It was as if Palestinian terror groups did not want
to bother Israel as it fought a diplomatic battle against Turkey.
Between Thursday and Sunday, they fired more than 20 Kassams, Katyushas
and mortar shells, the largest concentrated attack since Operation Cast
Lead ended almost exactly a year ago. IDF officers, including Chief of
General Staff Lt.-Gen. Gabi Ashkenazi and OC Southern Command Maj.-Gen.
Yoav Galant, warned that another round with Hamas was likely just
around the corner.
Sunday, in particular, was reminiscent of the old
days, when the Gaza border saw action almost every day. In the morning,
terror groups fired a number of mortar shells. At night, as they
prepared a repeat attack, the IAF bombed an Islamic Jihad cell, killing
three operatives, including a top commander.
Then came Monday. At about the same time that Deputy Foreign
Minister Danny Ayalon sat down to rip into the Turkish ambassador, the
violence suddenly disappeared almost as fast as it came.
In reality there is no direct connection between the
Jerusalem-Ankara diplomatic crisis and the sudden lull in violence on
the Gaza front. Rather, the attacks are likely part of a greater
diplomatic strategy in which Hamas is reminding Jerusalem, Cairo and
Ramallah that there is an alternative to the past year of quiet.
The sudden escalation is understood here as Hamas's
way of blowing off steam following the tightening of screws on the Gaza
Strip in recent weeks.
THE INCREASED pressure began a month ago at the height of
negotiations for the release of kidnapped soldier Gilad Schalit when,
against Hamas expectations, Israeli officials made clear that even if
he is released, the blockade on Gaza will be kept in place. The Israeli
position is made possible by a 2007 government decision which defined
Gaza as a "hostile entity," meaning that Israel legally only needs to
ensure that a humanitarian crisis does not break out there, but it does
not need to transfer into Gaza whatever Hamas wants.
came Egypt's decision to construct an underground steel wall along the
Philadelphi corridor, which would curb, if not halt the transfer of
weapons through the hundreds of cross-border smuggling tunnels. This
led to violent demonstrations along the border, during which an
Egyptian guard was killed. Cairo, however, is not stopping its work
and, if anything, is speeding it up.
This does not mean that the smuggling will stop, since Hamas
will just dig its tunnels deeper to circumvent the wall. What is really
needed, a top IDF officer explained, is for the Egyptians to deploy
their security forces more effectively along the border.
"Just because someone who was failing starts doing better, doesn't mean he's any closer to an 'A'," the officer said.
Next was the testing of the Iron Dome, during which the missile
defense system successfully intercepted several barrages of rockets,
including Kassams, Katyushas and mortar shells.
And finally, on Sunday the screws were tightened even more with
Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu's decision to erect a fence along the
border with Egypt.
While Gaza is not directly on the Israeli-Egyptian border, its
closure will prevent potential terror infiltrations via the "U Track" -
dubbed such by the IDF's Southern Command in reference to the crossing
of gunmen from Gaza to Sinai, and then into Israel.
The message to Hamas from all of this is clear - the siege on
Gaza from Israel and Egypt will continue and even escalate. In
addition, in about six months, rocket attacks won't be as effective
since the Iron Dome will be deployed along the border.
All of this has put Hamas under a tremendous amount of
pressure, and it is believed within the IDF that this pressure is the
main reason behind the recent escalation in rocket attacks.
The quick response, including the targeting of the Islamic
Jihad rocket squad, is a demonstration of how Israel will not sit back
idly, and how closely its intelligence services work with the IAF. It
is also one of the reasons that Hamas again cracked down on Palestinian
factions to stop the escalation from spinning out of control.
Allowing such an escalation would currently be against Hamas's
interest, which is continuing to rebuild its infrastructure and amass
weaponry ahead of the next conflict.
While the same rearmament is taking place with Hizbullah in
Lebanon, Military Intelligence believes that Gaza will likely light up
before the North. This is a result of the constraints currently on
Hizbullah due to its active membership in the Lebanese government.
While Hamas is in charge of Gaza, the continued stalemate in
the reconciliation talks with Fatah leaves it less restrained, since
less political responsibility means more military maneuverability.