Escalation in Israel’s South and the Sinai Problem
After a period of relative quiet, Hamas launched a rocket campaign against southern Israel this week. Over 120 rockets and mortars were launched into the Negev from the Gaza Strip since the latest round of violence began on Monday. Wednesday reached a violent nadir, with 65 rockets hitting southern Israel, causing schools in the region to precautionarily close. Luckily, no Israelis have been killed in the latest round of rocket fire, but plenty were injured — including eleven border policemen — as fear grips the Jewish communities in the south.
Asserting its right to defend itself, Israel’s military began a targeted airstrike campaign on Gaza in response to the rocket violence. The Israeli Air Force scored direct hits on, among other locales, a weapons manufacturing facility in Rafah and a terror activity site in Gaza. Further air strikes on the northern part of the Gaza Strip resulted in the deaths of two wanted Palestinian militant snipers.
Meanwhile, Egypt is trying to play peacemaker by calling on both sides to end the violence. At Egypt’s behest, Israel and Hamas reportedly agreed to a ceasefire on Wednesday night. However, as of Thursday, rockets are still being launched into the Israeli coastal city of Ashkelon and elsewhere in southern Israel.
This week’s violence stems from an incident Monday, in which a Saudi national and an Egyptian national belonging to a newly formed Sinai-based al-Qaeda affiliate — The Mujahidin Shura Council in the Environs of Jerusalem (MSC) — penetrated the Israeli border through the Sinai and opened fire on Israeli vehicles, killing an Israeli Arab construction worker. Both terrorists were killed by Israeli security forces. The attack, however, shows how the increasing lawlessness both in the Sinai and around the region is resulting in the proliferation of new Islamist terrorist groups. And in the future Israel will likely have to contend with them in addition to Hamas.