The tiny Islamist faction Ansar al-Sunna took responsibility for the Qassam rocket attack that took the life of a Thai farm worker yesterday in Netiv Ha'asara.
Like Hamas, Israel has no interest in an escalation along the Gaza border. Despite the efforts of various hard-line groups, the chances that the tempers will escalate do not look high.
A year and two months have passed since the guns fell silent in Gaza, and Israeli intelligence bodies unanimously believe deterrence is working.
Hamas is still working to rehabilitate its military wing and tighten its hold on the Strip. The movement is not directly responsible for a single rocket attack since the war's end, but in most cases has thwarted attempts from smaller, competing factions to attack Israel.
Still, in the power struggle between Hamas and those minor groups there are varying degrees of freedom. Hamas has generally been more tolerant of strikes against Israel Defense Forces soldiers along the Gaza security fence.
In recent days, it seems to have somewhat loosened the reins over its smaller rivals. One possible explanation is the failure of Hamas' to ignite the West Bank earlier this week by declaring a "day of rage" to protest Israeli building in East Jerusalem.
Without tangible achievements on that end, extremist groups may have chosen to exact a price on the southern front, taking advantage of what appears to have been Hamas' tacit assent. Ansar al-Sunna is a nebulous group but apparently linked to Jund Ansar Allah, a militant Gaza-based organization linked to Al-Qaida.
In responding to the attack, Israel must send the message that Qassam strikes are unacceptable, while at the same time making sure that it does not get drawn into another round of conflict.
Israel's spokespeople may not admit it, but the identity of yesterday's victim makes it easier to decide how to react. Had he been an Israeli, a resident of Sderot or one of the nearby kibbutzim, Israel's leadership would be expected to wage a far more forceful response.
An additional problem is where exactly to strike. Israel can pummel Hamas to drive home that it alone is responsible for the goings-on in the Strip.
Israel's response will likely remain limited, given the present circumstances in the region. The Netanyahu government already has a number of other headaches to deal with. It's not only the crisis with the United States over Jerusalem - it is also Israel's wish to avoid a wider confrontation with the Palestinian Authority in the West Bank and Jerusalem while keeping an eye on tensions in the north.
IDF leaders, who after the Gaza offensive created a reasonable security situation for residents of the western Negev, have no interest in another war in the south, and certainly not in another Goldstone report.
Posted by Amos Harel and Avi Issacharoff on March 19, 2010
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