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Gaza-based terror groups opened fire at Israeli soldiers near the Gaza border for the sixth time in two days on Wednesday. The soldiers were engaged in operations aimed at finding Hamas tunnels. Both Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad claimed responsibility for the attacks. No Israelis were hurt. Israel responded by shelling observation posts and other Hamas targets. Israel has also sent messages to Hamas warning that Jerusalem will execute a harsher response if mortar fire continues. IDF Spokesman Lt. Col. Peter Lerner tweeted, “Our efforts to destroy the #Hamas terror tunnel network, a grave violation of Israel’s sovereignty, will not cease or be deterred.”
In a TIP conference call, Col. (res.) Eyal Rosen, the reserve commander of the IDF’s Gaza Border War Room Command Center and former head of the IDF Southern Command Artillery Unit, stated that since the 2014 conflict, “this is the first time that Hamas has ordered an orchestrated attack against Israeli forces, which marks a change in policy, and unwanted escalation that might trigger the next conflict.” According to Ynet, Monday’s mortar shell attack on IDF soldiers engaging in engineering work near the border fence was the first time a mortar shell was fired at IDF troops since Operation Protective Edge (OPE) in the summer of 2014.
Rosen and the IDF assess that the border attacks are an attempt by Hamas to prevent the army from locating and destroying tunnels the terrorist group has built since the summer of 2014. Hamas surprised Israel and killed several Israeli soldiers through its use of cross-border tunnels during OPE. While Israel largely destroyed the tunnels during the war, Hamas has since invested heavily in rebuilding its tunnel network. Hamas reportedly spends hundreds of thousands of dollars each month and employs more than 1,000 operatives “working 24 hours a day, six days a week” building tunnels. In January, Haaretz defense analyst Amos Harel asserted, “It is reasonable to assume that the number of tunnels crossing under the border is close to that on the eve of Protective Edge.”
Last month, the IDF discovered a Hamas tunnel that crossed inside Israeli territory for the first time since last summer’s Gaza war. An IDF spokesperson stated that Hamas had built it to carry out attacks against Israeli civilians. Israel reportedly uncovered it using specialized new technology. Harel writes, “The prospect of an Israeli technology capable of detecting the tunnels thus threatens both its future achievements and its fighting ethos, which may be one reason for its renewed threats against Israel.”
Israel will open an official mission at NATO’s Brussels headquarters, the alliance announced Wednesday, reflecting Israel’s strong ties with American and European military partners, its growing rapprochement with Turkey, and growing regional and global concern about violence caused by Iran and ISIS.
While Israel is not formally a member of NATO, the United States considers Israel to be a “major non-NATO ally.” Turkey, which is a part of NATO, had opposed Israeli efforts to open a permanent mission in the past, but this objection has apparently been dropped amid the two countries’ efforts to restore diplomatic ties. According to The Wall Street Journal, the push for renewed ties between the two nations “comes amid threats to both nations, most crucially the Syrian conflict on their borders, the rise of the extremist group Islamic State and what many regional governments view as Iran’s increasingly assertive military and political posture.”Jordan, Kuwait, Bahrain, and Qatar will also open permanent missions at NATO headquarters, reflecting the alliance’s interest in promoting stronger ties with Middle Eastern nations.