Hamas’s double message for Egypt and Israel

The purpose of the rocket attack was to pressure Egypt to increase efforts to end the Gaza embargo and to serve as a warning to Israel before making a decision to launch a military strike against Hamas.

Hamas rocket-launchers in the Gaza Strip. Credit: IDF.
Hamas rocket-launchers in the Gaza Strip. Credit: IDF.
Yoni Ben Menachem
Yoni Ben Menachem, a veteran Arab affairs and diplomatic commentator for Israel Radio and Television, is a senior Middle East analyst for the Jerusalem Center. He served as director general and chief editor of the Israel Broadcasting Authority.

The double, deceitful game played by Hamas and Islamic Jihad was exposed on the morning of Oct. 17 when they fired two rockets from the Gaza Strip towards Israel. One rocket hit a house in Beersheva, while the other, which was fired toward central Israel, landed in the Mediterranean Sea.

These upgraded Grad rockets were “homemade,” manufactured in Gaza, and carried a large quantity of explosive material. They are used only by Hamas and Islamic Jihad.

The rocket raid occurred at the peak of efforts by Egypt to prevent an explosion in the Gaza Strip. A senior delegation from Egyptian intelligence was in Gaza for talks with Palestinian factions with regard to reconciliation and calm with Israel.

Egyptian Intelligence Minister Gen. Abbas Kamel was supposed to arrive in Israel on Oct. 18 for a meeting with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, followed by a meeting in the Palestinian Authority’s Muqata headquarters in Ramallah with P.A. leader Mahmoud Abbas. The Egyptian wanted to convince Abbas to cancel new sanctions on Gaza, which would only make the current situation more complicated and lead to a violent eruption.

The Israel Defense Forces responded to the rocket fire by attacking more than 20 Hamas targets, including terror tunnels in southern Gaza. The targets included underground infrastructure, Hamas bases with military infrastructure, rocket manufacturing sites, and the excavation shaft of an attack tunnel exiting to the sea for naval commandos.

Who fired the rockets?

None of the factions in the Gaza Strip took any immediate responsibility for the rocket raid on Israel. This was an unusual strike, going deep into Israel. For the past six months, the terror organizations carefully aimed their rockets at the communities on the Gaza periphery only.

For several hours, Hamas and Islamic Jihad maintained a deafening silence, informing journalistic sources that the raid was carried out by one of the “rogue” organizations in Gaza to ruin the chances and efforts of Egypt to achieve an agreement for calm with Israel.

The two rockets that were fired early in the morning were not the only incident that took place. Several hours later, a terrorist cell tried to fire more rockets at Israel.

The Israeli air force managed to strike two rocket installations, preventing them from firing. One of the terrorists was killed, and another three were injured. The terrorist killed was Naji al-Za’anin, a member of the al-Mujahedin Brigade, which is associated with Hamas and follows its orders.

Then came the Palestinian denial

Just several hours later, the joint campaign room of the military wings of various Palestinian organizations in Gaza issued a renunciation of the rocket fire on Israel.

In their announcement, the organizations, including Hamas and Islamic Jihad, stated their opposition to that night’s rocket fire, “which harmed Egypt’s attempts to remove the embargo from Gaza.”

Elements in Gaza explained that the announcement was made under pressure from the Egyptian intelligence delegation in Gaza.

It is not clear whether Hamas or Islamic Jihad operatives were the ones who carried out the actual rocket launch or if they used proxies. One thing is obvious. No organization in Gaza can carry out rocket attacks deep inside Israeli territory, which could provoke a military confrontation between Israel and Hamas, without the agreement of Hamas, who rules the Gaza Strip and works in coordination with Islamic Jihad. Simply put, Hamas is responsible for the rocket raid.

Sources in the Gaza Strip have revealed that Islamic Jihad has wanted to fire rockets at Israel over the past few days in revenge for the death of seven Palestinians at demonstrations at the border fence on Oct. 12.

Two weeks earlier, Ziad Nakhala became the new leader of Islamic Jihad. Since then, he has been trying to prove himself with inflammatory statements and organizing demonstrations at the border fence with Gaza.

Ziad Nakhala and Iran’s Gen. Qassem Soleimani
Ziad Nakhala and Iran’s Gen. Qassem Soleimani, commander of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards’ Al Quds brigade.

When the Egyptian intelligence minister was notified of this, his senior associates called Ziad Nakhala, who resides in Beirut, and warned him that firing rockets at Israel would lead to a harsh response from the IDF and destroy Egypt’s efforts to achieve calm between Hamas and Israel.

A message to Israel and Egypt

It appears that the rocket raid “without fingerprints” was planned by Hamas and Islamic Jihad to send a double message to Egypt and Israel.

The rocket raid was meant to signal to Egypt that Hamas and Islamic Jihad are not happy with the pace of Egyptian mediation, which has not achieved any results with regard to removing the embargo from Gaza.

The Gazan public is exerting heavy pressure on the terror organizations because, in spite of the many people killed and wounded in the “Return March” campaign, they have not managed to achieve any easing of the embargo on the Gaza Strip.

The Hamas leadership is also furious with Egypt because for more than a year it has not allowed any of the organization’s senior officials to leave Gaza through the Rafah crossing to visit Qatar, Turkey or Iran.

The message for Israel was apparently intended for the security cabinet, which was supposed to meet on Oct. 17 to discuss Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman’s recommendation to take strong military action against the terror organizations in Gaza.

The terror organizations want to warn the Israeli government that it should refrain from taking this step. Hamas sought to show that it can conduct painful strikes on the Israeli home front.

The terror organizations don’t want an all-out war in Gaza, but to continue “walking on the edge” with low-level terror acts to put constant pressure on Israel until it lifts the embargo on Gaza.

The writing has been on the wall for several months. At the end of August, Yahya Sinwar, leader of Hamas in Gaza, announced at a meeting with Gazan journalists, “In the middle of October, the embargo will be removed from Gaza,” effectively creating a deadline from the point of view of Hamas.

This is not the first time that Hamas has conveyed messages to Israel and Egypt through hostile fire by “rogue organizations.” It is a well-known tactic of Hamas, which is careful to do it in a sterile way, under the radar of the intelligence services of Israel and Egypt. This way, it delivers its message but remains apparently “clean.”

It is a deceptive and crafty move by the terror organizations, and it is still not clear how Egypt will respond.

Experience shows that Egypt is not interested in locking horns with Hamas due to national security concerns. Therefore, it would seem that Egypt will just swallow it once again and continue in its efforts to achieve internal Palestinian reconciliation and calm with Israel.

Yoni Ben Menachem, a veteran Arab affairs and diplomatic commentator for Israel Radio and Television, is a senior Middle East analyst for the Jerusalem Center. He served as director general and chief editor of the Israel Broadcasting Authority.

The opinions and facts presented in this article are those of the author, and neither JNS nor its partners assume any responsibility for them.
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