Analysis

Israel Has Egypt to Thank for Hamas Not Retaliating Over Gaza Tunnel Attack

Israel to maintain high alert along the Gaza border for a few more days, as the Palestinian groups may be planning a more lethal attack as retaliation

Palestinians hang a poster depicting Egypt's President Abdel-Fattah al-Sissi at Rafah border crossing with Egypt, in the southern Gaza Strip November 1, 2017.
IBRAHEEM ABU MUSTAFA/REUTERS

The fact that Islamic Jihad and Hamas haven’t yet made good on their threats to respond to the deaths of eight of their militants, including senior field commanders, after Israel blew up the tunnel they were digging into Israeli territory suggests the militant groups have already passed the stage of gut reaction to the loss of their own men.

The attack on the tunnel was the most serious loss they have suffered since the last war in Gaza ended more than three years ago.

But Israeli defense officials remain on alert, taking into account that the Palestinian organizations might be intending to attempt a more lethal attack, which requires more planning, in response to the tunnel’s destruction.

That's why a high alert will be maintained along the Gaza border for at least another few days. The fact that Israeli famers living near Gaza were told to avoid going near the border fence indicates that the IDF is worried about the possibility of an attack there.

But Egypt is the main reason for Palestinian restraint at the moment. If the quiet continues, it will help show that Egypt, which has been shepherding a reconciliation agreement between rival Palestinian factions Fatah and Hamas, has been able to reign in the sides.

Fighters from the Islamic Jihad Movement in Palestine attend the funeral of comrades killed in an Israeli operation to blow up a tunnel stretching from the Gaza Strip into Israel during their funeral at the Bureij refugee camp, in central Gaza, on October 31, 2017. 
Tensions rose after an Israeli operation to blow up a tunnel from the Gaza Strip killed seven Palestinian militants in one of the deadliest incidents since a devastating 2014 war.
MAHMUD HAMS/AFP

Egypt’s top priority is implementation of the deal. And a key milestone in that implementation is expected to happen Wednesday, when the Rafah border crossing between Egypt and Gaza is slated to reopen, with hundreds of Palestinian  Authority policemen stationed there.

Hamas also has an interest in implementing this agreement, even though at this stage, the reconciliation will apparently be of limited scope. Hamas has promised Gaza’s people, who are crying out for some improvement in their living conditions, that improvement will happen and Rafah’s reopening is expected to provide a critical measure of relief.

Even Islamic Jihad isn’t indifferent to the Egypt-Hamas agenda and the distress of Gaza’s population. So it seems unlikely that they would want to be accused of foiling a chance for some relief at last for the people of Gaza.

The fact that there hasn’t yet been a violent response may also be due to a certain embarrassment on the Palestinian side. If the bodies of the tunnel diggers who are still missing are found underground on the Israeli side of the border, this will prove that the Palestinians violated both Israeli sovereignty and the cease-fire concluded in summer 2014 through Egyptian mediation.

But keep in mind Islamic Jihad commanders have acted capriciously and unexpectedly in the past. In March 2014, for example, internal power struggles within the organization resulted in Katyusha rockets being fired at Ashdod. So there's no guarantee that things will remain quiet this time either.