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March 15, 2018 1:02 pm

In Wake of Latest Gaza Border Explosion, Israeli Defense Establishment Fears Potential Serious Escalation in Violence

avatar by Benjamin Kerstein

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An Israeli soldier stands near a military jeep next to the border fence with the southern Gaza Strip, in Nir Oz, Israel. Photo: Reuters / Amir Cohen.

The detonation of an explosive device near the Israel-Gaza Strip border fence on Thursday, which prompted IDF tank fire in response, raised concern on the Israeli defense establishment that a major escalation in violence on the southern front might be in the offing.

The latest incident came following a similar attack in February in which four IDF soldiers were wounded. It was also revealed by the Hebrew news site Ynet on Thursday that a similar potential occurrence was thwarted in December when IDF soldiers spotted an explosive device on the Gaza border and blew it up with a laser.

In that instance, an observation post reportedly spotted men in civilian clothes planting the explosive. In response, the IDF used the “Cold Fire” system to heat the device with a laser and detonate it harmlessly. It was reportedly a large device and could have caused numerous casualties.

Israeli security officials are concerned that the three incidents represent a pattern of escalation that could easily spin out of control.

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In addition, according to the Hebrew news site Walla, a series of events are scheduled to take place in the next two months that could trigger a major outbreak of violence.

First, there is the question of a successor to Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas. Briefly hospitalized in the United States for undisclosed reasons, Abbas is in his 80s and a chain smoker. It is widely believed that he will either retire soon or die in office. Walla reported that Israeli intelligence is deeply concerned that a “surprise” candidate may emerge to succeed Abbas who could destabilize the security situation.

Next there is a worrying list of sensitive dates occurring in a short time frame: On March 30, the Palestinians will mark Land Day with demonstrations in both the West Bank and Gaza that could turn violent. This will also be Passover Eve, which is often tense.

On April 30, the Palestinians will mark a day in honor of Palestinian prisoners with rallies.

On May 14, the US will officially move its embassy to Jerusalem. Palestinian leaders have been threatening a wave of violence in response to the move, which the Palestinians have vehemently condemned.

The next day, May 15, marks the 70th anniversary of Israel’s founding, but also the Palestinian “Nakba” (Arabic for “Catastrophe,” a reference to Israel’s birth). Hamas is reportedly calling for mass demonstrations near the Gaza border that could number over 100,000 people. Israeli security officials fear there will be a mass attempt to breach the Gaza border fence. Plans are reportedly being made to deal with such a contingency with observation drones, tear gas, and as a last resort, snipers, if live fire is necessary.

Then, on May 17, Ramadan begins, the Muslim holy month that is also often sees tension and violence.

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