The rocket salvo fired at the Israeli communities on the Gaza Strip border on Wednesday signaled another step on the way to a confrontation in which neither Israel nor Hamas are interested.
The reason for the escalation is less important, as it follows the steady security deterioration of the past few weeks: Hamas is pushing the kite terrorism campaign, the Israel Defense Forces has had to intensify its response, and Hamas has had to escalate its reprisals so as to maintain its image as the defender of Gaza.
This is a dangerous dynamic that leaves too much to chance. All it would take is an incendiary kite that burns down an Israeli house or an Israeli strike that results in Palestinian casualties to trigger a full-blown conflict.
Israel is wary of this, but every day the IDF inches closer to the point where it would no longer be able to control circumstances. Firing warning shots at kite terrorist cells has grown into strikes on Hamas vehicles transporting them, and while this is still far from targeted assassinations, it is merely one step away.
Offensive tactics are only one side of the Israeli solution. It is also pursuing a technological response, so far to only partial success, while enhancing and improving firefighters and Homefront Command teams’ response to the fires raging in the Gaza-vicinity communities as a result of Palestinian arson terrorism.
The IDF Southern Command believes these joint efforts are proving successful, as shown by the decrease in the number of daily fires, especially large ones, indicating that Hamas is struggling to keep incendiary kites effective.
Still, it seems a little early to show optimism. The battle against kite terrorism is far from over, and it may escalate into a full-fledged war before a solution is devised.
But even if kite terrorism becomes a thing of the past, Hamas will not relent. For the first time in months, its leadership has a feeling that its struggle is bearing fruit: Egypt has opened the Rafah crossing after four years, and the American envoys who visited Israel this week focused on the crisis in Gaza, not the Palestinian Authority.
A misinterpretation of the situation by Hamas could lead it to conclude that it should intensify its border riot campaign to mark more achievements. This will prompt Israeli countermeasures, which could then lead to an inevitable escalation.
The way to change this process runs through the parallel, behind-the-scenes efforts trying to broker an understanding between Israel and Hamas that could facilitate a long-term ceasefire. Quite a few individuals, both Western and Arab, are involved in these efforts, which have yet to come to fruition. This is a race against time between words and rockets, and sadly, the latter may have the upper hand.
Yoav Limor is a veteran Israeli journalist and columnist for Israel Hayom.