What happened: After weeks of relative calm, ten rockets were fired in two separate barrages from the Gaza Strip at southern Israeli communities late on Friday night, drawing reprisal IDF strikes at multiple Hamas military targets across Gaza. Although most of the rockets were intercepted by the Iron Dome missile defence system, one hit a house in Sderot. Despite rising tensions over the weekend, however, the last two days did not see any further rocket fire.
- It was not immediately clear which Palestinian faction was responsible for the attacks. Israeli military sources blamed a renegade Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ) brigade commander in north Gaza, Baha Abu al-Atta. Yet earlier today PIJ denied it was him, with Kan Radio reporting the group saying it may have been “rogue Islamic Jihad field operatives” acting without the leadership’s authorisation.
- Hamas also initially distanced itself from the rocket fire before threatening Israel with reprisals if air strikes continued. The Israel Defense Forces (IDF) exclusively targeted Hamas military assets, including a naval command centre, weapons facilities, and underground compounds, one Palestinian man was reported to have been killed in the strikes. In a statement, the IDF said it “holds Hamas responsible for all events transpiring in…and emanating from” the Gaza Strip.
- Israeli opposition leaders slammed Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu for what they viewed as a weak response. Speaking at a rally in Tel Aviv on Saturday night, Benny Gantz vowed to restore deterrence “by any means available to us,” and said “the time of showing restraint will come to an end if there is not complete quiet in the South.”
Context: Netanyahu said yesterday at the start of the weekly cabinet meeting that Israel was “in a very sensitive and volatile security period on several fronts – north, east and south,” with analysts speculating that the IDF wanted to focus on the broader regional threat from Hezbollah and Iran, and not a new campaign in Gaza.
- Israel’s security cabinet convened for several hours yesterday to discuss the escalation, although no major shift in policy was announced. Channel 12 reported that some ministers pushed for renewing targeted killings of Hamas and PIJ leaders, a policy that the security chiefs opposed.
- In addition to Gantz, current policy was criticised by Avigdor Liberman and senior Likud MK Gideon Saar, who urged a “much more severe” response against Gaza.
- Yet former Education Minister Naftali Bennett defended the Prime Minister, saying yesterday there was “no point in carrying out a stronger response against Gaza” that would only lead to further and unnecessary rounds of conflict. Bennett has recently been mooted to rejoin the government as a cabinet minister – perhaps even defense minister.
Looking ahead: If the calm holds then Israel and Hamas will likely revert back to the policy that has guided their interactions since early summer: indirect ceasefire talks mediated by Egypt and the UN, with Israel continuing to ease conditions inside Gaza in return for a halt to border clashes, rocket fire, and attempts to carry out terrorist attacks. Israel has, over the past year, allowed the entry of Qatari money into Gaza, additional imports and electricity supplies, wider fishing zones, more work permits for Gazans inside Israel, large-scale infrastructure repair, as well as the continued operation of a separate commercial crossing between Gaza and Egypt.