The Israeli defense establishment was content on Sunday to accept Hamas’s story that stormy weather caused an equipment malfunction that, in turn, caused accidental rocket fire in the direction of central Israel.
It was initially thought that the Palestinian Islamic Jihad terror group was behind the attack, however, it was subsequently determined that the launch pads from which the rockets were launched belonged to Hamas, not PIJ.
Were the PIJ behind the shooting, it could have been chalked up to the first anniversary of the assassination of PIJ strongman Baha Abu al-Ata and therefore deemed contained as the terrorist group’s “retaliation.”
Hamas, however, has nothing to retaliate for. On the contrary—it has been trying to prevent PIJ from firing rockets at Israel, fearing an escalation. Hamas’s interest at this time is to maintain a lull as part of its efforts to reach a long-term ceasefire with Israel under Egyptian mediation.
Sunday saw Gaza’s rulers use every avenue at their disposal to relay to Israel that the rocket fire was accidental. Hamas has no interest in provoking a flare-up, the group stressed. Israel likely already deduced the same when mounting what was a very measured response to the attack.
Israel’s own desire to avoid escalation aside, such a measured response may not have been the best course of action.
Even if we accept the highly unlikely story that a weather-induced malfunction again triggered accidental rocket fire from Gaza—last year a lightning strike supposedly triggered rocket fire at Beersheva—Israel cannot simply tolerate the fact that hundreds of thousands of Israelis in southern and central Israel were jolted out of bed in the middle of the night.
Israel must demand that Hamas secure its sensitive systems and make sure that they are protected from malfunctions of any kind, let alone weather-induced ones.
Israel must drive this point home as aggressively as necessary to make sure Hamas understands some red lines cannot be crossed. Malfunctions don’t just happen—they are caused by negligence, poor maintenance, faulty storage or all three. Hamas must make sure such things do not happen again.
A failure on Israel’s part to send a clear message to Hamas could backfire. Gaza’s rulers may perceive it as wariness on Israel’s part, and while strategically speaking Israel has no interest in fresh hostilities, Hamas has to be made to understand that it cannot unilaterally decide when to dial up tensions, that if you cross Israel’s red lines, there’s no telling what it will do.
This article first appeared in Israel Hayom.
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