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June 22, 2018 10:24 am

Hamas Is Badly Misreading the Rocket Situation

avatar by Yoav Limor / JNS.org

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A burning factory in Sderot that was hit by a rocket from Gaza in the war during the summer of 2014. Photo: Natan Flayer via Wikimedia Commons.

JNS.org – The mortar shell and rocket barrage launched at southern ‎Israel on Wednesday was a signal by Hamas that it plans ‎to change the existing equation with Israel. As far ‎as the terrorist group is concerned, from now on, ‎any Israeli strike in response to the raging ‎kite terrorism will be met with rocket fire against ‎Israel. ‎

What made Wednesday’s rocket salvo different is that ‎unlike previous flare-ups on the border, this time, it ‎was Hamas operatives who fired at Israel — as opposed ‎to when Islamic Jihad or the ‎rogue terrorist groups in the coastal enclave ‎attacked Israel. ‎

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. ‎

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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.

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