Israelis – specifically residents of the south – got a violent reminder this week that the Gaza Strip is alive and kicking.
The long period of relative quiet since Operation Pillar of Defense has been slowly dissolving into rocket fire, which reached its peak this week when the Islamic Jihad fired rockets at Ashkelon in the dead of night.
- Two rockets fired from Gaza at the end of Ariel Sharon's funeral
- Senior official: Hamas not interested in deterioration
- Israel will have to do something about the Gaza rockets - but what?
If not for the Iron Dome missile defense system, the results (both in Israel and in Gaza) would have been dramatically different. Like many times before, the background to the rocket attack was infighting between Hamas and the Islamic Jihad, and, like many times before, Israel paid the price.
In the meantime, Hamas is already preparing itself for the next round of fighting with Israel: Concealing long-range rocket launchers under residential buildings, building advanced underground tunnels costing around a million dollar each.
Hamas' security forces are already spread out along the main roads leading to the border fence with Israel, this time in an attempt to prevent further rocket fire at Israel. A well-informed source in Gaza said that Hamas has deployed hundreds of forces and has recently sent reinforcements.
Israel, for its part, has returned to its old policy of direct assassinations of rocket launchers, and thus, Ahmad Saad, the Islamic Jihad operative responsible for the rocket fire on Ashkelon, was seriously wounded after an IDF rocket hit him along a Gaza street.
Much the same way, the man responsible for launching rockets at Israel during Sharon's funeral found his death through a direct IAF attack.
Although Hamas is working to prevent any further rocket fire, it hasn't stopped them from maintaining somewhat of a revolving door policy in which terrorists from rival factions are arrested, taken in for questioning and then released after a short time.
Quiet or no quiet, Hamas is still licking its wounds and learning its lessons from the previous bout with Israel, all the while working to strengthen itself in anticipation of the next round.
Hamas has at its disposal an impressive cache of Gaza-produced M-75 rockets that can reach all the way to central Israel.
As part of its lessons from Operation Pillar of Defense, during which the IAF destroyed the majority of Fajr rocket launchers and the semi-submerged launch pits from which they were fired, Hamas decided to hide their launchers next to sensitive facilities that could serve Hamas in its public relations battle with Israel, creating a guise according to which Israel is attacking civilian infrastructure.
In addition, Hamas is hiding its rockets under multiple-story buildings and inside of them, sharing the space with its military wing. The group has set up cameras on the top of minarets and water towers in a bid to gather intelligence and also put Israel in a bind: Should Israel destroy a mosque, the image would probably make newspapers around the world.
But Hamas is also burrowing, building an impressive web of underground tunnels throughout the strip. The tunnels are supposed to hide Hamas' leadership and facilitate the speedy transfer of operatives during fighting.
The tunnels are currently being built and the sources in the strip believe that some of them will end under Israeli territory, like the tunnel found near Kibbutz Ein Hashlosha – which began near Khan Yunnis and popped up some 200 meters into Israel territory.
The effort being put into these tunnels is big both in terms of energy and money. Each one of these tunnels costs the terror government more than a million dollars.