After a relative lull of more than a year, Palestinian terror groups in Gaza have begun once again to regularly launch rockets at southern Israel. Already 20 have been fired at Israeli communities since the beginning of the year.
Israeli defense officials believe Hamas is not directly behind the attacks, but that the Islamist leadership of Gaza can do more to stop Islamic Jihad and reign in Al-Qaeda linked terror groups to prevent them from launching missiles, a key element of the ceasefire agreement between Israel and Hamas after the November 2012 hostilities.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at his weekly cabinet meeting on Sunday vowed to respond forcefully to the attacks and advised Hamas to take note.
“We are determined to preserve the quiet in the South,” Netanyahu said. “We do this through a policy of prevention and by responding powerfully against those who try to harm or hurt us. I suggest that Hamas take our policy into account.”
On Friday, an unnamed diplomatic source told the Israeli newspaper Ma’ariv that there is concern in Jerusalem that the ceasefire agreement between Israel and Hamas, mediated by Egypt and the Obama administration in November 2012 may be “dissolving.”
“The enforcement mechanism of the understandings with Hamas has greatly weakened,” the source told Ma’ariv. “Israel understands that you can’t treat the ceasefire understanding as it was during the [former Egyptian President Mohammed] Morsi period. The understandings have lost their influence.”
The problem is in part being attributed to cool relations between the Hamas government in Gaza and the more secular leadership in Egypt. When Egypt was under Morsi, Hamas enjoyed closer ties with its ideological counterparts in the Muslim Brotherhood.
Earlier on Sunday, Israeli Air Force jets struck three targets in Gaza, including a motorcycle, seriously injuring a Palestinian militant, Ahmed Sa’ad, suspected of involvement in the rocket attacks.
The Israeli Defense Forces issued a statement which read: “The IDF successfully targeted a terrorist operative involved in recent attacks against Israel. The terrorist was planning further attacks on Israel in the coming days.”
The 22-year-old “was a key Palestinian Islamic Jihad operative in the Gaza Strip specializing in rocket launching,” the IDF said, adding that he was behind attacks over the years which included “concealing, directing, and launching rockets at southern Israel in numerous incidents.”
Palestinian media reported that a 12-year-old boy riding the motorcycle with Sa’ad was moderately injured.
Last Wednesday, five rockets launched from Gaza at the southern Israeli city of Ashkelon were intercepted by the Iron Dome anti-missile system.
An unnamed Israeli military official told Reuters that some militants in Gaza fire rockets from locations near their homes, which makes it challenging for Hamas to stop them.
The official said that Iran is paying smaller terrorist groups thousands of dollars for every successful missile launched.
“However, Hamas has proven its ability to prevent terror attacks out of Gaza, so we can demand that they act like a ruler and maintain order,” he said.
By contrast, Hamas blames Israel for the recent surge of violence. “The (Israeli) occupation is fully responsible for the escalation and aims to create a state of tension continuously,” Hamas spokesman Sami Abu Zuhri said.
This post has been updated.