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(photo credit: AP [file])
Al-Qaida affiliated global jihadi groups could be playing an important role in the trickle of rocket fire and border attacks being directed against Israel from southern Lebanon and Gaza in recent days, terrorism analysts have said.
Sporadic rocket fire continued in the South when a Kassam rocket struck the Sha'ar Hanegev Regional Council on Sunday morning. The projectile fell in an open area and did not cause any injuries or damage.
On Saturday night, a Grad-type rocket struck an open area south of Ashkelon. No injury or damage was reported in that incident either. The rockets follow a Katyusha attack on Saturday, when a rocket fired from southern Lebanon struck a town in the western Galilee, injuring three people and damaging a home. No group claimed responsibility.
"When I look at the Katyusha attack from southern Lebanon, my instinct tells me a global jihad group is linked," said Yoram Schweitzer, director of the Program on Terrorism and Low Intensity Conflict at Tel Aviv University's Institute for National Security Studies (INSS).
No one could say with certainty who was behind Saturday's rocket, Schweitzer said, but "there is a basis for a confrontation" between radical Sunni jihadi groups stationed in southern Lebanon and Hizbullah.
Sunni jihadi groups are likely to seek a defiant stance towards Hizbullah and its patron Iran in the future, but for now are establishing their presence by occasionally firing on Israel, Schweitzer said.
Al-Qaida affiliated groups like Fatah al-Islam and Asbat al-Ansar recruit their members from Palestinian refugee camps in Lebanon, where disaffected residents embrace an extremist ideology, Schweitzer added.
"For them, an extremist agenda is almost natural," Schweitzer said, adding that such groups are keen to challenge Hizbullah and to expose the Shi'ite organization's current reluctance to be dragged into another war with Israel.
In Gaza, Schweitzer said it was possible that jihadi groups have been involved in launching rockets and attacks on IDF patrols along the border with Israel. "We are now in a middle situation, [between war and a cease-fire]. For these groups, it is legitimate to show their strength until Hamas reins them in," Schweitzer said.
He added that a global jihadi-affiliated group was linked to one of the first attacks on IDF border patrols following the cessation of Operation Cast Lead in January.
"The global jihadi groups will try and exploit this situation as much as they can, and do all that they can to challenge the idea of a cease-fire," Schweitzer added.
Within Gaza, gunmen belonging to the notorious Darmush clan, which has been in conflict with Hamas, have sworn allegiance to al-Qaeda. The Popular Resistance Committee (PRC) has also been linked by some to global jihadi forces.
Shlomo Brom, director of the Program on Israel-Palestinian Relations at the INSS, concurred with Schweitzer that "is very reasonable to assume" that global jihadis were responsible for the Katyusha rocket on Saturday.
"It's a win-win situation for them. They attack Israel while harming Hizbullah, who they consider to be treacherous Shi'ites, thereby striking both of their enemies," Brom said.
Although he does not doubt the presence of global jihad forces in Gaza, Brom said he was less certain about the identities of groups behind attacks there, due to the large number of "undisciplined elements" in the Strip such as Islamic Jihad and "elements tagged as Fatah" that operate there.
Brom expressed concern over the extent to which Israel had grasped the role being played by the global jihad on its borders, particularly in Gaza.
"It's clear that the more we weaken Hamas, the more we open the door to these forces. During Operation Cast Lead, some of the targets belonged to the regime. I am not sure we were fully thinking about what this means," Schweitzer said.
"Yes, we want to extract a price from Hamas, but we have to weigh that up with the possibility of anarchy in Gaza and the situation that would create," he added.