Sirens echoed throughout Tel Aviv and its suburbs on Thursday as two rockets, Identified as Fajr-5 missiles, were fired from Gaza at Israel’s second largest city causing no injuries or damage. Five people were treated for shock. The rockets fell in open spaces. Iron Dome, Israel’s point-defense missile system, which calculates the rocket’s trajectory and pre-determines its flight path, did not launch to intercept. It was the first time a rocket was fired at Tel Aviv since 2014.
It’s difficult to say which Gazan group fired the rockets. Hamas, the terror group that governs Gaza immediately denied responsibility and said it would find and punish those responsible. A smaller terrorist group known as the Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ) also denied responsibility. A PIJ spokesman called reports blaming its group for the attack as “baseless lies and claims.” The Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine denied involvement of any of its operatives. There are also rogue Salafist and Islamist splinter groups that operate in Gaza and the possibility of their involvement cannot be discounted.
Last month, the PIJ showcased part of its rocket arsenal with boasts that its rockets are capable of reaching Tel Aviv and beyond. The PIJ stated that the rockets were manufactured with technical assistance from Iran.
Regardless of which terror gang fired the rockets, it is Hamas that controls what goes on in Gaza and the Israeli government’s policy is to hold Hamas accountable for belligerent actions originating from Gaza. Israel has applied the same doctrine to Syria’s warlord Bashar Assad, holding his regime responsible for any hostile fire emanating from Syria. It is a sound doctrine and one that deters governing hostile entities from using proxies to attack Israel while simultaneously and disingenuously denying responsibility.
Fearing an imminent Israeli response to the rocket provocation, an Egyptian delegation in Gaza for talks with Hamas, quickly departed. Ironically, the Egyptians were reportedly in town for the purpose of seeking a reduction in tensions with Israel.
Israel’s reaction to the Gaza provocation was swift. Israeli aircraft bombed a Hamas-linked naval commando facility located west of Khan Younis. Hamas propaganda outlets claimed the target was struck multiple times. Palestinian media reported strikes in other locations as well including Beit Lahiya in northern Gaza and Gaza City. The Hamas-controlled Gaza health ministry has not, as of this writing, issued any word on casualties. There were reports that Hamas and PIJ members withdrew from their bases in anticipation of an Israeli retaliatory strike. In fact, it would not be surprising if many fled to Al-Shifa hospital, which also serves as a Hamas command center and bomb shelter in times of war.
Neither Hamas nor Israel desires an escalation of hostilities. Hamas knows from previous experience that it will lose any conflict with Israel. On three previous occasions – 2009, 2012 and 2014 – the Israel Defense Forces bested Hamas and pummeled the Islamist group to ash. The terror group’s strategy is to keep tensions simmering while avoiding all out conflagration. In this way, Hamas hopes to maintain relevance while also providing the group with a convenient way to keep Gaza’s population from focusing on Gaza’s many internal woes, including its dire economic condition.
Israel does not wish to get into an entanglement in Gaza since it has more pressing issues to deal with, chiefly Iran and Hezbollah. The latest intelligence reports indicate that the Iranians are continuing to manufacture surface-to-surface missiles in Syria. In addition, Hezbollah with the help of its Shia patron is attempting to establish a presence opposite the Israeli Golan Heights. Israeli intelligence has identified Ali Mussa Daqduq, a long-time Hezbollah operative and former bodyguard to Hezbollah chieftain Hassan Nasrallah, as the mastermind of this initiative.
The instant rocket provocation from Gaza has the potential to spiral into further bloodier conflict leading to full-scale war. But more likely than not, Hamas recognizing its limitations, will not dare venture down a path that will surely lead to its humiliation and defeat for a fourth time 10 years.