Thursday, April 4, 2013

Israel Responds To Gaza Rocket Fire

A recent spate of rocket attacks from Gaza into Southern Israel has drawn the new Israeli government's focus outward.  As negotiations over the budget continue, security has once again taken center stage in Israeli politics.  While this return to security as the focus was predictable, the flare up has important impacts on Israeli security.  

The instigator of the latest attacks is not Hamas, but rather a group called "The Mujahideen Shura Council of the Jerusalem Environs," (known as MSM) a Salafi organization with a Gaza presence since June 19, 2012.  WINEP Boren Fellow and frequent Tweeter Aaron Zelin (@azelin) has written extensively about the group, its links to al-Qaeda and its consolidation from other Jihadist groups operating in Gaza.  The April 3, 2013 attack claim which Aaron posted in Arabic on his fantastic Jihadology blog references a 64-year old Palestinian prisoner, Maysara Abu Hamdiya, who died in Israeli prison.  Hamdeya was given a life sentence for planning to bomb a Jerusalem cafe in 2002.  His death sparked protests in the West Bank over accusations of Israeli mistreatment, and comes on the heels of other prisoner deaths over the past month.  The issue of mistreatment of Palestinian prisoners strikes a personal note for many Palestinians who have relatives in jails in Israel.

Hamas held a mock funeral and protest for Hamdeya in Gaza and said that Israel would "regret its continuing crimes."  However, it did not engage in rocket attacks.  Since Operation Pillar of Defense in November 2012, there has been an unstable truce that neither Hamas nor Israel is interested in destabilizing.  The attacks by the MSM terrorist group may very well undermine those plans.

Last night, Israel struck targets in the Gaza Strip in response to the rocket attacks.  Israel's new defense minister Moshe Yaalon said in the wake of the strike that "we see Hamas as being responsible for everything that is fired from the Strip at Israel."  While Israel's linkage of all attacks to Hamas delegates responsibility away from the IDF and helps maintain the fragile calm, whether Hamas can actually control all movements in the Strip is a matter of debate.

From the Israeli perspective, the government has an interest in maintaining calm, but also in starting off the new government in a position of strength against Hamas.  Especially given that Minister Ya'alon is hawkish and the current security cabinet consists of two coalition partners without governing experience (as Brent Sasley has explained), Israel will want to demonstrate strength.  In so doing, it must also be careful to show Hamas that maintaining the truce is in its best interest.