Islamic Jihad Launches Weekend Rocket Salvo at Israel

But why has the terror group chosen this moment to strike?

As Israelis gear up for the likely prospect of a third election, and the nation is in the throes of political gridlock, Israelis living near the Gaza periphery had to endure yet another spate of rocket attacks from Gaza. Over the weekend, the Palestinian terrorist group, Islamic Jihad, fired 10 rockets at the southern Israeli town of Sderot. Eight of the 10 were intercepted by Israel’s anti-rocket system known as Iron Dome, while one hit a residential building causing structural damage though luckily, no injuries. The family residing in the building, alerted by an early warning system known as “Color Red,” made it safely to the bomb shelter before the rocket struck. The tenth rocket landed in an open area.

Israel responded to the attacks with measured strikes against Hamas targets. At least one terrorist was killed in those strikes. Though Islamic Jihad was the instigator, Israel holds Hamas responsible for everything that goes on in Gaza since Hamas is Gaza’s governing authority.

On the face of it, the rocket attack seems puzzling. Israel is allowing Qatari cash to flow into Gaza and the weekly Hamas-orchestrated Palestinian demonstrations occurring along the Gaza-Israel border are a mere trickle of what they used to be just a few months ago. Israel and Hamas have an unwritten agreement that Hamas will maintain quiet as long as Israel allows Qatari cash to flow into Hamas’s coffers.

That agreement appeared to be holding until it was shattered by the weekend violence, initiated by Islamic Jihad. But in the Middle East, seemingly unrelated events are inexorably intertwined with one another. In Lebanon and Iraq, anti-government demonstrations have paralyzed the governments of those two failed states. Moreover, these demonstrations have morphed into anti-Iranian protests.

The Islamic Republic of Iran, through its Shia proxies, wields considerable influence in Lebanon and Iraq. Both are vassal states of the Islamic Republic and this is particularly true of Lebanon where Hezbollah acts as an arm of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps. Moreover, Lebanon’s army has been so thoroughly penetrated by Hezbollah that it has lost all vestiges of independence and essentially acts as the terror group’s auxiliary force.

But the recent anti-Iran demonstrations in those two nations are cause for concern for Iran’s mullahs, who have referred to the demonstrators as tools of Israel and America. Iran needed a diversion and it turned to its proxies in Gaza to do its bidding. Hamas is constrained by the business of governance but its little brother, Islamic Jihad, is under no such constraints.

Like Hamas, Islamic Jihad receives much of its funding from Iran. Its military leader, Baha Abu al-Ata, is an agent of Iran and receives his marching orders from his bosses in Dahieh, Beirut or Tehran. Given the lack of an Israeli provocation, it is logical to assume that the instant rocket attack over the weekend was prompted by orders issued from Tehran.

There were conflicting reports from Gaza whether those responsible for firing the rockets were arrested by Hamas authorities. Islamic Jihad denied that any of its members were arrested. Regardless, Israel has come to grips with the fact that Iran, through its Sunni proxies, is perched at its border with Gaza, much the same way it’s perched at the border with Lebanon, albeit through use of Shia proxies.

There are three things that have thus far prevented Israel from unleashing its might against the terror entities running amok in Gaza. First, the political situation in Israel is characterized by gridlock. No one in Israel is looking forward to the prospect of a third election in one year but this unfolding scenario is increasingly likely with neither major party able to hobble together a governing coalition. In the absence of an exigency, major military decisions will be postponed until the political climate changes.

Second, the Iron Dome system, wonderful as it is, acts as a double edged sword for Israel. As long as the system minimizes casualties, the government can withstand pressure to act resolutely and ruthlessly against Hamas and Islamic Jihad. In the latest attack, 10 rockets were fired resulting in no injuries and damage to a residential building. Iron Dome ensured that only one rocket got through and damage to a building cannot be used to justify a full-scale onslaught. Israel is in essence shackled by a pair of golden handcuffs through a strictly defensive weapons system, and defense is something that is not normally a part of Israel’s military doctrine.

Third, Israel sees the more formidable challenge as emanating from the north. Hezbollah currently maintains an arsenal of 150,000 rockets and missiles of various types from crude Grad rockets to more sophisticated Scud and M-600 surface-to-surface missiles. Moreover, Iranian entrenchment in Syria poses significant challenges for Israel and raises the specter of a third front opposite Israel’s Golan Heights.

Nonetheless, at some point and time, Israel will have to take substantive action in Gaza beyond measured, pinprick strikes. This is because political gridlock in Israel will not last in perpetuity and Iron Dome is not infallible.  

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