Hamas rockets seen as bid to foil talks

Netanyahu warns organization will be held responsible attacks.

Hamas police cadets Gaza 311 AP (photo credit: Associated Press)
Hamas police cadets Gaza 311 AP
(photo credit: Associated Press)
Defense officials said that the escalation in rocket fire over the weekend was likely Hamas’s response to the Arab League decision on Thursday to authorize the Palestinian Authority to open direct peace talks with Israel.
Hamas has maintained a strict policy of abstaining from rocket fire since Operation Cast Lead ended in mid-January 2009 and has, in some cases, even cracked down on fringe Palestinian terror groups to stop their rocket attacks against Israel.
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Israeli officials said Sunday that the rocket fire over the weekend would likely not lead to an escalation of hostilities in the short term, but was likely an attempt by Hamas to send a message that it should not be ignored if peace talks are launched.
If the talks between Israel and the PA pick up speed, some officials predict that Hamas will escalate its terrorist activity in an attempt to force Israel to launch another operation in Gaza, a move which would most likely derail the talks.
Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu warned at the beginning of Sunday’s cabinet meeting that Israel holds Hamas “directly responsible for any attack on Israel that originates in the Gaza Strip, and this is how the international community must see things.”
Netanyahu characterized as “miraculous” the fact that the Grad missile fired Friday at the heart of Ashkelon did not cause any casualties.
“Israel reserves the right to defend its citizens and we will continue to take all necessary measures in order to defend the State of Israel, Israeli citizens and Israeli children,” he said.
National Infrastructures Minister Uzi Landau (Israel Beiteinu) said before the meeting that Israel was reaping “rotten fruit” caused by the failure of the IDF to “finish the job” against Hamas during Operation Cast Lead.
Tourism Minister Stas Meseznikov (Israel Beiteinu) said that Israel needed to make clear an automatic “price tag” for any attacks from Gaza on Israel. Maybe, he said, Hamas would be deterred if it knew clearly beforehand what price it would have to pay for each attack.
If the government does not set a price tag, he said, there was no difference between this government and the previous government under Ehud Olmert.
Since coming into office last year, Netanyahu has said consistently he would not tolerate the constant “rain” of missiles from Gaza without responding harshly.Hamas has significantly upgraded its military infrastructure and capabilities since Operation Cast Lead last year and is believed today to have thousands of rockets that have a range up to 20 kilometers, and hundreds more that have a range over 40 km.
Hamas is also believed to have several dozen rockets – made in Iran – that are capable of hitting Tel Aviv.
Hamas has made some modifications to its operational plans. Overall, Hamas believes that its defensive plans – which included roadside bombs, booby-trapped homes and dozens of kilometers of tunnels and trenches – was the right plan, but that it was not effective during Cast Lead because its commanders were inexperienced.
Since the Gaza maneuver, Hamas has replaced several of its senior brigade and battalion commanders and has also clearly defined each one’s specific area of responsibilities so it will be clear – as it apparently was not during Cast Lead – which commander operates in which area.