Gaza and Israel may be bracing for their most serious fight in years as security continues to deteriorate. A brief lull in hostilities this morning gave way to a barrage of rocket fire and mortar rounds by Hamas into Israel throughout the afternoon. Having already deployed additional infantrymen and Iron Dome systems to the border with Gaza, Israel Defense Forces are sending more armor. The armed forces have been given the go-ahead to strike Hamas targets in Gaza, according to the Times of Israel.
Not that that has stopped Israel from retaliating already. Since this morning, it has attacked tunnels, houses of senior Hamas officials, and the headquarters of the Hamas-affiliated Al-Aqsa television station in Gaza city. A statement from the IDF said it will continue to attack rocket sites throughout the Gaza Strip – and promised more was on the way. Hamas has responded with threats of its own. Its spokesman said the group may expand its range of fire, saying that Ashkelon, the closest large city to Gaza, is “just the beginning.”
Notably, nothing Hamas has done so far – not even the reported strike on an Israeli military bus with an anti-tank missile – has demonstrated new capabilities. Every munition the group has used has been used before and so falls within the “normal” bounds of retaliatory attacks. Even so, the situation has worsened markedly in that past 12 hours, and if it continues to do so, Hamas may resort to using more serious weapons such as precision-guided missiles and long-range munitions. That will only lead to still more aggressive Israeli reprisals, potentially including a land invasion.
More striking than the type of attacks is the timing. Egypt has been working hard to broker a long-term Israel-Hamas truce, and it seemed as though progress was being made. Last Thursday, Israel allowed $15 million of Qatari money into Gaza – denominated in U.S. dollars and conveyed in three large suitcases, according to local reports – so that Hamas could pay civil servants. Israel has been eager to pacify Gaza so it can deal with bigger threats to the north – namely, Hezbollah in Lebanon and Iran proxies in Syria. It’s possible that the sudden rash of violence was engineered by those eager to scuttle the plans. It’s just as likely that Israel wanted to strike a quick blow before turning to its enemies to the north.
Whatever the case may be, it’s clear that Egypt’s peace talks have failed. Israel appears to be preparing for an increased tempo of operations in Gaza, and potentially for a limited ground incursion. Hamas seems ready for a fight. The only questions that remain are how quickly the violence will escalate and whether Egypt can pull both sides back from the brink. Judging by current Israeli deployments and continued Hamas rocket fire, Cairo will have a hard time restoring calm soon. This most recent round of Hamas-Israel violence may be just beginning.