Israeli Response to Gaza Rockets Signals Hamas to Rein in Islamic Jihad

Israel's strong but measured strikes on Hamas targets for rockets that appear to have been launched by Islamic Jihad show an unwillingness to escalate – especially as tensions mount on the northern border

Residents inspect damage caused by rocket shrapnel in the southern town of Sderot, November 2, 2019,
\ Eliyahu Hershkovitz

The barrage of rockets fired Friday night from the Gaza Strip into Israel seem to have been launched by the Palestinian Islamic Jihad group. In overnight consultations regarding Israel's response to the fire, the upper echelons of the Israeli security establishment decided to retaliate against Hamas, in an attempt to signal to Gaza's leadership to rein in Islamic Jihad.

The decision to strike Israel at that time touches on power struggles between Hamas and Islamic Jihad, and the will of Islamic Jihad's northern brigade commander in the Strip, Baha Abu al-Ata, to solidify his position as a leading figure in the organization.

One Palestinian was killed in Israel's early morning attack on Hamas targets, and two more were wounded. But despite the large number of rockets fired throughout the night, Israel was careful not to escalate the clash into a broader conflict. This decision was made against the backdrop of rising tensions on other fronts, chiefly the northern border, with Iran and Hezbollah.

On Friday night, a barrage of rockets was fired into southern Israel. Eight out of the ten of them were intercepted by the Iron Dome missile defense system, and several vehicles and a house in Sderot were hit by shrapnel.  Emergency medical responders said that the residents of the house, a couple in their forties and their children, had been staying in their home's safety shelter and were not injured.

On Saturday morning, the Israel Defense Forces announced that it struck Hamas military targets in the northern, southern and central Gaza Strip overnight in response to the rocket fire. The IDF stated that air force jets struck military compounds belonging to Hamas's naval force and air defenses, along with sites used by the group to manufacture weapons. The military even stated that they hit Hamas's underground infrastructure, a military compound that includes an anti-missile simulator and a weapons storage facility.

After the Israeli strikes, Hamas spokesman Fawzi Barhoum blamed Israel for the escalation. "Israeli aggression against [Hamas] positions and civilians is a continuation of the aggression and crime of the Zionist entity against the Palestinian people, and a grave escalation for which Israel will bear responsibility," Barhoum said. "The extent of the destruction indicates the enemy's preliminary plans to cause destruction and harm, and it will come back like a boomerang on Israel." 

Islamic Jihad also released a statement, saying that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu "is trying to cover up his corruption and failure by means of an escalation against the Gaza Strip and harming infrastructure, buildings and civilians, as happened in Khan Yunis, and Israel bears responsibility for this escalation."