kassam crew 88.
(photo credit: )
Tuesday's rocket barrage on the western Negev brought back memories of July 12 - the day reservists Eldad Regev and Ehud Goldwasser were kidnapped by Hizbullah guerrillas along the Lebanese border.
Back then, the morning started with a barrage of mortars and rockets that served as cover for the Hizbullah squad that abducted the two soldiers patrolling the border.
On Tuesday, the IDF awoke to a similar scenario. Dozens of mortar shells and Kassam rockets pounded the Western Negev, from Ashkelon in the north to Gaza-belt communities in the south. Security officials said they had not seen such a massive onslaught over the past few years.
Hamas quickly took responsibility for the attacks; the IDF - acting on intelligence and other findings from the field - raised suspicions that the rocket fire was meant to serve as cover for the kidnapping of a soldier.
More than anything, the kidnapping attempt - if that's what it was - has once again proven Hamas's resolve to continue its attacks, not just shootings or roadside bombs, but strategic attacks like the kidnappings near Lebanon and the abduction of Cpl. Gilad Schalit just outside Gaza last summer.
Despite joining Fatah in a Palestinian Authority national unity government, Hamas is directly involved in terrorism. Just like the Seder night car bomb attempt in Tel Aviv, the defense establishment believes Tuesday's attempted kidnapping was approved and directed by Hamas's entire senior echelon, particularly Khaled Mashaal in Damascus, who has of late made efforts to appear moderate.
The attack also demonstrates the close relationship that has been developed over the years between Hamas and Hizbullah, and not just in ideological terms, with both terrorist organizations believing Israel must be destroyed.
Following the Second Lebanon War last summer, Military Intelligence claimed Hamas had "drawn power and inspiration" from Hizbullah's surprising success in fighting the IDF. Tuesday's kidnapping attack is evidence that Hamas is learning tactics and operational know-how from its northern ally.
The use of rockets and mortars as cover for the abduction of a soldier is classic Hizbullah modus operandi and has been used successfully by the group twice: last summer and in 2000, when it kidnapped three IDF soldiers.
Hamas has also adopted Hizbullah's use of antitank missiles - which wreaked destruction on IDF tanks during the war - and has smuggled an unprecedented number of them into the Gaza Strip from Sinai this year. It is also said to be building underground bunkers and creating Hizbullah-like "nature reserves," camouflaged systems of tunnels and bunkers that the IDF had difficulty locating and destroying during the war.
With Hamas slowly but surely turning into the Hizbullah of Gaza, the question now becomes, when will Israel decide to do what it did last summer - invade to try to break the terror group's back?
At the moment, the focus of Israel's efforts vis- -vis the Palestinians is on the diplomatic track. Prime Minister Ehud Olmert has committed to meeting with Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas on a biweekly basis, with a commitment for one of the next meetings to be in the PA. Israel has also accepted US General Keith Dayton's plan to transfer weapons to the Abbas loyalists in the Gaza Strip. A massive invasion of Gaza does not appear to be on the table.
On the other hand, the IDF Southern Command is eager for a fight, and Tuesday's attempted kidnapping could be the excuse Olmert has been waiting for.