After the worst flare-up of violence on Israel’s southern border in four years, an Egyptian-brokered understanding was reached between Jerusalem and Hamas to return to the cease-fire agreement reached in 2014 following Operation Protective Edge.
After a day of warning sirens and explosions, calm was restored to Israel’s southern towns and cities on Wednesday.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu warned Hamas, which controls the Gaza Strip, not to resume the violence against Israel.
“One thing is clear: When they test us, they pay immediately,” he said of Hamas and other terrorist groups in Gaza. “And if they continue testing us, they will pay dearly.”
Netanyahu made his remarks in Tel Aviv during a memorial ceremony for the victims of the Altalena.
It is “the Hamas regime, Islamic Jihad and the other terrorist organizations, inspired by Iran, that are responsible for the escalation,” he said.
“Since yesterday, the IDF has strongly retaliated against the firing from the Gaza Strip and has hit dozens of terrorist targets in the severest blow we have given them in years,” Netanyahu said.
“I salute the fighters of the IDF and the security forces, and I commend the resilience of the residents of the South,” he said.
A senior source in the defense establishment said rocket and mortar fire from Gaza stopped because of significant strikes that the IDF carried out in Gaza.
“The IDF launched a significant strike overnight in Gaza, and we have acted responsibly, and since the morning, the fire has stopped,” the source said, adding that “Israel has delivered a message that if the fire resumes, the attacks on Hamas and the other groups will intensify.”
Palestinian media quoted Hamas spokesman Fawzi Barhoum as saying a “consensus was reached to return to the cease-fire understandings” in the Gaza Strip after “many hours” of mediation.
Islamic Jihad spokesman Daoud Shehab, acknowledging a cease-fire was in effect, said its success would depend on “whether Israel will refrain from any military escalation against Gaza.”
A Palestinian official said Egyptian mediation led to a cease-fire, and terms of the “understanding” did not go beyond “a restoration of calm by both sides.”
Energy Minister Yuval Steinitz, a member of Netanyahu’s security cabinet, told Israel Radio he understood there was an “indirect agreement with Hamas to end the current round [of fighting].”
The security cabinet met in Tel Aviv on Wednesday, but it did not immediately publish any conclusions.
The IDF and Home Front Command began rolling back instructions to residents in the South to stay close to bomb shelters, beginning at 6 p.m. on Wednesday.
Israel Radio’s Reshet Bet reported that more than 180 rockets and mortars had been launched toward civilian areas and IDF outposts. Earlier on Wednesday, the IDF released an infographic of 65 air strikes carried out against Hamas targets in the Gaza Strip in response to the more than 24 hours of fire directed from the enclave.
The targets included a drone facility, a rocket manufacturing plant, advanced naval weaponry, military compounds, training camps and weapons factories, the IDF said.
“We attacked high-value targets that we have waited a long time for the opportunity [to attack],” OC Southern Command Maj.-Gen. Eyal Zamir said on Wednesday, adding that “at this point in time, it was a very great achievement, when we look at the general context.”
“On the other hand, we have to say that there are quite a few barrages that were fired at our outposts,” he said. “Most of the rockets were intercepted by Iron Dome or fell in open areas. Yet we have managed to deeply deter the terrorist organizations and Hamas, and, as I said at the beginning, they don’t want to go on a broad [military] campaign.”
Brig.-Gen. (res.) Yossi Kuperwasser, former director-general of the Strategic Affairs Ministry and former head of the Military Intelligence research division, said it can be assumed that there is a cease-fire in place, but “the question is, is it going to be stable?”
Speaking on a conference call organized by the Israel Project, he said the time it took to reach an understanding and stop the fire was “relatively short” due to changes in the regional settings, compared to how long it took to reach a cease-fire in 2014 during Operation Protective Edge
“In 2014, everyone intervened,” Kuperwasser said. “America brought Turkey and Qatar, supporters of Hamas, to be partners to bring about a new arrangement, and it took a long time. Now, Saudi Arabia the UAE and Egypt are the more prominent forces in the Arab world, and the approach of the American administration to what is happening in Gaza is quite different from its predecessor.”
“The entire setting is not helping Hamas,” he said. “In 2014, they believed they could achieve something that lasted 55 days. This time, they understand there is nothing to gain.”
Hamas paid a heavy price, especially after damaging the infrastructure supplying electricity to the beleaguered Strip in one of their rounds, Kuperwasser said.
“The lesson is that it is not in their interest to enter this kind of round, and I hope they will calculate it and learn it and keep it with them for a long time,” he said. “But with these people, you never know.”
Israel’s Ambassador to the United Nations Danny Danon spoke to reporters before a UN Security Council debate in New York on the Hamas attacks.
“If Israeli children are not allowed to sleep quietly at night, then the terrorists of Gaza will feel the might of the IDF. We will not allow anyone to harm our citizens and we will do all that is necessary to defend them,” he said.
“Too many in the international community were deceived by the terrorists in Gaza who dressed up as protesters. These terrorists have the same consistent goal – to harm innocent Israelis.