The Israel Defense Forces (IDF) continue striking targets throughout Gaza, seeking to degrade the ability of terror factions Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad to terrorize, injure, and kill Israeli civilians with rocket attacks.
As the Israeli Air Force eliminates senior ranking Hamas commanders, weapons manufacturing sites, and command and control bases, it is working together with IDF military to target all of the tools at Hamas's disposal that enable it to launch rockets at Israeli cities.
In Israel, the Iron Dome air defense system is intercepting about 90 percent of threats heading toward populated areas. While this percentage is exceptional, it cannot offer total protection - at least six Israeli civilians have been killed by Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad fire.
As the campaign, dubbed by the IDF Operation Guardians of the Wall, continues, the targets hit by Israel reveal Hamas's core workings. Gaza's Central Islamic Bank, where Hamas manages its funds, was hit on Thursday, as well as buildings hosting Hamas's technological weapons development center and its internal security headquarters.
The homes of senior Hamas battalion commanders, used for military purposes, have been hit, as have most of Hamas's 'general staff forum' of senior commanders, killed in a strike conducted in close cooperation between the Israel Air Force and the Shin Bet domestic intelligence agency.
Massive rocket barrages have pounded southern and central Israeli cities in recent days, with almost 2,000 rockets fired within four days.
While there is no specific evidence of direct Iranian control of events on the ground, the Islamic Republic certainly wields a deep influence on the Gaza Strip.
"They are the ones that provide Palestinian Islamic Jihad with almost all of its weaponry and funding," said international IDF spokesman, Lt. Col. Jonathan Conricus on Thursday.
"The Iranians are also aiding Hamas engineers in how to produce and design rockets. There is clear Iranian involvement in that respect. But in terms of force deployment, there is no such indication yet," he added.
Politics and War
Another security official noted that the roots of the current escalation date back to Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas's April decision to cancel Palestinian parliamentary elections.
"When Abbas entered the elections process, he thought his movement, Fatah, would be much stronger," said the source, an Israeli security official. "When he saw Fatah split and Hamas united, he cancelled the elections, and blamed Israel, even though it was in his interest to cancel because Fatah was split."
Having missed its opportunity to win elections, Hamas saw a new opportunity to outflank Fatah in tensions over Jerusalem.
In recent weeks, a legal dispute between Jews and Palestinians over the ownership of property in Jerusalem's Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood created significant tension in the city.
Then, during the Ramadan holiday, a decision by the Israel Police to place barricades at the Old City's Damascus Gates led to friction between police and east Jerusalem Palestinian youths. The security official said the decision stemmed from a desire to "keep the population safe," following the recent disaster at Mount Meron, when 45 Israelis were crushed to death during a religious festival.
"Hamas saw this opportunity. It said we are preventing Muslim prayers at the Haram Al-Sharif [the Temple Mount]. This is an absolute lie. We are fully supportive of giving all opportunities of freedom of religion," said the source.
Hamas began intensively inciting to violence. Then, on Monday, it fired five rockets from Gaza at Jerusalem to secure the image of "saviors of the holy places of the Muslims – especially Jerusalem and the Al-Aqsa Mosque," said the official. "This is the reason why we got into this escalation."
The IDF once again found itself targeting enemy combatants who use Gazan civilians as human shields. It is seeing rockets launched from schools and populated neighborhoods, in what the official described as a cynical exploitation by Hamas of civilians "for its interests, putting them [the civilians] in jeopardy."
Israel is working hard to reduce the number of civilian noncombatants in Gaza, he said, by informing them of potential attacks to give them time to protect themselves.
Caught in the Crossfire
Hamas, meanwhile, "is focusing on violence and incitement instead of welfare and the economy," the official said.
Israel shut down Gaza's fishing zone during the hostilities, harming Gaza's economy during the important Eid al-Fitr holiday, which follows Ramadan.
"The fishing zone could, and should be open now for people in Gaza to make a living," said the official. The Kerem Shalom goods crossing is also closed, as is the Erez pedestrian crossing.
Gazans not only face a lack of hope for better lives because of Hamas's rule, but also the risk of war because of its decisions. It is difficult to imagine a worse time for such a deterioration, as Gaza continues to deal with the hazards of the coronavirus pandemic.
"In its actions, Hamas is undermining the Palestinian system, regional stability, and is dragging Gazan residents into a war," he said.
Hamas's incitement and repeated message that the Al-Aqsa Mosque is in danger is built on categorical lies. Its attempts to try to spread a conspiracy led to an uprising over the Temple Mount, using tensions over the Damascus Gate security measures and freedom of religion. It succeeded in sparking mass unrest in Jerusalem, setting the scene for its intervention via rocket fire from Gaza.
Once Hamas decided to take a risk by attacking Israeli civilians with rockets, Israel felt it had to respond or be condemned to live under Hamas's willful rocket attacks whenever it is politically convenient for Hamas to do so.
The security source also shed light on the tragic suffering of Gazans when it comes to water and electricity.
Gazans now have five hours of power a day because of a lack of electricity, he said. Hamas's decision to reduce Gaza's desalination water facility activity was designed to redirect electricity to its rocket launching systems, according to the source. As a result, 250,000 Gazans in Beit Lahiya, in the north of the Strip, have no running water.
Israel provides 10 lines of electricity to Gaza, but terrorist rockets that fell short of crossing into Israel took out three of them. That means that hundreds of thousands of Palestinians have no electricity – needed for all aspects of modern life – at all.
Now, as the fighting continues and escalates, the official said that Israel is making every effort to reduce civilian casualties. "We are trying as much as we can to distinguish between innocent civilians and terror operatives. There are mistakes, but we are trying to do everything in our power, putting all of our resources, into the distinguishment," he said.
The fact that Hamas embeds its rocket launchers as deep as it can into civilian areas, placing them near schools and medical centers, makes this challenge doubly difficult.
Yaakov Lappin is a military and strategic affairs correspondent. He also conducts research and analysis for defense think tanks, and is the military correspondent for JNS. His book, The Virtual Caliphate, explores the online jihadist presence.
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