Israeli Defense Sources Warned Ahead of Flare-up: If We Don't Reach Understandings, Hamas Will Struggle to Prevent Escalation

Military officials believed recent understandings created an opportunity that should have been seized ■ Hamas source tells Haaretz: Eurovision in Tel Aviv can't pass quietly when we're in the same situation

A picture taken from the southern Israeli village of Netiv Haasara shows an explosion and smoke fumes caused by an Israeli airstike across the border in the Gaza Strip on May 4, 2019.
AFP

Israeli defense sources warned the political echelon in recent weeks that if significant steps are not taken to implement understandings with Hamas, the group controlling the Gaza Strip will struggle to prevent other organizations in the coastal enclave from acting against Israel.

Nonetheless, sources involved in talks between Israel and the Palestinians have noted that no significant change has been felt in Gaza; there has not been an increase in aid or goods going into the Strip.

The defense establishment believed that the understandings reached between Egypt, Hamas and the Islamic Jihad created an opportunity that Israel ought to seize.

Site of the rocket strike in Kiryat Gat, May 4, 2019.
Almog Ben Zikri

>> Read more: Two Israelis wounded amid barrage of Gaza rockets; Israel pounds Strip | Live updates ■ Hamas twists Israel's arm right before the Eurovision and Independence Day | Amos Harel

As a first step in that direction, Israel in early April expanded Gaza's fishing zone to 15 nautical miles from the shore – the maximal range allowed in the Gaza Strip since the signing of the Oslo Accords in 1993.

However, after a rocket was fired toward Israel overnight Monday and landed in Israeli waters, the fishing zone was reduced to six nautical miles.

A Hamas political source who spoke to Haaretz linked Saturday's massive rocket barrage to the Eurovision Song Contest, which is slated to be held in Tel Aviv in less than two weeks: "The Eurovision can't happen in Tel Aviv when no relief is felt in Gaza," he explained. "It can't be that they will sing and enjoy while we suffer," the source added.

The sources noted that "there are understandings that were reached even before Israel held its election, but it's all stuck because Israel is procrastinating. Israel asked for quiet ahead of the election and it got what it asked for, but you can't ask for quiet before and during the Eurovision while we're in the same state."

The source said that Hamas and Islamic Jihad delegations are currently in Cairo, where they will try to reach renewed understandings "should Israel be interested" in achieving that.

Sources in the defense establishment believe that Saturday's flare-up was orchestrated by Hamas, who led the incidents. According to security sources, the group wishes to clarify that it differentiates between Israel hurting Palestinian protesters demonstrating along the border fence and attacks aimed at Hamas officials, whose role is to maintain the calm and to restrain the protesters.

The escalation comes as a response to an Israeli strike of a Hamas post during which two Hamas operatives were killed.

In recent days, sources in the Israeli army have claimed that Islamic Jihad seeks to act independently to thwart efforts to reach understandings. Nonetheless, sources familiar with the matter said that Islamic Jihad is committed to understandings reached with Egypt, and that the tension between Hamas and Islamic Jihad stem from Israel's failure to implement these understandings.

Two Israelis were wounded, one seriously and another moderately, by rockets launched from the Gaza amid an ongoing barrage that began Saturday morning, marking a serious flare-up between Israel and the Palestinians a month after Israel held its general election.

About 150 rockets were launched toward southern and central Israel and dozens have been intercepted, the Israeli military said. 

A 22-year-old Palestinian identified as Imad Nasier was killed by Israeli strikes, Gaza's Health Ministry said. Four others were wounded.

The Israel Defense Force has been striking Hamas and Islamic Jihad targets in retaliation for the rocket fire, it said.