At this point in time, it seems that Sunday night's rocket fire into southern Israel was the result of an internal conflict that broke out between Hamas and Islamic Jihad, the second-largest organization in the Gaza Strip. In turn, Israel's response has been relatively restrained, and for all intents and purposes it seems that the ceasefire that was attained following Operation Pillar of Defense last November will continue to hold up.
That operation, criticized by some as being too lenient on Hamas, has proven quite effective after all. Exactly seven months have passed since Operation Pillar of Defense concluded, and the border with Gaza has been the quietest it has been in 13 years – even quieter than the period directly after Operation Cast Lead in 2009, in which Israel displayed a much higher degree of force. Prior to Sunday night's barrage, 40 days had gone by without a single rocket being fired. Although sirens were heard near Ashkelon a week ago when IDF sensors detected a launch from within Gaza, the rocket ultimately landed within Gaza's borders, a failed launch by a smaller Palestinian organization operating in northern Gaza.
Both Israeli intelligence and the Palestinian media attributed last night's rocket fire to Islamic Jihad. Apparently, the six rockets fired into southern Israel (two of which were intercepted by an Iron Dome system near Ashkelon) are Islamic Jihad's way of settling the score with Hamas, after an Islamic Jihad activist was killed as he was being arrested by Hamas security personnel in Gaza.
Islamic Jihad does not believe Hamas' claims that the activist either committed suicide, or was killed as a result of his own weapon misfiring. The turmoil continued at the activist's funeral, as another Islamic Jihad member was injured after being run over by a Hamas vehicle.
In the past, Islamic Jihad has reacted to internal conflicts with Hamas by trying to increase tension with Israel along the Gaza border. But Israel seems sure that Hamas is not interested in escalation along the border, especially as Hamas has attempted to calm the situation since Sunday night. Thus, Israel restricted its responses to an aerial attack on a weapons cache, and an Islamic Jihad command center, while also temporarily closing border crossings. In addition, Israel stated that it will hold Hamas responsible for restoring the relative quiet, as the governing body in Gaza.
Since the ceasefire that was put into place following Operation Pillar of Defense, with Egyptian mediation, Hamas policy has remained the same: maintaining the calm, while understanding that another round of armed conflict with Israel could endanger Hamas rule and anger the Egyptians, with whom ties were reinvigorated following the Muslim Brotherhood's victory in the election. In order to guarantee the calm, Hamas recently mobilized a 600 soldier contingent with the primary objective of preventing rocket fire into Israel.
Hamas' interests, however, do not necessarily overlap with those of Islamic Jihad, or the other Islamist extremist organizations operating in the Gaza Strip – all of which have their own reasons for seeking to ramp up tensions with Israel.
Over the last two days, Gaza has been consumed with enthusiasm since Mohammed Asaf, a singer from Gaza, won the Arab Idol competition in Egypt.
The judges nicknamed him the "Gaza Rocket," but Sunday night's events have proven that in Gaza, they're still launching another kind of rocket.