Why the rockets are falling now

Israel's Iron Dome system intercepts a rocket fired from the Gaza Strip  credit: Reuters

Hamas planned the current flare-up well before the events in Jerusalem that ignited it.

Let's start from the end: the escalation, and the rocket fire from the Gaza Strip in particular, were not a spontaneous angry reaction by Hamas and its terrorist partners to the events in East Jerusalem. For weeks, people in the security forces have been warning of the intention of the Hamas leadership in the Gaza Strip to break the routine and the relative calm.

One important reason for that is the internal conflict within Hamas between Mohammed Deif, number one on Israel's wanted list who has escaped from several attempts to kill him, and who leads the organization's military wing, and the political leadership headed by Yahya Sinwar. For a long time, Deif has fought against Sinwar's "civilian" approach that has led to the renewal of infrastructure projects and to economic progress in the Gaza Strip, even during the coronavirus pandemic.

Last month, against the background of the elections that were supposed to take place for the Palestinian parliament, Deif managed to recruit several other heads of the organization, among them Ismail Haniyeh and Khaled Mashal, to support his position, and Hamas started to prepare. The cancellation of the elections gave the signal, and Hamas marked the date: Jerusalem Day (May 10), which for Israelis commemorates the reunification of the city during the Six Day War of 1967 but which for the Islamic resistance movements is a day for rallying anti-Israel sentiment. Other inflammatory events made their contribution during this period: the tension in Jerusalem's Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood became a Palestinian symbol, and the concluding days of Ramadan, Laylat al-Qadr, and so on played their part.

The flare-up over the Damascus Gate and Sheikh Jarrah which led to violent confrontations was deliberately played up on social media. The 'Al-Aqsa is in danger' slogan returned to the headlines, and Hamas television stations and other media that the organization controls broadcast war propaganda, including nationalist songs, blood stains on the screen, and incendiary declarations.

During last weekend's flare-up, the signal was given. Deif himself came out with a declaration that Hamas would respond to the events in Jerusalem. The two attacks, at Tapuah Junction, where a yeshiva student was killed, and at Salem, where three terrorists were killed, were directed by Hamas, and the clear intention was to rouse the Palestinian street in advance of the rocket attack.

What does Hamas seek to achieve? Leadership of the Palestinian people. Hamas sees the approaching end of the Abu Mazen (Palestinian Authority head Mahmoud Abbas) era, and the split in its main rival, Fatah. Five different Fatah parties registered for the parliamentary elections that were cancelled, and each of the potential leaders in Fatah thinks he can beat Hamas. Deif persuaded the other leaders that a militant approach over the Jerusalem issue would lead to further support versus the Palestinian Authority and Fatah, which are incapable of acting like him.

Setting the territory alight, in the guise of the national savior, wins him many points among the Palestinian public, and Hamas is presenting the cancellation of the elections as an attempt by Fatah to prevent its expected rout at the polls.

There is also the political situation in Israel. Hamas assessed that in its political crisis Israel would have difficulty in responding very assertively, and would perhaps capitulate.

What's next? The rocket attacks, particularly the fire at Jerusalem, actually look like a mistake on Hamas's part, at least in the short term. Israel is responding fiercely, dozens of Palestinians have been killed, with terrorist organization leaders in Israel's sights. Several senior people in the military wings were killed overnight. This is the tactic of Chief of Staff Aviv Kochavi, to bring direct pressure to bear on the organizations' leadership, including attacks on their homes.

The concentrated and precise attacks by the Israel Air Force deterred the organizations from targeting central Israel last night as they had promised to do, which indicates their unwillingness to get into an all-out conflict. This round will continue in the coming hours at least, perhaps for the next day or so. Nevertheless, senior defense sources say that although there is no intention at this stage of entering the Gaza Strip immediately, the plans exist.

In other words, on the Israeli side too the intention at present is to respond with a severity that will create deterrence but not to deal with the problems at its roots, that is, to topple the Hamas regime. This necessary operation for Israel's security will wait for another government. At the moment, it is not at all clear how that government will look.

Published by Globes, Israel business news - en.globes.co.il - on May 11, 2021

© Copyright of Globes Publisher Itonut (1983) Ltd. 2021

Israel's Iron Dome system intercepts a rocket fired from the Gaza Strip  credit: Reuters
Israel's Iron Dome system intercepts a rocket fired from the Gaza Strip credit: Reuters
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