Palestinian Hamas militants take part in a rally in memory of their seven comrades, who were killed when a tunnel collapsed close to the Gaza Strip's eastern border with Israel.
(photo credit: REUTERS)
The massive Israeli attack on Gaza on Sunday night indicates that Israel is attempting to enforce new roles in the war game between the two sides. Indeed, Hamas defined the attack as an effort to “change the equation.”
It was the second attack within 10 hours against Hamas targets in Gaza, in response to the launching of a single rocket which landed Sunday at noon in Sderot and caused no injuries and no damage. A small jihadist group called “Ahfad a-Sahaba” (Friends of the Prophets), which defies Hamas authority, claimed responsibility for the attack on its Twitter account.
Within hours, the account was shut down.
First, Israel responded by launching few missiles and by tank fire. It was an expected and measured response as we’ve become accustomed to since the end of Operation Protective Edge two years ago. The essence of this kind of response was to send a message to the other side without causing too many casualties, in order to minimize the risk of a new round of hostilities.
Damage seen from IAF airstrikes in Gaza
After the short, limited attack, Hamas believed that Israel did what was expected, and believed the incident was behind them.
Thus Hamas was surprised when around 10 p.m., Israeli warplanes launched a second and more forceful retaliatory attack. For two hours the Israel Air force pounded Hamas targets.
All in all there were dozens of bombing sorties showered with a significant amount of bombs.
On Monday morning, a senior Israeli military source confirmed in a briefing with defense correspondents that the attack was different from previous ones and “unusual.” He stressed that it was rooted in a new policy aiming to defend Israeli sovereignty in all its dimensions.
In that sense, Hamas’s argument that Israel intends to “change the equation” is correct.
Since the Protective Edge campaign, the main purpose of IDF’s preparations in case a fourth war breaks out with Gaza is to find a solution and handle the threat of Hamas.
In accepting the cease-fire in 2014, Hamas tried to dictate to Israel the game rules, which can be defined as follows: the two sides will continue to arm themselves in preparation for the next round, but until then will hold their fire and will not violate each other’s sovereignty.
Israel could not accept this logic.
However, Israel recently decided to change that policy, which is also based on taking advantage of occurring opportunities. Every time a rocket is fired against Israel from Gaza, as happened this week, IDF will use it to increase its fire power against all Hamas targets, assets and infrastructure, and will not only resort to its predicted, limited measured response. In other words, from now on not a single Hamas target or capability will have immunity.
The senior military source emphasized that the new policy was designed by Chief of Staff Lt.-General Gadi Eisnekot and approved by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and former defense minister Moshe Ya’alon.
Nevertheless, in some parts of the media and right-wing circles, the credit for the change is given to new Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman.
It is also worth noting that the Israeli attack took place after the Turkish Parliament had confirmed the reconciliation agreement with Israel. Turkey, which supports Hamas, rushed to warn Israel on Monday that normalizing relations with Israel “will not silence us in the wake of Israeli attacks against the Palestinian people.”
One shouldn’t be surprised if the short fuse of President Racep Tayip Erdogan will explode the next time Israel repeats an attack of the same magnitude, and the relations between the two countries will deteriorate once again.
It seems that despite Hamas’s threats, it will restrain itself this time and swallow its pride. The two sides say that they have no interests in escalation. To convey a message to calm the situation was one of the reasons why the Israeli military source briefed journalists.
But bearing in mind the differences and disputes regarding the organization’s future strategy between the military wing of Hamas and its political echelon, there is no guarantee that the next time a single rocket lands in Israel and the IDF retaliates, the two sides will be able to prevent an escalation. The seeds for another war were sowed this week.