The attacks were as spontaneous as the subsequent cease-fire. What caused the most recent violence in Israel and Gaza? It seems the Israeli government made a crucial mistake, Peter Philipp believes.
Back-and-forth rocket and bomb strikes between Israel and the Islamists who rule Gaza have come to a halt, at least for now, with the help of Egypt, the United Nations and Qatar. Compared with previous rounds of violence, this one was short — just over the weekend — and casualties were lower, but it caused more confusion: In a matter of hours, Hamas and its allies from Gaza fired more than 800 rockets into Israel.
In response, Israel struck hundreds of alleged Hamas and Islamic Jihad targets. Targeted assassinations also made a comeback to Israel's arsenal, with the death of Hamed Ahmed Abed Khudri, whom Israel had blamed for overseeing money transfers from Iran to Gaza — money without which Hamas could have never managed to build that many rockets.
It's been less than a month since Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was reelected, and he seems to have tossed out what only last year had pushed his government into crisis, leading to the resignation of Avigdor Lieberman. The then defense minister had demanded counterstrikes against Hamas for its repeated strikes on Israel. Netanyahu instead opted for an informal cease-fire mediated by Egypt.
"Informal" in the sense that Hamas is at most ready for a "hudna" truce — a temporary but extendable cease-fire, rather than a formal agreement with Israel, which Hamas does not recognize. Israel's government also had little appetite for an agreement because splitting the Palestinians between the Fatah-controlled West Bank and the Hamas-controlled Gaza helps Israel maintain its policy of dominance over Palestine.
Nevertheless, following rocket attacks earlier this year, Israel appeared ready to stick to pledges of reducing or removing restrictions on Gaza if Hamas stuck to the cease-fire. These included restoring fishing rights off the Gaza coast, restarting fuel deliveries and unblocking millions in financial aid from Qatar.
But most of those measures were never implemented. With the latest cease-fire, which came into effect on Monday morning, Israeli commentators had conceded that "not enough had been done."
Why now? Three theories
Experts were left to ponder what drove Hamas to raise tensions now. One theory, though it lacks evidence, is that Iran sent Islamic Jihad to escalate the situation, fueled by Iran's displeasure with Hamas striking deals with Israel.
Another theory states that Israel's upcoming national holiday was to be disrupted. The third theory even speculates that the Eurovision Song Contest (ESC), which is taking place next week in Tel Aviv, is a target. But this, at least, Netanyahu was unequivocal about — attacks from Gaza would have no effect on the ESC.
What Netanyahu did not mention are the ongoing coalition talks, which could well be hampered by the current situation.
Nor does the threat of rocket fire — and the resulting air raid sirens and trips to bomb shelters — help high school students in Israel, who are about to sit their final exams.