ANALYSIS: Who Ordered the Latest Escalation in Southern Israel?

Wednesday, March 27, 2019 |  Yochanan Visser

Israel and Hamas came once again close to all-out war on Monday after one of the Palestinian terror groups in Gaza launched a long-range rocket at Moshav Mishmeret in central Israel destroying a house and wounding seven Israelis.

The attack was a “mistake” claimed Hamas after Israel made clear a strong response would follow suit.

A Hamas spokesman said the attack on Mishmeret was a “mistake” caused by “bad weather” while he threatened Israel not to commit any “stupidity”.

The threat came after Hamas leader Ishmail Haniyeh called upon his fellow Palestinian Arabs to launch “a comprehensive attack on all fronts”.

Haniyeh also referred to the Hamas inmates in Israeli prisons who earlier initiated a violent confrontation with Israeli security guards after stabbing two of them in retaliation for a  new measure which aims to block the use of smuggled smart phones in Israeli detention centers.

“We must fight this comprehensive attack in a unified national way and in coordination with the Arab brothers,” the Hamas leader said.

While he was speaking the Israeli Air Force (IAF) started to bomb Hamas-related targets in Gaza a move that triggered a new missile barrage on southern Israel.

The IAF bombed dozens of Hamas terror tunnels and other military installations in Gaza while the Palestinian terror groups responded with at least 60 rockets destroying a house in the border town of Sederot.

Israeli Prime Minister Benyamin Netanyahu decided to cut short his visit to Washington after the rocket attack and cancelled his annual speech before the AIPAC conference.

The Israeli PM concluded his meeting with US President Donald Trump about US recognition of Israeli sovereignty over the Golan Heights and flew home to hold security consultations with the heads of the IDF and the Israeli security agencies.

Netanyahu’s premature departure from the US was apparently related to the criticism he got from all sides of the political spectrum in Israel about his handling of the continuing violence emanating from Gaza.

Two weeks before the elections on April 9 a new  military adventure in Gaza with an uncertain outcome might cost Netanyahu his premiership after the latest polls already indicated that Likud is losing mandates and would become the second largest party in Israel.

Although Netanyahu stated that he “will do whatever we must do to defend our people and defend our state” few observers expect him to launch a military operation whit the aim of toppling the Hamas regime in Gaza.

In fact, when he landed in Israel a new unofficial ceasefire had come into effect which caused a tense quiet in the so-called Gaza belt.

Another reason Netanyahu could decide to refrain from a large-scale military operation in Gaza to end the year-long violence along the Israel Gaza border is that he prefers the current division between the Palestinian Authority and Hamas and is looking to the broader picture in the region.

On March 11, Netanyahu revealed that his broader strategy vis a vis Gaza was to keep Hamas and the PA separated in order to prevent the establishment of a Palestinian state.

The PM earlier made clear that he sees the different security challenges Israel is facing as one big plot by Iran to destabilize the Jewish state to the point it would collapse.

For this reason, Netanyahu also refrained from starting another war in Gaza after the terror groups there launched 460 rockets, missiles and mortar grenades at Israel at the beginning of November 2018.

The Israeli PM was later proven to be right when he charged that Iran had ordered the escalation in November.

The initial attack with a Kornet anti-tank missile on a bus which has just transferred a group of  50 IDF soldiers to the Gazan border was carried out with help from Hizbollah and Iran the Meir Amit Intelligence and Terrorism Information Center reported at the time.

Iran delivered the Kornet missile via Hizbollah while its Gazan proxy Islamic Jihad used a new type Iranian missile with a large warhead to destroy a complete building in Ashkelon in southern Israel.

The same scenario came in play on Monday.

The rocket attack on Moshav Mishmeret wasn’t an accident as Hamas initially claimed but a carefully prepared attack ordered by Iran, a senior Hamas official reportedly told the Israeli free-copy paper Israel Hayom.

The official claimed Iran had gone over the heads of the Hamas leadership and had directly ordered an Islamic Jihad cell in Gaza to carry out the assault in order to influence the outcome of the Israeli election.

Senior Egyptian and Palestinian officials  later confirmed the claim of the Hamas official and said they had evidence Iran was behind the latest escalation in Gaza.

The same officials confirmed that the Hamas leadership wasn’t aware of the preparations for the rocket launch but that the military wing of the terror organization, Izz-a-Din al-Qassam, gave its blessing to the attack.

Hamas believed that the attack wouldn’t lead to a large-scale military response by Israel two weeks before the election and was surprised by the massive IAF strikes which further decimated the Hamas military infrastructure inside Gaza.

The Islamist terror group reportedly begged for the restoration of the so-called ‘quiet in exchange for quiet situation’ but Israel reportedly refused.

PHOTO: Israeli armor massed on the border of the Gaza Strip in response to an escalation in Hamas rocket fire. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

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