Palestinian group that pledged allegiance to ISIS trains in Gaza.
(photo credit: SCREENSHOT ARAB MEDIA)
As in recent rocket attacks from Gaza, Wednesday’s attempt by a terrorist cell to plant explosives on the Israeli border was likely the work of a small ISIS-affiliated jihadist group in the Gaza Strip.
Hamas’s strategy continues to be to keep its home turf of Gaza out of the line of fire, while rebuilding its rocket arsenal, tunnel networks and battalions of fighters, and avoiding Israel’s painful strikes.
Hamas is trying its best to activate terrorist cells away from the Strip, in the West Bank and east Jerusalem, efforts that have so far been unsuccessful due to the Shin Bet intelligence agency, which works around the clock to preempt mass casualty incidents.
However, the presence of the smaller Salafi-jihadist groups and their ongoing attempts to spark a new conflict in Gaza pose a challenge to the achievements of Operation Protective Edge in 2014, which resulted in the lengthiest period of calm in the South for a decade.
Each attack by Islamic State-affiliated groups risks sparking a wider incident, which could drag in Hamas and Islamic Jihad against their will, and result in an escalation with Israel.
The activities of the small Gaza factions cannot be divorced from the wider scope of Islamic State attacks in the region, particularly those in Sinai, where the Wilyat al-Sinai group has been busy attacking Egyptian security forces, smuggling weapons from Libya, and last year bringing down a Russian passenger jet over the peninsula.
Links exist between Islamic State followers in Sinai and in Gaza. Hamas cooperates with the jihadists in Sinai, while repressing their counterparts in Gaza, as it attempts to safeguard its rule and maintain access to weapons in the Sinai Peninsula.
The new attempt to plant bombs, while unlikely to lead to any immediate escalation, is a warning signal regarding the unpredictability of events in Gaza, where wild card incidents carried out by Salafi-jihadists can rapidly transform the wider security situation.