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Rocket Fire on Israel Goes Unanswered, Possibly to Enable Negotiations Breakthrough
Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett (R) meets with Egyptian General Intelligence Directorate chief Abbas Kamel at the Prime Minister’s Office in Jerusalem, Aug. 18, 2021. (Koby Gideon/GPO)

Rocket Fire on Israel Goes Unanswered, Possibly to Enable Negotiations Breakthrough

Two rockets were fired Monday toward Israel for the first time since the last round of fighting

Two rockets were fired toward Israel from Gaza on Monday, not three months after a cease-fire was reached between Hamas and Israel following the May conflagration. Sirens were sounded in Israeli towns in the Gaza envelope area; Iron Dome intercepted one rocket above the Israeli city Sderot, while the second reportedly fell within the Strip’s borders.

Israel has so far chosen not to respond to the attack. Earlier this summer, incendiary balloons were sent from Gaza toward Israel, causing fires in open areas. Then, the IDF bombed Hamas targets in response.

The rocket attack comes as negotiations aimed at reaching a long-term agreement have stalled and Qatari aid money is delayed. The money transfer appears to be on hold for technical reasons, while Hamas blames Israel for the delay, Haaretz reported. Israel demands that the Qatari money be supervised to make sure that it does not go toward Hamas military activities. The solution at present is that the Palestinian Authority will act as a supervising go-between, and the details are under discussion. However, armed organizations in Gaza are reportedly demanding that the money be transferred in cash, as it was before the recent fighting.

A further reason for the delay in securing an agreement is Israel’s insistence that it include a return of Israelis held by Hamas. The organization currently holds two Israeli civilians hostage, as well as the bodies of two Israeli soldiers.

Israeli PM Naftali Bennett said on Tuesday in response to the attack, “Our mission is to provide long-term security for the residents of the south and of the area adjacent to the Gaza Strip. We will take action at the time, place and under the conditions, that suit us, and nobody else. From our perspective, the address in Gaza is Hamas, not dissidents and not anybody else other than Hamas.”

Dr. Meir Elran heads the Homeland Security Program at Tel Aviv University’s Institute for National Security Studies. Speaking of the Israeli decision to delay its answer, Elran told The Media Line, “Israel responds when it wants. … Nothing out of the ordinary has happened.” The expert explains that declarations made after the recent conflict, that Israel will not abide small-scale incidents – such as the firing of two rockets – are a source of criticism regarding the current lack of response. However, “Israel has [simply] gone back to its known policy … ‘when it will suit us, we’ll respond.’”

The bottom line, says Elran, is that “Operation Guardian of the Walls changed nothing. … Ultimately, we’re … back to square one.”

Elran carefully suggests that Egyptian-mediated negotiations between Hamas and Israel are possibly behind the decision not to respond. Abbas Kamel, the head of Egypt’s General Intelligence Directorate, arrived in Israel for a meeting with Bennett and Defense Minister Benny Gantz on Wednesday to further an agreement with Hamas. At present, however, it is impossible to predict whether Israel and Hamas are heading toward long-term quiet or a renewal of hostilities, he said.

Dr. Ely Karmon, a senior research scholar at Reichman University’s International Institute for Counter-Terrorism, agrees that it is difficult to know where things are headed. “I think that it is too early to determine” what’s on the horizon, he told The Media Line. He does note, though, that recent developments in Afghanistan – the Taliban’s blitzkrieg reconquest of the country – may embolden Hamas. One Islamist organization’s success may push its ideological brother to harden its position at the negotiation table and increase its readiness to resume fighting.

Speaking of Israel’s decision not to respond to the rocket attack, he also points to talk of negotiations surrounding a longer cease-fire as a possible cause. He believes that there is a true change in policy, according to which Israel will retaliate to every attack coming out of Gaza. However, the present complexity – created, in part, by the stances of both sides – “forced the government to pause before responding.”

This complexity, Karmon says, is tied also to the current eruption of COVID-19 cases in Israel, which have skyrocketed despite the successful vaccination drive in recent months. “I think that it may also be connected to COVID … because they’re currently saying that a balance [in cases] needs to be achieved in the next week or two to avoid a lockdown [during the Jewish High Holidays]. That could be influential, even more than the agreement [with Hamas],” he said.

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