, once again, a tactical response, provoked by a vile Hamas policy of acquiescing to, or even helping to launch, rocket attacks on Israeli civilian targets. But what is the strategy? The fact remains that there is no long-term military solution to the challenge posed by Gaza, but the Israeli government doesn’t want to acknowledge this.

There are enough weapons, and enough young men in Gaza ready to use those weapons, to make life miserable for millions of Israelis for years to come, barring a full-scale invasion by the IDF of Gaza that wipes out the entire military structure of Hamas. And good luck with that, by the way — good luck to Bibi getting the world to acquiesce. Netanyahu’s failure to convince the world that he is serious about compromise (he might have succeeded, given his Palestinian counterpart’s own alternately lackadaisical and obstreperous approach to peace talks, if he wasn’t hell-bent on growing settlements) means that he has no political capital to spend.

Here’s the problem Israel faces: there is no real workable military solution to the Gaza problem, but, given Hamas’s fanaticism and implacable, religion-driven hatred of Israel, no other solution either. The absurd and destructive settlements policy has put the Israeli government in a bad position for reasons Goldberg suggests, but if all the settlements went away tomorrow, Hamas would still be Hamas, and would still be launching, or allowing to be launched, rocket attacks from Gaza into Israel. And if Bibi Netanyahu were not the prime minister of Israel, the Israeli government would still have to decide what to do about constant rocket attacks — 800 this year alone — on its civilians by a neighboring state explicitly devoted to waging holy war on Israel until Israel is destroyed.

If Egypt doesn’t get involved militarily, then the gates of heck will have been opened. But if it does? That’s the gates of hell. Hamas knows exactly what it’s doing.

UPDATE: The comments thread is not the place for the usual complaining in these precincts about how awful Israel is, and how terrible the Zionists are, et cetera. Focus on analyzing and commenting on this specific post. I’m not going to publish general anti-Israel (or pro-Israel) comments. Stay focused.