Security and Defense: Escalation?

January 25, 2010 12:45
3 minute read.


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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.

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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.

Next 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.

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