ANALYSIS: What and Who are Behind the Massive Escalation in Southern Israel
The situation along the Gaza border is teetering on the brink of all-out war, but not for the reason some might think
Islamic Jihad, an Iran-backed Palestinian terror organization, attacked southern Israel Tuesday morning by lobbing between 50 and 60 mortar shells at Israeli towns and communities in what is called the “Gaza belt.”
Hamas later admitted it had condoned the attack after a number of their fighters attacked the Israeli town of Sederot on Monday evening with heavy machine guns.
The Israeli military first responded to the largest attack on Israel from Gaza since the summer war of 2014 by using tank fire, which was aimed at Hamas positions near the Gaza border.
The limited response drew the ire of Mayor Alon Davidi and residents of the Israeli town of Sederot who called for a large scale IDF offensive to finish off Hamas and the other Palestinian terror organizations in the Gaza Strip.
Later on Tuesday, Islamic Jihad claimed responsibility for the massive mortar fire, which was meant to hit Israeli citizens while on their way to work and schools.
Hamas and Islamic Jihad also started to evacuate military bases and installations across Gaza in anticipation of the Israeli retaliation.
Shortly after noon on Tuesday, IAF warplanes attacked a large number of Islamic Jihad targets in Gaza, while Israeli Prime Minister Benyamin Netanyahu linked the morning attack to the situation in Syria, where the Iranian-backed pro-Assad coalition is trying to set up camp in the vicinity of the Israeli border on the Golan Heights.
“Israel will exact a heavy price from anyone who tries to attack it, and we view Hamas as responsible for preventing such attacks against us,” Netanyahu said after conducting an emergency meeting at the Prime Minister’s Office.
Netanyahu repeated that Israel would not suffice with a buffer-zone free of Iranian-backed forces along the Israeli-Syrian border, and again demanded a full withdrawal of Iranian-backed militias and the Quds Force of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps from Syria.
The IAF, meanwhile, also destroyed a terror tunnel belonging to Hamas. The IDF spokesman said the tunnel led from Gaza via Egypt to southern Israel, and that Hamas planned to use it to smuggle weapons from Egypt and to attack Israel.
A short while after the string of IAF strikes on Gaza, Hamas and Islamic Jihad lobbed a second barrage of mortar shells and rockets at southern Israel, with some missiles penetrating as far as 25 kilometers into the Jewish state.
The Iron Drome missile shield intercepted several missiles over the Israeli city of Ashqelon, while Ofakim, a city 20 kilometers west of Beersheba, was also targeted by what the IDF said were Iranian missiles.
“The Palestinian Islamic Jihad today used Iranian-made weapons,” according to the IDF in a statement, while emphasizing the organization is rooted in “Iranian ideology.”
The attacks on southern Israel were, in fact, another Iranian attempt to spark a new war on the southern border after the failed attempts to invade Israel from Gaza over the past seven weeks.
The so-called “Great March of Return” has been funded with Iranian money, Hamas earlier announced.
Islamic Jihad takes its orders from Qassem Soleimani, the commander of the Quds Force of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps, while Hamas in October last year mended ties with the Islamist regime in Tehran.
The pretext for the Islamic Jihad attack on Israel was the liquidation of three Islamic Jihad operatives who were attempting to infiltrate into Israel from the Rafah area earlier this week.
However, by now it has become clear that the Iranians want to keep up the pressure on Israel by attacking it from different fronts.
On May 10, Iran attacked Israel directly by launching 32 missiles at northern Israel, triggering a massive response in Israel which destroyed more than 50 Iranian targets in Syria.
The Islamic Jihad attack on southern Israel came less than a day after Israel and Russia reportedly reached understandings on the presence of Iranian-backed forces on the Golan Heights near the Israeli border.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov on Monday told reporters in Moscow that his government wants the Syrian army to re-conquer the border area with Israel and Jordan, and called upon all foreign forces, including the Iranians, to leave Syria.
The problem with this idea is that Hezbollah and other groups of Shiite fighters have become an integral part of the Syrian army, after Sunni conscripts refused to fight for the Syrian dictator.