The current round of escalation was initiated by Palestinian Islamic Jihad. It started last week and may last several days. Until Saturday night, Hamas’ military wing did not play an active role in the assault on Israel yet it may be dragged into the fighting, as happened in the previous round of escalation two months ago.
The current round of fighting, which the Islamic Jihad initiated, is the organization’s way to convey a message that is supposed to resonate among Hamas’ leadership in Gaza, Jihad’s patrons in Tehran, members of Egypt’s supreme military council, and on the Palestinian street too, of course.
Israel and its citizens are merely a means used by the Jihad to demonstrate that it has become a major player in the Gaza theater; a player that as of late accumulated (with the active support of Iran’s Revolutionary Guards) military power that is equal to – and in some cases greater than – Hamas’ military capabilities.
Islamic Jihad has more long-range rockets than Hamas, thousands of activists, and some 10,000 supporters and collaborators. The group intends to utilize this power in order to challenge Hamas and force it to continue the armed struggle against Israel. Islamic Jihad also clearly aims to expand the confrontation with Israel to a depth of 40 kilometers and possibly more within Israeli territory.
The Sinai threat
Another path taken by the group is the boosting of activity from the Sinai. At the end of August, an Islamic Jihad attempt to carry out a large abduction operation from Sinai was thwarted. The group possibly intended to curb or delay the Shalit swap. This failure may have been among the factors that motivated Islamic Jihad to put its power on display and get Hamas in trouble as the latter celebrates the Shalit deal.
The official pretext provided by the Islamic Jihad for the firing of two long-range rockets last week was the 16th anniversary of the assassination of the group’s leader and founder, Fathi Shaqaqi. According to foreign reports, Shaqaqi was shot to death in Malta by Mossad agents on a motorcycle.) However, the rocket fire was clearly a provocation meant to achieve up-to-date targets.
Islamic Jihad and the Iranians estimate that Hamas intends to rest on its laurels at this time and make use of the political assets acquired through the Shalit deal. The Jihad is concerned that to that end, Hamas would maintain a lull in fighting that would allow it to reinforce its rule, build up its military power, reconcile with Mahmoud Abbas and nurture its ties with the new regime in Egypt. Through its attacks on Israel, the Islamic Jihad leadership aims to prevent this development and set the future agenda in the Strip.
However, there is more. According to credible Israeli sources, Islamic Jihad is also seeking to test the skill of its members and the new rockets it received from Iran, and especially to test Israel and the IDF. The group wants to gauge the advance warning system and anti-rocket defense deep within Israel, the Israeli public’s response to such surprise attacks, and mostly the way our government responds to long-range fire aimed at the outskirts of the central Israel hub.
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