The launch of a Katyusha rocket at Gan Yavne on Tuesday quickly turned out to be the result of an internal Palestinian dispute. So for now, Israelis still scarred by last summer’s war with Hamas in the Gaza Strip can calm down.
Both Israeli defense officials and sources in Gaza provided identical explanations for what happened. The head of Islamic Jihad’s military wing is currently trying to impose a new local commander on his men in northern Gaza. The field operatives oppose his appointment, and a violent conflict has erupted between the sides – one of which then decided to escalate it by launching a rocket at Israel.
But Hamas didn’t approve the launch, and will presumably take steps to restrain the smaller faction.
Consequently, Israel’s response will be limited. True, this is the first time a relatively long-range rocket has been fired at Israel from Gaza since the war ended last August. But Israel, like Hamas, doesn’t currently want another war. Thus while the rhetoric will be harsh and official spokesmen will declare that Hamas is responsible for all fire from the territory it controls, in practice Israel is likely to make do with a symbolic retaliation, one calculated to avoid provoking further escalation.
Nevertheless, Israel is unlikely to let the incident pass with no response. After all, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s declared policy is to respond to all fire. Moreover, this is the first security incident in the south since his new government was sworn in two weeks ago – and this is a government that faces a constant challenge from the right, in the form of Yisrael Beiteinu, now in the opposition. Netanyahu cannot allow himself to look weak against the Islamist organization.
Hamas, which is apparently no less concerned than Israel by the uncontrolled rocket launch from Gaza, will continue digging tunnels, testing missiles and training its fighters for the next war. But two assumptions that have been in force since the last war ended remain valid.
First, neither side wants another war right now. But second, that was also true last summer – yet a series of miscalculations led to war anyway.
Because the efforts to reach a long-term cease-fire haven’t yet succeeded, and because Gaza’s economy continues to be just as wretched as it was last summer, long-term quiet seems unlikely. There are too many secondary characters in the Gaza drama, like Islamic Jihad, that are liable to have both the desire and the ability to drag Hamas and Israel into another war.