What happened: The weekend saw increased tension between Hamas and Israel as rockets were fired at Israel and a major air strike was reported on Iranian allied militias in Syria.
- Four rockets were fired at southern Israel on Saturday from the Gaza Strip, with three projectiles intercepted by the Iron Dome missile defence system. In response Israeli jets and attack helicopters hit Hamas military targets in Gaza.
- Early on Sunday morning, an explosion reportedly took place near the town of Abu Kamal on the Syria-Iraq border. According to Syrian opposition sources, five pro-Iranian Shia militia members were killed in the strike.
- Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu yesterday repeated his call for the annexation of the Jordan Valley in the West Bank, describing it as an opportunity for Israel “to finally determine our eastern border” with US recognition. Despite US State Department denials, Netanyahu said he discussed the move with US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo last week. Netanyahu also said he intended to apply Israeli sovereignty to all Jewish settlements in the West Bank.
Context: Sporadic rocket fire from Gaza has continued, despite a major two-day escalation last month between Israel and Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ). Egyptian-mediated talks between Israel and Hamas to agree a long-term ceasefire (“arrangement”) have reportedly progressed in recent weeks.
- To that end, Hamas political leader Ismael Haniyeh and senior PIJ officials were allowed to travel to Cairo last week. Haniyeh is currently in Turkey as part of a wider series of foreign visits, meeting with Hamas’s “external” military commanders that are allowed to be based in the country. Haniyeh is expected to visit Malaysia, Russia, Qatar, Lebanon, Mauritania and Kuwait in what is his first overseas visit in nearly three years.
- Netanyahu yesterday warned Hamas that: “[T]here will be no arrangement if the firing continues. On the contrary, the terrorists in Gaza will yet feel blows from our arm.”
- Israeli Defence Minister Naftali Bennet is known to be pushing a more aggressive approach to Iran’s military presence in Syria and yesterday said: “We need to move from containment to attack…We say to Iran: Syria will become your Vietnam.”
- Jordan has viewed with alarm Netanyahu’s repeated statements regarding annexing the Jordan Valley, a move that even Netanyahu admitted would be “impossible” for a transitional government to undertake (although a future government headed by Netanyahu would presumably make this a centrepiece of its policy).
Looking ahead: With Israel heading to a third election, the campaign could see military and security issues feature prominently. Gaza appears to be at a tipping point between a ceasefire and further escalation; the Iranian presence in Syria is a constant concern, with recent reports of Iranian weapons shipments into Syria and Iraq.
- Netanyahu’s promise to annex the Jordan valley is increasing diplomatic tensions with Jordan (as well as the Palestinian Authority). For now the Trump Administration does not seem to be supporting these moves: in addition to the State Department denial that the Jordan Valley issue was actually discussed when Netanyahu and Pompeo met last week, President Donald Trump did not mention it during a high-profile speech to the Israeli American Council (IAC) over the weekend.