The latest round of cross-border violence between Israel and the Gaza Strip, the worst this year, appeared on Wednesday to be coming to a close. Neither Hamas nor Israel is looking for a prolonged confrontation at this time, and Egypt’s urgent pleas to both sides seemed sufficient to put an end to the hostilities.
Hamas’ reticence was obvious on Tuesday, in the wake of a series of Israeli strikes (in retaliation to the killing of an Israeli civilian earlier Tuesday) that caused the accidental death of a 3-year-old Palestinian girl. No rockets were fired at Israel from the Strip after the Israeli attacks, which seemed a clear sign that Gaza’s Hamas leaders sought to end the round of hostilities.
That might not suit Gaza’s smaller Palestinian organizations in the Strip, and under the pressure of Gaza’s deteriorating economy and public dissatisfaction with the Hamas government circumstances could change in the future.
In the short term, Jerusalem and Gaza City seem to be on the same page. As long as the Gaza Strip isn’t burning, the growing unrest in the West Bank — particularly during peace talks with the Palestinian Authority — and the obvious instability along Israel’s other borders are more urgent matters. Hamas, meanwhile, hopes to avoid a direct confrontation with Egypt, which controls entry into the Strip through the Rafah crossing and frequently reiterates to Hamas its desire for quiet on the Israeli border.
But in the long run, Israel may face a growing problem. Operation Pillar of Defense, in November 2012, began with a surprise strike that killed Hamas military chief Ahmed Jabari and went on to destroy most of the medium-range rockets held by Hamas and Islamic Jihad in the Gaza Strip. At the time, these organizations had relatively few Iranian Fajr rockets, that when launched from the northern Gaza Strip had the potential to reach both Jerusalem and most of greater Tel Aviv.
The situation has changed drastically since then. Relations between Hamas and Iran, the Strip’s main weapons supplier, soured when the Hamas government in Gaza cut its ties with Damascus over the Assad regime's ongoing slaughter of Syrian Sunni Muslims. A series of mysterious attacks in Sudan closed the main smuggling route there. Finally, in July, Cairo’s new military regime began destroying the tunnels between Egypt and the Gaza Strip, the major remaining channel for smuggling weapons into the Strip.
In the absence of other options, Hamas began making its own rockets, including frequent testing (firing into the Mediterranean Sea) to increase their range from 80 kilometers and accelerated production.
As a result, Israel must assume that in the event of a future conflict with Gaza, Hamas will have increased capability to hit the Tel Aviv metropolitan area, albeit still negligible compared to that of Hezbollah in Lebanon.
Hamas, while still vastly outpowered by Israel, has been using its time wisely to reinforce its weak points. With more rockets capable of hitting Tel Aviv, dozens of “offensive” tunnels intended for attacks and kidnapping operations on the Strip’s border and a growing arsenal of unmanned aerial vehicles, Hamas may have increased its abilities to harm Israel.
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