Islamic jihad militant
Militants standing guard during an Islamic Jihad press conference in Gaza on Monday March 12, 2012. Photo by AP
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AFP
Palestinians mourning Islamic Jihad operatives on March 12, 2012. Photo by AFP

There's no doubt that one reason Islamic Jihad is continuing its rocket fire on southern Israel is its glaring lack of success. After firing more than 200 rockets at the Negev, they still haven't killed any Israelis.

What's more, the Iron Dome anti-missile defense system, which has shot down many of the rockets, is proving to be a formidable obstacle, one the terror group has not been able to overcome, even by firing a barrage of rockets at the same time.

But the absence of Israeli fatalities is only one reason for the frustration of Islamic Jihad and the Popular Resistance Committees, its fellow rocketeers. Another, no less significant reason, is the fact that the current round of hostilities is very low on the general Arab agenda.

This isn't the usual script. Both these groups, based on previous rounds of fighting, are accustomed to having the Arab world immediately respond to Israeli attacks with condemnations and anti-Israel activity. This time, however, they've found that their Syrian patron, President Bashar Assad, has managed to focus Arab public opinion on what's going on in Syria, rather than in Gaza.

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At the height of the crisis in Gaza, with 23 dead and dozens wounded, the fighting was only the third or fourth item on Monday's Arab news broadcasts, especially after the scope of the massacre in Homs' Karm el-Zeitoun neighborhood was revealed.

Both the large Arab satellite networks, Al-Arabiya and Al Jazeera, were repeatedly broadcasting the horrific pictures of the more than 20 children who were killed in Syria, and of the bodies of men and women who had been butchered and burned to death. The Palestinian issue was being treated as secondary, at best.

Aside from this, both the PRC and Islamic Jihad have something to prove. The PRC indeed suffered a blow on Friday when Israel assassinated its general secretary, Zuhair al-Qaissi. Al-Qaissi had only been at the helm since August, when he replaced Kamal al-Naireb, whom Israel had also assassinated.

While the PRC has announced that it would not name its new leader, various Gaza observers believe the group is now suffering from a leadership vacuum. Meanwhile, its operatives are eager to prove that the group can still operate.

While in the past the PRC and Hamas had gotten along well, as evidenced by their cooperation in the kidnapping of Gilad Shalit, in recent months they have been operating more independently, planning attacks without considering Hamas' desire for quiet.

The clear goal of the Islamic Jihad, meanwhile, is to show Hamas up and shore up its position in its competition with the rulers of Gaza. Over the years, Islamic Jihad has turned from a loyal ally of Hamas to a homegrown opposition, one that believes it has exposed Hamas' nakedness in public.

In recent days Jihad spokesmen have repeatedly hinted that Hamas has abandoned the "resistance" against Israel, while it remains the spearhead in the struggle against the "Zionist enemy."

But there are still other reasons for the tension between the two groups. Islamic Jihad, whose leaders are still in Syria, has not hurried to cut its ties with Assad or patron Iran, while Hamas in recent weeks has been caught up in publicized disputes with both Damascus and Tehran.

One can assume that Iran is encouraging Islamic Jihad's secretary general, Ramadan Shallah, who is still in Damascus, to spur his men in Gaza to continue the rocket fire. Diverting Israel's attention back to Gaza and away from Iran's nuclear program surely doesn't do Tehran any harm.

Still, the Islamic Jihad understands that extreme moves like firing rockets at the Tel Aviv area would likely draw a harsh Israeli response - one that would almost certainly draw Hamas into the fighting. In many respects, Islamic Jihad would prefer that Hamas stay out of things, and leave it in the role of top anti-Israeli warrior.

It is also possible that both groups believe that, even if this round ends without any substantial "achievements," at the very least Israel might think twice next time before assassinating one of its leaders.