Hamas: Gaza commander killed in war against Israel

AP Photo/Ariel Schalit

Play stupid games, win stupid prizes. After launching hundreds of rockets at Israeli civilian populations, Hamas disclosed that targeted Israeli strikes had killed its regional commander of their terrorist forces. Israel had already claimed the death of Bassem Issa, as well as lower-ranking senior Hamas “militants,” as the Associated Press puts it:

Militant group Hamas confirms that its Gaza City commander was killed in an Israeli airstrike, the highest-ranking militant killed since the 2014 war in the Palestinian territory.

Earlier, Israel’s internal security agency said that a series of airstrikes had killed Bassem Issa and several other senior Hamas militants. …

Rockets streamed out of Gaza and Israel pounded the territory with airstrikes Wednesday as the most severe outbreak of violence since a 2014 war took on many hallmarks of that devastating 50-day conflict, with dozens killed and no resolution in sight.

Palls of gray smoke rose in Gaza, as Israeli airstrikes levelled two apartment towers and hammered the militant group’s multiple security installations, destroying the central police compound.

Unlike the 2014 conflict that remained mainly limited to Hamas and the Gaza Strip, violence has spread throughout Israel in this conflict, NBC News reports. This has the look of a general intifada rather than merely a Hamas initiative alone:

In the worst flare-up of violence for seven years, Israel and Palestinian militants launched hundreds of missiles overnight into Wednesday, killing more than 40 people and injuring hundreds more amid rising fears the conflict could spiral into all-out war.

What started as weeks of tense clashes in Jerusalem has escalated into violent unrest on the streets of Arab Israeli towns as well as a deadly aerial conflict — more than 1,000 rockets lit up the skies of Israeli cities, while high-rise buildings were levelled in the blockaded Gaza Strip, home to 2 million Palestinians.

This is a good time to recall two points for context. First, Israel pulled out of the Gaza Strip in 2006, forcibly evicting Israelis from settlements and withdrawing its military, in the hope that self-government for Palestinians might ease tensions. Second, ever since then, Hamas and Islamic Jihad has used Gaza as a rocket launch site, relying on Iranian-based supplies to extend its range all the way to Tel Aviv. They place their rocket batteries close to residential facilities or even within them in order to discourage the IDF from targeting those sites, or to leverage Palestinian casualties for international pressure on Israel.

The latter strategy has worked in the past, but this time not so much:

The European Union condemned Palestinian rocket attacks into Israel, calling on all sides to aim for a de-escalation and to prevent further civilian casualties.

Palestinians fired uninterrupted barrages of rockets into Israel, while the Israeli military pounded Gaza with air strikes through the early hours of Tuesday, in a dramatic escalation of clashes in Jerusalem.

“The firing of rockets from Gaza against civilian populations in Israel is totally unacceptable and feeds escalatory dynamics,” the European Commission said in a statement issued late on Monday.

The change in response might be a response to the change of tactics. For the first time, Hamas targeted Jerusalem, which surprised the Israelis even though they were pretty sure that Hamas had the capacity to do so:

Yadlin equates the targeting of Tel Aviv with Hamas’s decision to launch rockets toward Jerusalem on Monday, one of which damaged a house in a southwestern suburb. The IDF knew that Hamas had rockets that could reach Jerusalem — but aiming seven of them that way surprised Israeli officials. The move was meant not to hit the Old City but to serve notice that the game had changed.

“Hamas has decided to position itself as the defender of Palestinian Jerusalem,” he said. “This is a new policy, something that Israel missed.”

Again, this all has a very familiar feel to it, albeit one not felt in two decades:

In Lod, a mixed Jewish-Arab town in central Israel that has become a center of the riots, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu declared a state of emergency. He arrived in the city early Wednesday following a second night of unrest that began with clashes outside the funeral for a 25-year-old Palestinian man who was killed during confrontations the previous night.

Shabtai, the Israel Police chief, warned that the situation in Lod threatened to devolve into a new intifada. The previous uprising spanned a five-year period marked by wide-scale Hamas bus bombings and brutal Israeli military incursions that cost thousands of Israeli and Palestinian lives.

In the background of all this is a conflict between Hamas and Fatah, as well as Hamas and Israel. The Palestinian Authority was supposed to conduct parliamentary elections in less than two weeks, and a presidential election in July. Mahmoud Abbas abruptly postponed those elections at the end of April, blaming Israel for election access in Jerusalem. However, most people suspected that Abbas was afraid of losing to Hamas, just as he did in 2006, which lost him control over Gaza. Hamas wanted the election to go ahead, and may have triggered the current war to gain currency with younger voters who have grown tired and frustrated with Fatah’s leadership.

That might turn out to be a very bad miscalculation. As Shabtai points out, at the end of this cycle of violence, Israel will still exist, but a lot of Palestinians might not, and many more might be made homeless, thanks to Hamas’ latest war. Gaza will sink further into poverty, and their other Arab allies will likely stick to their plans to partner with Israel against Hamas’ ally Iran. But as always, Palestinians spare no effort to miss an opportunity to miss an opportunity, and this reaction will likely accelerate the Abraham Accord process rather than slow or stop it. The Sunni Arab nations won’t go to war to uphold the Iranian view of the world, a point that Palestinians might finally realize, even if Hamas doesn’t.

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