Hamas to Israel: ISIS-linked rebels trying to spark conflict between us

Defense dilemma: How to deal with jihadists in the Gaza Strip who are trying to provoke both Israel and Hamas?

An Islamic Jihad militant attends an anti-Israel rally in Rafah. (photo credit: REUTERS)
An Islamic Jihad militant attends an anti-Israel rally in Rafah.
(photo credit: REUTERS)
Israel's defense establishment knows that the recent "trickles" of rockets fired from the Gaza Strip into Israel must be stopped before it becomes a routine occurrence. But while Israel has officially placed the responsibility for Wednesday night's rocket fire on Gaza's leadership, Hamas is having a hard time reining in Salafi and jihadist groups in the Strip.
Minutes after Wednesday night's rocket fire, Hamas operatives rushed from their headquarters to find shelter, fearing Israeli retaliation strikes, which came early Thursday morning with as three militant training camps were targeted.
A senior Hamas official sent a message to Israel through Egypt, claiming that an ISIS-affiliated group, which it is currently at odds with, fired the rocket and was using Israel's blaming of Hamas for all attacks coming from Gaza in an attempt to spark an escalation between the two sides.
Later on, a radical Islamist group sympathetic to Islamic state claimed responsibility for the attacks on Israel. Witnesses and medics said the predawn attacks on the two camps belonging to Hamas Islamists and the Islamic Jihad group caused some damage but no casualties.
A senior official in the IDF General Staff described the situation in Gaza as "extremely difficult," and explained that hundreds of trucks carrying building materials were being allowed to enter the Strip every day in order to aid its rehabilitation. However, he stressed, that Israel would not accept attacks on its territory.
Defense Minister Moshe Ya'alon (Likud) also addressed the rocket fire on Thursday, saying that "even if those who fired on Israel are rebel factions from world jihad organizations trying to challenge Hamas by firing on us, we still see Hamas as the responsible party for what happens in Gaza, and we will not suffer attempts to harm our citizens."
Ya'alon added that "Overnight, the IDF retaliated to the attacks with airstrikes. And if it is necessary, we will strike with even greater force. Last summer was proof of that."
An Israeli defense source confirmed Thursday that there were recently violent clashes between Hamas operatives and Salafi groups in Gaza. He said that a few days ago there was an attempt to arrest a Salafi terrorist that barricaded himself in his home, but he was killed during the arrest raid.
Hamas reported that it found weapons in the house, including a rocket-propelled grenade launcher and explosive devices. The Israeli source said that he estimates that the rocket fire on Wednesday was indeed from the same Salafi group which is trying to provoke an Israeli response against Hamas.
MK Ofer Shelah (Yesh Atid) criticized what he said was the the inaction of the government and those heading it. In a post on his Facebook page on Thursday, he warned that the next confrontation with Hamas will come soon and could be "even worse and bloodier than the one before."
Shelah added that only if we take action "could it be possible to demilitarize Gaza and restrain Hamas."
"One thing is clear: the next time around is already on its way," Shelah wrote. "It will start rockets from rebellious factions and end with a large confrontation."
Next week, Gen. Martin Dempsey, the chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff, will meet with Defense Minister Moshe Ya'alon and Lt.-Gen. Gadi Eizenkot, the first time for Eizenkot as chief of staff. In contract to the political distance between Washington and Jerusalem at the moment, the relationship between the Israeli and American armies is at its strongest.      
Reuters contributed to this report.