After weeks of escalatory rocket fire and a cross-border bombing attack that critically injured an Israeli officer, Palestinian groups led by Iran-backed Hamas launched at least 72 rockets and mortars at Israeli civilians overnight.
The barrage means that Hamas and other terror groups have fired at least 729 rockets and mortars into Israel in 2012, surpassing the 653 fired in 2011. The pace and density of the attacks also have dramatically increased in recent weeks, raising the possibility that Hamas has evaluated the regional situation and made a strategic decision to escalate its targeting of Israeli civilians.
Earlier this month Hamas launched a shoulder-mounted anti-aircraft missile at an Israeli helicopter, another first. The rocket, a Russian-made Strela-2, reportedly came from Libya and was smuggled into the Gaza Strip via tunnels running from Egypt.
Hamas leaders may feel that the regional situation has changed the strategic environment in their favor. The overnight rocket barrage from Gaza immediately follows the visit of Qatar's Emir Hamad bin Khalifa A-Thani to the territory, a much-publicized state visit that provided a diplomacy victory for Hamas. Hamas leaders used the Emir’s presence to explicitly declare that they had overcome Israel's attempt to diplomatically isolate the terror group.
Meanwhile the Muslim Brotherhood ascension in Egypt has created the expectation that Hamas leaders will be able to evade and erode Israel’s blockade of the Gaza Strip.
Without either strong international condemnation or targeted military action, it is unlikely that Palestinian terror groups will change their strategic calculations, which all but guarantees further escalations against Israeli civilians.
HAMAS and other Iran-backed terror groups in Gaza have dramatically escalated their attacks on Israel within the last two days, launching at least 72 rockets overnight Wednesday after critically wounding an IDF officer who was on a routine patrol with a roadside bomb attack. More than 130 rockets have been fired at Israel in the past week. These attacks – the biggest attack from Gaza since the end of June 2012, when more than 50 rockets were fired over four days – have targeted Israeli civilians throughout the south of the country.
HAMAS is preparing for conflict, recreating the conditions that led up to the group’s December 2008 war with Israel. It has remilitarized civilian installations, including a mosque housing explosives and rocket launchers. Israel responded to the attacks by targeting terror infrastructure in the Gaza Strip, including this mosque (http://is.gd/irz2RX).
- Hamas’s tactics constitute a double war crime: using civilian installations in the Gaza Strip to target civilian installations in Israel.
- Hamas has returned to militarizing mosques and other civilian buildings. During the 2008 war, Hamas transformed up to 100 mosques into depots and bases (http://is.gd/r74Ruu).
- The attacks mark a return to targeting vulnerable civilian infrastructure, especially infrastructure involving children. The attack overnight hit several homes. An attack two weeks ago scored a direct hit on a children’s’ petting zoo, killing several of the animals. In the lead-up to Israel’s December 2008 war, Palestinian groups had openly bragged about timing their attacks to when schoolchildren were physically traveling to school (http://is.gd/IcVGvk).
These attacks follow a deliberate escalation which has taken place over the last week and a half:
- October 24: At least 72 rockets were fired into southern Israel from Gaza, the largest escalation of attacks this year. Schools were canceled as more than one million residents were ordered to stay in shelters. Rockets scored direct hits on homes, and three foreign workers were injured after a rocket landed in the Eshkol region. The attacks were claimed by Hamas’s military wing and the Popular Resistance Committee (http://is.gd/8mcXyO).
- October 23: An IDF officer suffered critical wounds after being hit by a roadside bomb along the border between Israel and the Gaza Strip. The Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine claimed responsibility for the attack (http://is.gd/8cHsOP).
- October 11-17: More than 60 rockets and mortars were fired by Hamas, Palestinian Islamic Jihad, and other forces into Israel. Terror groups also tried to shoot down an Israeli Air Force helicopter with a surface-to-air missile (http://is.gd/YrTVNw).
RISK OF MAJOR CONFLICT – HAMAS EMBOLDEND BY REGIONAL DEVELOPMENTS
Regional turmoil, the rise of the Muslim Brotherhood, and support from Qatar and Iran has emboldened Hamas and other terror groups, creating conditions that risk escalation.
- The rocket barrage from Gaza immediately follows the visit of Qatar's Emir Hamad bin Khalifa A-Thani, a much-publicized state visit that Hamas hailed as a diplomacy victory and that was condemned by the rival Fatah organization that controls the Palestinian Authority. Hamas leaders used the visit to explicitly declare that they had overcome attempts to diplomatically isolate the terror group.
- The Muslim Brotherhood ascension in Egypt, to Gaza’s south, has given Hamas new maneuvering room and the promise of breaking out of Israel’s blockade on the Gaza Strip that the group controls. Hamas leaders feel confident enough in their ability to resupply and rearm that they’re willing to risk an Israeli ground operation.
HAMAS IS CLAIMING CREDIT FOR THE HUGE ESCALATION.
- These attacks signal a massive escalation by Hamas, both in terms of the sheer numbers of rockets and in tactics. It is the first time since June 2012 that Hamas has launched a sustained rocket and mortar attack. Israel’s responses have thus far been limited to restoring deterrence, but after the overnight rocket barrage Israeli leaders may find it to degrade Hamas’s rocket arsenal directly.
- Likewise, there is a political and strategic escalation by Hamas, with Hamas explicitly claiming the attacks. The group had not claimed rocket fire since attacking Israel in June, in the aftermath of the deadly Sinai terror attack and subsequent exchange of fire. The escalation calls into question analysis that the group was maintaining a ceasefire with Israel for internal political reasons.
IRAN-BACKED GROUPS ARE WORKING TOGETHER – Hamas, Palestinian Islamic Jihad, and other Palestinian groups are coordinating with each other to launch terror attacks.
The attacks signal that Hamas has not moved away from the Iranian camp. The Palestinian group closely cooperated in the attacks with the Iranian-backed Palestinian Islamic Jihad and Al-Qassam Brigade spokesman Abu Obeida emphasized through Palestinian outlets the “high-level of coordination between the resistance factions in the management of the confrontation with the Zionist occupation” (http://is.gd/HJ1YMB).