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Analysis

Gaza groups, Israel seek political gains

Palestinians walk past graffiti of rockets and an exploded Israeli tank in Gaza City, in the northern Gaza Strip, Thursday, March 13, 2014. (AP Photo/Adel Hana)

OCCUPIED JERUSALEM: Neither Israel, Gaza’s Hamas rulers nor Islamic Jihad want to see the latest round of cross-border fighting escalate but each side seeks to consolidate political gains, analysts said Thursday.

“Most of the rockets fired [at Israel] by Islamic Jihad were aimed at uninhabited areas,” said Adnan Abu Amr, a politics professor at Gaza’s Ummah University.

And Israel’s retaliatory airstrikes on the Palestinian territory mainly hit militant training bases whose occupants had deserted them hours before.

“The sides are sending the message that they do not wish to embark on unlimited confrontation,” he said.

After firing more than 60 rockets from Gaza into southern Israel since Wednesday evening and suffering 36 Israeli airstrikes in retaliation, Islamic Jihad said Thursday that an Egyptian-brokered truce had gone into effect to halt the spiral of violence.

Israeli ex-National Security Adviser Uzi Dayan said the Jewish state was waging “a battle of deterrence.”

“The Israeli approach is one where we respond with force in order to restore deterrence but not so brutally as to oblige them to retaliate too violently, with the hope that there will not be victims,” he told public radio.

The Islamic Jihad rocket blitz was the most intense since an eight-day conflict between Israel and Gaza’s Hamas rulers in November 2012 and sent thousands of Israelis into flight.

The group said it fired 130 rockets Wednesday in the latest round.

Islamic Jihad and the Islamist movement Hamas announced Thursday the resumption of the Egyptian-mediated truce which ended the November 2012 fighting.

“There is no will for confrontation on Hamas’ part, but rather for drawing attention to Gaza,” Abu Amr said.

Naji Sharab, a political science professor at Al-Azhar University, said the Islamic Jihad offensive could not have happened without “consultation and coordination” with Hamas. “It helps to break its isolation and pressures Egypt to reopen the Rafah crossing” between Gaza and Sinai.

He said the rocket bombardment was also a message from Islamic Jihad “to tell Israel that it had nothing to with a shipment of arms allegedly sent by Iran but is able to stand against Israel and possesses powerful and varied weapons.”

Israel last week said it had intercepted in the Red Sea a cargo of weapons, including 40 rockets, en route from Iran to Gaza militants.

Iran denied the charge and both Hamas and Islamic Jihad said they were not involved.

Mkhaimer Abu Saada, also of Al-Azhar University, agreed that the rocket fire must have had the consent of Hamas, which has an interest in stoking tensions “because of its unprecedented isolation since the dismissal of Mohammad Morsi,” Egypt’s Islamist president toppled by the army last July.

“It is Israel which triggered the escalation this time,” he added.

“ Islamic Jihad had no choice but to retaliate,” after Israel’s killing Tuesday of three of its members preparing to fire mortar bombs at Israeli troops on the Gaza border.

“What is surprising is not the rocket fire, which was expected, but its intensity,” wrote the defense correspondent of Israeli newspaper Yediot Aharonot.

Abu Saada saw it as “an attempt to create a deterrent against Israel and remind it of Islamic Jihad’s military capabilities.”

“The present cycle of violence is the product of a battle for control of the ‘security perimeter,’” a no-go zone imposed by the Israeli military along the Gaza side of the border with Israel, he wrote.

He said the Israeli army insists on “continuing to search that area to prevent bombs from being planted there and tunnels from being dug.”

“The idea is that the eruption of small-scale skirmishes as a result of the army’s incursions are preferable to bombs that cause Israeli fatalities and result in painful retaliation in Gaza.

“As the Palestinians see it, the incursions are a violation of their sovereignty – and they oblige a response.”

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on March 14, 2014, on page 9.

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Summary

Neither Israel, Gaza's Hamas rulers nor Islamic Jihad want to see the latest round of cross-border fighting escalate but each side seeks to consolidate political gains, analysts said Thursday.

After firing more than 60 rockets from Gaza into southern Israel since Wednesday evening and suffering 36 Israeli airstrikes in retaliation, Islamic Jihad said Thursday that an Egyptian-brokered truce had gone into effect to halt the spiral of violence.

The Islamic Jihad rocket blitz was the most intense since an eight-day conflict between Israel and Gaza's Hamas rulers in November 2012 and sent thousands of Israelis into flight.

Israel last week said it had intercepted in the Red Sea a cargo of weapons, including 40 rockets, en route from Iran to Gaza militants.

Iran denied the charge and both Hamas and Islamic Jihad said they were not involved.


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