The rapidly increasing pace of security incidents on the Israel-Gaza Strip border does not bode well. At best, it indicates that Hamas is looking for new ways to challenge Israel. At worst, it is the beginning of a protracted escalation that could easily spiral out of control.
Israeli defense officials are monitoring the situation closely, and the outlook is disturbing. If until the end of 2017 there were only sporadic, mostly civilian incidents on the border, now we are seeing daily events, including outright attacks such as hurling firebombs and sending incendiary kites over the border and placing explosives along the security fence.
It is doubtful Hamas is actively seeking a full-fledged war, but it definitely wants to keep the struggle on the border alive and kicking. Frustrated by the failure of the border riots strategy it launched on March 30, Hamas has loosened the reins and it no longer tries, or even pretends to try, to stop terrorist attacks on the fence.
The explosive device planted on the border on Saturday by Islamic Jihad operatives is an example, as it is doubtful this would have been done without consent by Hamas. If anything, the border riots campaign has illustrated exactly how tight Hamas’s grip is on the Gaza Strip.
At this point, Israel is still pacing its response. The tank strike that killed jihadi operatives Sunday was a tactical one, and the Israeli Air Force’s strike on Hamas posts in Gaza was in line with the known rules.
It seems that both sides are wary of the kind of operations that would lead to a full-blown war and, despite their denials, are continuing to give serious thought to the possibility of an Egyptian-brokered truce.
However, if those efforts fail, Hamas will again find itself painted into a corner. For this reason, it aims to preserve the tensions on the border, which can be used as a pretext for an escalation, as well as a way to keep international public opinion focused on Gaza.
Israel believes it still has significant leeway against Gaza, as well as ways to generate significant deterrence. This was one of the reasons that the IDF decided to go public on Sunday with its latest project: constructing a sea barrier off Zikim beach, where a terrorist infiltration was foiled during “Operation Protective Edge” in 2014.
The message to Hamas is clear: Israel remains one step ahead and all the money and efforts Hamas has been investing in terror tunnels and training divers are in vain.
Past experience has proved that news of Israel Defense Forces’ obstacles is unlikely to sway Hamas, but that is not Israel’s concern. The faster the sea barrier is completed the better, and hopefully, it will plug this security hole before the next Gaza campaign.
Yoav Limor is a veteran Israeli journalist and columnist for Israel Hayom.