The Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) launched targeted air strikes in Gaza on Monday after terrorists launched four rockets at Israel. An IDF spokesman said the attack was directed against a rocket launch site and two weapon storage facilities. No Palestinians sustained injuries in the airstrike. Rocket fire from the enclave has decreased dramatically since Operation Pillar of Defense last November, making Monday’s actions unusual.
This latest skirmish with Israel comes after tensions flared between Hamas and Islamic Jihad supporters over the weekend. Islamic Jihad contends the Palestinian police, under the Hamas-run government, shot and killed a top military commander, Raed Qassim Jundeyeih. Hamas denies the allegation, saying the militant leader died after being shot by his own gun. Jundeyeih supporters are reported to have launched at least six rockets from Gaza after the incident, with Iron Dome intercepting three of them.
Palestinians inspect a window of a house which witnesses said was damaged in an Israeli air strike on a neighboring site in the central Gaza Strip June 24, 2013. (Photo: Reuters)
Islamic Jihad remains a powerful militant group in Gaza, second only to Hamas. Even though both organizations are predominantly Sunni, Islamic Jihad remains considerably closer with Shia Iran. According to Israeli journalist Ron Ben-Yishai, Tehran is pushing Islamic Jihad to escalate fighting with Israel to deflect international attention away from continued conflict in Syria, against the wishes of Hamas officials. Financial ties between Iran and Hamas have also deteriorated considerably in light of Hamas expressions of support for Sunni rebels in the Syrian civil war, and the departure of Hamas leadership from Damascus.
Even as tensions among Islamist groups in Gaza increase, Jerusalem maintains a policy of holding the Hamas government accountable for rockets launched from the enclave. Israel reiterated its policy earlier this month through Egyptian mediators in Cairo; Hamas subsequently sent a militia to set up roadblocks near the border earlier to deter any missile firings. Recently the IDF has also been using more non-violent punitive measures, such as restricting the areas available to fishermen in Gaza.
Since Israel Air Force operations to eliminate Iranian Fajr-5 missiles in Gaza last November, the border has been relatively quiet, and Israel has developed a wide variety of tools to deal with potential escalations. Egyptian mediators, nonviolent sanctions, and even military action have been effective at deterring more militant rocket firings.