by: Ilse Strauss
Monday, 29 October 2018 | Is Israel heading to war with Hamas? This question has been uppermost in the minds of Israelis—and many in the international community—over the past few weeks, and for good reason. Israel now faces its 32nd week of violent riots and infiltration attempts on the Israel–Gaza border. Tens of thousands of incendiary balloons have burnt hundreds of acres of Israeli forest and farmland. Barrages of rockets continue to target civilians in the south of Israel.
To date, the Jewish state has responded to the ongoing aggression in much the same way it always does: self-defense, retaliation on direct rocket attacks, offers to alleviate the dire situation in the Gaza Strip and calls for a long-term solution. Peace is, after all, something that Israel will pursue at all costs.
Yet Jerusalem’s patience has limits. Last Monday, Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman warned explicitly that Israel has “reached a situation of no choice.” The Jewish state does not want to go to war. The choice may, however, not be Israel’s. The proverbial ball is in the Gazan terror groups’ court. Peace begets peace. And continued violence will eventually demand a response.
Gaza replied to Lieberman’s warning on Friday night. Shortly after 10 p.m., air raid sirens in the south of Israel started wailing, giving residents as little as 15 seconds to seek shelter. The barrage—fired by Islamic Jihad, the second largest terror group operating in Gaza—continued until 3 a.m. After a brief lull, Islamic Jihad attacked again at 6 a.m. and 8 a.m. respectively. By the time weary Israelis emerged from their bomb shelters, 34 projectiles had been fired at civilians. The Iron Dome aerial defense system shot down 13 rockets, while the remaining projectiles hit open areas and were therefore not targeted. However, two missiles fell short of their targets and hit the Gaza Strip, one of them striking the ambulance terminal of the sole pedestrian passage between Israel and Gaza.
In response, the Israeli Air Force struck 95 terror targets in the coastal enclave, including weapons production sites and a factory that produces parts for subterranean terror tunnels. The latter, the army said, was located dangerously close to a school. Islamic Jihad’s response was troubling, but hardly came as a surprise. In a joint statement with Hamas—the terror organization governing the coastal enclave—the Iran-backed group threatened to return “fire for fire and blood for blood,” apparently failing to remember that they themselves started the round of violence with a barrage of 34 rockets.
Moreover, in a clear sign that Islamic Jihad believes they hold the authority to stop and start violent altercations with Israel at will—often right after taking the first shot—the terror group announced mere hours after their attack that they had agreed to an Egyptian-brokered ceasefire with the Jewish state. An Islamic Jihad spokesperson told a Gaza news site the ceasefire agreement went into effect after Egypt communicated with the group’s leaders.
In keeping with standard practice of not responding to Gaza-based terror groups’ proclamation of an end in violence, Israel did not acknowledge Islamic Jihad’s ceasefire declaration.
For its part, Hamas’s leader in Gaza, Yahya Sinwar, demanded on Saturday that Israel transfer US $15 million from Qatar into the terror group’s coffers every month. Heeding the demand, he said, would prevent further escalations. Failure to do so would spell an uptick in fighting. Sinwar added Jerusalem has until next Thursday to transfer the funds.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu rejected the demand outright. “We heard about an ‘ultimatum’ from Hamas to Israel. At no stage will Israel accept any ultimatum from Hamas. Israel will continue to act in accordance with Israeli interests and for Israel’s security alone.”
Also on Saturday, Lieberman met with Israel Defense Forces (IDF) Chief of Staff Gadi Eisenkot and other top security officials to deliberate on the situation. A day later, Israel’s security cabinet convened to discuss a way forward but issued no public statements.
Over the weekend, the IDF spokesperson’s office indicated that Iran and Syria were behind Islamic Jihad’s attack. “The direction for what happened tonight in the Gaza Strip came from Damascus. We view the regime in Syria and the Iranian Quds Force as responsible for the incidents.” IDF spokesman, Lt. Col. Jonathan Conricus added that the rocket strikes were executed by order of operatives from the overseas branch of Iran’s elite Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, which is stationed in Syria. Israel’s response, he warned, would therefore not be limited to Gaza.
Friday night’s attack was, however, only one episode in a weekend of tension and violence. Throughout the day on Friday, thousands of Palestinian rioters congregated along the Israel–Gaza border, burning tires and throwing rocks and firebombs at Israeli troops. On Saturday morning, the IDF destroyed yet another terror tunnel dug from Gaza into Israel. And later that day, three Gazans attempted to place an explosive device on the border fence.
Moreover, the weekend of tension and violence is but one episode in 32 weeks of non-stop infiltration attempts, riots, rocket attacks and terror arson. This brings us back to the original question: is Israel heading to a fourth and hopefully final round of war with the terror groups in Gaza? The answer is not short or simple. Neither is it one that the Jewish state can fully take responsibility for. From Israel’s side, the unofficial agreement of “peace will be met with peace” still holds. The question is whether Hamas and Islamic Jihad can be trusted to play by the same rules.
Posted on October 29, 2018
Source: (Bridges for Peace, October 29, 2018)
Photo Credit: Israel Defense Forces/Flickr
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