A Whole New World for Israel vs. Hamas

Technical advances, Arab Spring make this a new fight.

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In early 2009, Israel and Hamas were able to forge a tentative peace agreement after three weeks of fighting in what Israel called Operation Cast Lead. Hamas had limited resources with which to strike the Jewish state, and Israel believed regional powers would have fewer opportunities to ship arms into the region.

[PHOTOS: Palestinian Death Toll Soars as Israel Attacks Continue]

Almost four years later, the conflict between the two states may be over similar issues, but its application is entirely different, due largely to technological advances, an Arab Spring and arms flowing into Gaza.

Following news that a ceasefire will begin at midnight on Tuesday, the world watches to see if tensions among these shifting powers will continue to flare.

"On both sides, there are military technology changes," says Dan Byman, research director of the Saban Center at the Brookings Institution and a professor at Georgetown University.

Hamas was previously limited to a stockpile of short-range rockets, but now has access to medium and longer range weapons, believed to be from Iran and Lebanon's Hezbollah.

Israel points to the success rate of its new missile defense shield, Iron Dome, that has so far maintained a roughly 85 percent success rate, according to some reports.

"That's psychologically important because [Israelis] feel they have self-defense," says Byman. "Having these weapons and these defenses really does matter."

But it isn't perfect, and Israelis still panic at the sound of air raid sirens.

"[Hamas' arsenal] threatens most of Israel, including Tel Aviv and Jerusalem," Byman says. "That's very important psychologically."

[PHOTOS: Israel Launches Airstrikes on Gaza]

"The television images of Israelis running for shelter score points among Gazans," he says of Palestinians who see the situation now as "we're hiding, but so is our enemy."

The touted success of the missile shield only invites more attempts, says Michael Rubin, a resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute.

This first major demonstration of Iron Dome's strengths helps other countries, such as Iran, figure out its weaknesses. Iron Dome's ability to shoot down two missiles, for example, prompts Iran to try firing four, Rubin says.

"It risks becoming a crutch," he says.

In Dec. 2008, Israel launched Operation Cast Lead, beginning with air strikes followed by a ground invasion of Gaza, in an attempt to shut down the expansive tunnel network Hamas used to import weapons. Almost 1,200 Palestinians died, including 709 combatants, as well as three Israeli civilians and 10 soldiers, according to the Israeli Defense Forces numbers.

Israel could tenuously rely on Egypt's Hosni Mubarak in the aftermath, who as an authoritarian dictator did not need to worry about public opinion by saying he would prevent arms from flowing across the Egyptian/Gaza border.

Israel could also look to hardliner Bashar al-Assad in Syria, who before 2011 worked with U.S. presidents for decades to understand how peace could be brokered among militant groups such as Hamas and Hezbollah.

[READ: Israel Has Not Yet Faced True Missile Test]

All of that changed after the Arab Spring.

Assad is now tied up in an internal conflict that has relegated him to more of a national warlord than a regional power player.

Mohamed Morsi and his party, the Muslim Brotherhood, ousted Mubarak in Egypt. As support for Hamas increases among Egyptian citizens, the newly elected democratic leadership may be less eager to help Israel.

Israel had also given up control of the Egyptian/Gaza border at the Philadelphi Corridor in 2005, after then-Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice negotiated for the Palestinians to take it over. The resulting influx of weapons puts Hamas on par with other, more advanced militant groups in the area, says Rubin.

"A lot of people who think of the tunnels think of a World War II movie," he says of the perception of primitive underground passages. "They don't realize some of these tunnels, you can drive trucks through."

"What we see is Hamas transformed as Hezbollah's little brother into an equal," Rubin says.