And yet, since the assassination in the early morning hours and until late at night, the expected response to such an event did not come, neither from Islamic Jihad nor from Hamas. While it was clear that Islamic Jihad would respond, the question was whether Hamas would jump headfirst with the rival organization into a full-scale conflict with Israel.
The significant delay in Islamic Jihad's response can be interpreted in several ways. Firstly, Islamic Jihad was in shock due to the almost simultaneous strikes on the three senior members of the organization and on several of its missile launchers.
Secondly, the organization wanted to reach a joint response with Hamas, rather than going against Israel alone again. Islamic Jihad understood that another operation without Hamas would result in many casualties among its people and little damage on the Israeli side - that is, a real military defeat was a distinct possibility.
Thirdly, Islamic Jihad tried for several hours to find attractive enough targets on the Israeli side to generate a painful response that would allow it to claim its own achievements.
After approximately 15 years of recurring clashes between Gaza and Israel in a familiar pattern, something felt different Tuesday throughout the day and evening.
On the Israeli side, the IDF and Shin Bet preferred to wait a week for the opportunity to respond to rocket fire on the south, unlike anything we had seen in the past. And on Tuesday, even Hamas and Islamic Jihad did not rush to respond either, and chose to wait for a time and place that suited them better, whether under the cover of night or at a later time.
At first glance, Hamas had every possible reason to attack Israel Tuesday morning. Public pressure and demands for revenge in the Arab media and social networks, coupled with the fact that in the Israeli attack, apart from the three senior Islamic Jihad leaders, four children, five women, and another Palestinian doctor, who was an innocent civilian, were killed, all of this was supposed to pave the way for an immediate response.
Additionally, unlike in previous instances where Israel targeted only Islamic Jihad targets, this time the Israeli attack was not a result of any provocation from the Islamic Jihad alone, but followed a joint decision between Hamas and Islamic Jihad to fire rockets at Israel in response to the death of hunger striking prisoner Khader Adnan.
In other words, Hamas did not have any real excuse to hide behind and not respond. As one of the Palestinian commentators said in an interview with Al-Jazeera: "Hamas has no choice but to respond since it is the sovereign in Gaza and is responsible for the lives of its residents."
As for Hamas, the delay can indicate rifts with Islamic Jihad and a realization of the heavy price it as the governing authority in Gaza might pay for a full-scale conflict with Israel. In the end, Hamas has a lot to lose precisely because it is the ruling authority that is responsible for the lives of over two million people in the Gaza Strip.
Additionally, there may have been disagreements within Hamas leadership as to the nature of the response against Israel. The dilemma was real: in recent years, Hamas has managed to bring about a partial reconstruction of the Gaza Strip through agreements it reached with Israel (via Egypt) regarding the entry of laborers for employment and the expansion of imports from Egypt to Gaza.
The Strip was stabilized to some extent, and even when the IDF struck Islamic Jihad targets in previous incidents, Hamas stressed that it had no interest in any escalation and chose to remain on the sidelines. However, the present situation has posed an even deeper dilemma for Yahya Sinwar, Mohammed Deif, Marwan Issa, and others in the Hamas leadership.
It is highly probable that until at least last night, Hamas was searching for a different response - perhaps not a full-scale conflict, but a specific response that would allow it to "move forward" without causing a prolonged conflict with Israel. In other words, a very measured response that would satisfy the Palestinian public without dragging Gaza into a prolonged conflict with Israel.
The Israeli operation against the senior Islamic Jihad operatives succeeded in hitting very significant figures in the organization. Jehad Ahnam, who received the title "General Secretary of the Military Wing," or a sort of Mohammad Deif of Islamic Jihad, was one of the leaders hit.
Another senior operative was Khalil Bahatini, one of the commanders of the terror group’s different brigades. However, it is the third senior figure, Tareq az-Aldin, who is more interesting from the Israeli point of view. He was one of the prisoners released in the Shalit deal and was responsible for the execution of terror attacks in the West Bank, similar to the model used by Hamas with deportees to man its "West Bank headquarters."
The Shin Bet and IDF’s decision to hit az-Aldin conveys a message that anyone who tries to ignite the West Bank from Gaza will also pay the price. In this sense, Gaza is no longer immune.