An Israeli rocket is fired into the northern Gaza Strip July 17 2014..
(photo credit: REUTERS)
TEL AVIV --Three days after the Jewish state took out a purported Hezbollah convoy heading toward the Israeli side of the Golan Heights, a knife-wielding Palestinian terrorist stabbed 12 morning commuters inside a bus in the heart of Tel Aviv, then quickly exited after seriously wounding at least four people. These two seemingly unrelated events may, in fact, be interconnected and could signal a coming Hamas rocket campaign if the major demands of Gaza’s globally isolated, cash-strapped Islamist rulers are not met in the near future.
The Tel Aviv bus assailant, identified as Hamza Mohammed Matrouk, 23, from the West Bank town of Tulkarem, has been largely depicted as a “lone wolf” responding to the ongoing Palestinian campaign of anti-Jewish incitement. While no doubt there can be incendiary acts like those of Matrouk that are inspired by the official Palestinian calls to violence, in this particular case there may be more than meets the Mideast eye.
Hamas immediately took to Twitter to praise Matrouk’s heinous carnage, calling the bus bloodshed "brave and heroic," while not officially claiming responsibility. According to Middle Eastern defense sources, Hamas surrogates may have dispatched Matrouk to signal to Iran and its proxy Hezbollah the continued commitment by Hamas to the path of jihad, as well as its willingness to do Tehran’s bidding in exchange for massive financial support.
The bus brutality came less than 24 hours after an Israeli official took the unusual step of recognizing his country was behind Sunday’s strike on a Hezbollah convoy near the Israeli side of the Golan Heights. The attack killed the Iranian Revolutionary Guard General Mohammed Allahdadi as well as a Hezbollah commander and the son of the group’s late military leader, Imad Mughniyeh. Hezbollah said six of its members died in the strike.
Reuters on Tuesday quoted a senior Israeli security source as stating Allahdadi was not the intended target and that Israel believed it was attacking only low-ranking Hezbollah members who were about to carry out an attack on the border. Asked if Israel expected Iranian or Hezbollah retaliation, the source told Reuters: “They're almost certain to respond. We're anticipating that, but I think it’s a fair assumption that a major escalation is not in the interest of either side.”
Indeed, Iran wasted no time before threatening to hit back. Iran Revolutionary Guards’ chief General Mohammad Ali Jafari was quoted on Tuesday as telling the state-run Fars news agency: “These martyrdoms proved the need to stick with jihad. The Zionists must await devastating thunderbolts.”
While Matrouk’s timely bus butchery was clearly not grand enough to represent Tehran’s forewarned retaliatory “devastating thunderbolts,” the attack may have been a token gesture from Hamas aimed at securing Iran’s financial largess.
It is notable that the Gaza-based military commander of Hamas, Mohammed Dief, reportedly sent a condolence letter to Hezbollah's Secretary-General, Hassan Nasrallah, expressing sorrow for the deaths of those killed in the suspected Israeli airstrike and urging Hamas-Hezbollah unity. “All of the forces of resistance must band together and unite against the Zionist enemy and its accomplices,” wrote Dief.
Hamas and the Iranian-backed Hezbollah have had a tense relationship, with Iran and Hezbollah disappointed by the lack of support or aid from Hamas in countering the insurgency targeting the regime of President Bashar Assad in Syria. Underscoring the Hamas-Iran feud, Tehran in November unexpectedly indefinitely postponed a request by Hamas chief Khaled Meshaal to visit Iran, with the Tehran regime agreeing only to host lower-level Hamas officials.
Meanwhile, there are other recent signs that Hamas has been signalling Israel, the larger Arab world and the international community that if it does not get what it wants it may restart a rocket war with the Jewish state. Hamas’s major demands include international aid, the opening of Gaza’s borders with Egypt and the expansion of a so-called fishing zone in the Mediterranean along the Gaza coast. In the dysfunctional world of the so-called Israeli-Palestinian conflict, sustained rocket fire from the Gaza Strip may be less about Hamas’s ideological war on Jews and more about the Islamist group trying to regain its swiftly declining power in the region.
On Monday, the London Times
quoted Israeli intelligence officials as stating that Hamas is manufacturing a “new generation” of rockets and is reconstructing its cross-border tunnels. The report cited unnamed intelligence officials' sounding the alarm on dozens of “high trajectory projectiles,” which constitute a “new generation of home-produced rockets” and have been tested by Hamas since September.
In recent months, there have been intermittent reports that Hamas fired rockets into the Mediterranean in a series of drills seemingly deliberately manufactured to capture news media attention. Hamas’s very public rocket testing was most likely addressed to several key audiences.
First, Hamas is petitioning Iran and Arab states. Hamas has been disappointed by the lack of financial support from Arab countries and from the mullahcracy in Tehran. The jihadist group is having trouble paying the salaries of tens of thousands of its workers in Gaza, including members of Hamas’s “military wing.” Hamas is so cash-strapped it reportedly is resorting to the recruitment of a “popular army” of volunteers with the intended goal of preparing “an army for the liberation of Palestine and its holy sites in the near future,” according to Hamas spokesman Mushir al-Masri.
Badly needing funds and facing an incipient revolt by the thousands of government and “military” employees in the Gaza Strip, Hamas attempted to throw itself into bed with the Saudis, who declined the advance. Hamas’s flirtations with Qatar and Turkey have been slightly more successful but neither country has been willing to meet the Islamist group’s full and pressing financial requirements. Last week, Arabic media reported Qatar has temporarily cut its funding for Hamas as part of a possible Saudi-brokered rapprochement with the Egyptian government. Dribbles of cash have been coming in to Gaza for the last five months -- mostly from EU NGOs -- but these funds largely bypass Hamas.
And so Hamas was obliged to return to the world's largest state sponsor of terrorism, the Twelver pistachio oligarchs in Tehran, who are always keen to extend their tentacles to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. At last month’s Gazan military parade celebrating Hamas’s 27th anniversary, numerous Hamas officials heaped praise on Iran in a clear attempt to position Hamas to obtain additional funding from Tehran. The public displays of militancy broadcasted to Iran that Hamas is ready to restart a rocket offensive against Israel if Tehran is more generous with funds and if such an offensive aids Iranian policy goals.
The display of Hamas fighters and recent test-firing of rockets into the Mediterranean were also meant to signal to Israel and the international community Hamas’s willingness to start a new confrontation if its financial demands are not met. Hamas is also feeling more internationally isolated than ever, especially after the loss of the like-minded Muslim Brotherhood regime in Egypt and its replacement with the staunchly anti-Hamas leadership of Abdel Fattah el-Sisi.
How likely is a new Israel-Gaza war? I called the Hamas spokesman Fawzi Barhoum, who declined to comment on any Hamas plans for a rocket war beyond stating that Hamas “is ready to respond to any Zionist aggression.” Sources within Hamas said the group’s politburo decided against starting an offensive with Israel unless the Jewish state “provokes” Hamas. The Gazan leadership is still reeling from the devastating blow inflicted to its military infrastructure by the Israeli Air Force during the last war. It also must realize that an offensive now will only aid Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s prospects in March’s general elections. This may seem surprising, but Hamas likely wants Netanyahu in power, believing Bibi is the best hope of containing the so-called peace process that usually enhances the stature of Hamas’s rivals in the Palestinian Authority under President Mahmoud Abbas’s Fatah party. These factors, combined with Hamas’s current predicament, could cause Gaza’s Islamist rulers to make unexpected moves.