PALESTINIANS FIRE a mortar shell in the southern Gaza Strip in 2015.
(photo credit: REUTERS)
“There is a rise in Iranian involvement in the Gaza Strip in support of Hamas and Islamic Jihad,” he said, adding that the mortar fire on Friday “was exceptional – it was aimed at hurting us. An Israeli response was required and to blame Iran was correct.”
The three mortars interrupted a ceremony in the community of Kfar Aza that was marking the 24th birthday of Sgt. Oron Shaul, who was killed in Operation Protective Edge during the battle of Shujaiyya and whose remains have been held by Hamas ever since.
Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman told Channel 2 News on Saturday night that the mortars came from Iran and were supplied to terrorist groups in the Hamas-run Gaza Strip.
One of the mortars struck a building in the Sha’ar HaNegev Regional Council, causing damage but no injuries. The other two were intercepted by the Iron Dome missile-defense system.
The IDF quickly retaliated with fighter jets and tank fire on Friday, striking two Hamas targets in the northern Gaza Strip. On Saturday night, the army announced it had again responded to the mortars by attacking a Hamas outpost in the southern part of the Strip.
A statement by the IDF’s Spokesperson’s Office said the fire on Friday “proved once again that Iran, through rogue and extremist terrorist organizations, is acting to bring about a deterioration in the regional situation.”
Iran, the statement continued, “is playing with the lives of the Gazan residents that could lead the strip to an escalation after years of quiet on the security front.” Nonetheless, Hamas is “fully responsible for the situation and its implications,” it said.
According to Ya’alon, there cannot be an escalation like the incident on Friday without Hamas giving the green light.
“The [mortar] fire on Friday... was something else. It was directed at us and that’s why there is without a doubt a change in balance: on the one side, the suspicion of what will happen to them [Hamas] – and they paid a heavy price during Operation Protective Edge – on the other side, the Iranian pressure,” he said. “Here the balance is moving to the side where they are less deterred, and we need to move it back where they are deterred, with a clear message that they will pay a heavy price if there is an escalation.”
According to Ya’alon, Iran and Hezbollah feel more confident because of their success in Syria and have begun paying more attention to Israel.
“Until now we’ve made sure... not to interfere with their internal issues,” he said. “And we know how to put red lines to these actors, to our enemies, regarding safeguarding our interests, and I think that is the proper policy.”
Tehran froze its funding to Hamas in the Gaza Strip after the group refused to support the Assad regime in 2012. Now Iran is said to be providing Hamas with some $60m. to $70m. per year. In August, Hamas leader Yayha Sinwar said ties with the Islamic Republic had been restored and that Iran was “the largest backer financially and militarily” to Hamas’s military wing.
“Iran is the only one lending us military support,” Hamas Politburo deputy chairman Saleh al-Arouri said in a interview televised Saturday evening. “This support has not stopped. Our relations with Hezbollah are wonderful and there is a readiness on their part to supply everything we need for a military campaign against Israel.”
Islamic Revolution Guards Corps Quds Force commander Maj.-Gen. Qassem Soleimani offered Iran’s support to Palestinians. During a phone with the commanders of Palestinian Islamic Jihad and the Izzadin Kassam Brigades – the military wing of Hamas – Soleimani said other “resistance forces” in the region were also ready to support Palestinians, according to the IRGC’s Sepah News.