(June 21, 2018 / JNS) The mortar shell and rocket barrage on southern Israel on Wednesday was a signal by Hamas that it plans to change the existing equation with Israel. As far as the terrorist group is concerned, from now on, any Israeli strike that retaliates over the raging kite terrorism will be met with rocket fire on Israel.
What made Wednesday’s rocket salvo different is that unlike previous flare-ups on the border, this time it was Hamas operatives who fired at Israel, as opposed to times when it was Islamic Jihad or the rogue terrorist group in the coastal enclave that attacked Israel.
Still, Hamas made sure the attack followed most of the familiar “rules”—only at night and only at the Gaza-vicinity communities, and apparently while also trying to minimize any casualties, to avoid further escalation.
Hamas’s policy change stems from two reasons.
The first reason is Israel’s own change of policy with regards to kite terrorism. It took Israel far too long to define the incessant waves of incendiary kites sent over the border as actionable acts of terror, but once it did, the Israel Defense Forces began systematically countering them, including firing warning shots at terrorist kite cells and targeting Hamas assets in Gaza in retaliation.
The second reason is Hamas’s own frustration and distress in Gaza. Since the border-riot campaign was launched on March 30, some 150 of its operatives have been killed and the Israeli military has carried out more than 100 strikes on Hamas positions in the coastal enclave, all while Hamas has nothing to show for it.
In this situation, Hamas is searching for something to hang onto and drawing a line in the sand opposite Israel by declaring that “bombings will be met with bombings,“ as Hamas spokesman Fawzi Barhoum said Wednesday, portrays it as defending Gaza from Israel.
The problem is that, while playing with fire is a common practice in the Middle East, things can spiral out of control very quickly.
The IDF is sparing no effort to minimize casualties in Gaza, which is why it is wary of launching surgical strikes against kite flyers who are, for the most part, teenagers, but it does not have full control of the outcome of its strikes on Gaza—no more than Hamas can be sure that the rockets it fires on Israel’s south would land in an open area, rather than a populated one.
These circumstances are compounded by the inherently volatile situation on the ground in Gaza, which is suffering a dire economic and humanitarian crisis, and this leaves too much leeway for Lady Luck.
Hamas is banking on Israel opting against a military campaign in Gaza at this time so as not to split its focus from the northern sector, but it is sorely mistaken if it thinks Israel will simply contain kite terrorism or shy away from action given the new equation it has presented.
At some point, Israel’s patience will expire. This could be brought on by casualties (heaven forbid) or simply because the residents of the Gaza-vicinity communities are tired of seeing their fields torched and their children sleeping in bomb shelters.
The communities near the border are not eager for war; they would be the first to pay the price. All they want is peace and quiet. The challenges the military faces in providing them with it are growing more complex by the day.
Yoav Limor is a veteran Israeli journalist and columnist for Israel Hayom.