Still, Hamas made sure that the attack followed most of the familiar “rules” — only at night and only at the Gaza-vicinity communities, and apparently while also trying to minimize any casualties, to avoid further escalation.
Hamas’ policy change came about for two reasons.
The first is Israel’s own change of policy with regards to kite terrorism. It took Israel far too long to define the incessant waves of incendiary kites sent over the border as actionable acts of terror, but once it did, the IDF began systematically countering them, including firing warning shots at terrorist kite cells and targeting Hamas assets in Gaza in retaliation.
The second reason is Hamas’ own frustration and distress in Gaza. Since the border-riot campaign was launched on March 30, some 150 of its operatives have been killed — and the Israeli military has carried out more than 100 strikes on Hamas positions in the coastal enclave, all while Hamas has nothing to show for it.
Thus, Hamas is searching for something to hang onto and drawing a line in the sand opposite Israel by declaring that “bombings will be met with bombings,“ as Hamas spokesman Fawzi Barhoum said on Wednesday. This way, it can claim to be defending Gaza from Israel.
The problem is that, while playing with fire is a common practice in the Middle East, things can spiral out of control very quickly.
The IDF is sparing no effort to minimize casualties in Gaza, which is why it is wary of launching surgical strikes against kite flyers who are, for the most part, teenagers. But it does not have full control of the outcome of its strikes on Gaza — no more than Hamas can be sure that the rockets that it fires into Israel will land in an open area, rather than a populated one.
These circumstances are compounded by the inherently volatile situation on the ground in Gaza, which is suffering a dire economic and humanitarian crisis.
Hamas is banking on Israel opting against a military campaign in Gaza at this time so as not to split its focus from the northern sector, but it is sorely mistaken if it thinks that Israel will simply contain kite terrorism or shy away from action, given the new equation that has emerged.
At some point, Israel’s patience will expire. This could be brought on by casualties (heaven forbid), or simply because the residents of the Gaza-vicinity communities are tired of seeing their fields torched and their children sleeping in bomb shelters.
The communities near the border are not eager for war; they would be the first to pay the price. All they want is peace and quiet. But the challenges that the military faces in providing them with both of these things are growing more complex by the day.
Yoav Limor is a veteran Israeli journalist and columnist for Israel Hayom.