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Palestinians target Israel’s deterrence by bombing Tel Aviv

March 27, 2019 at 3:16 pm

There have been many updated on the Gaza Strip since a rocket which targeted north Tel Aviv at a distance of 120 kilometre and which was followed by Israeli shelling and an increasing Palestinian state of alertness. The missile was fired days before the millions march in Gaza to commemorate Land Day, and two weeks before the beginning of Israeli elections. Both Palestinian and Israeli reactions to this will bear significant impact on the course of political and security events for both sides.

On 25 March 2019, Palestinians and Israelis learnt that a rocket had been fired from the town of Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip at a distance of 120 kilometres, bombing a house in Tel Aviv. The missile bypassed the Iron Dome defence system and wounded a number of Israelis. It remains unknown who launched the rocket.

Israel reacted immediately, threatening Gaza with an ominous and sinister fate and shelling many buildings in the centre of the Strip on the same day. The raids waged by the Israeli aircrafts amounted to more than 50, targeting residential buildings, civilian and resistance headquarters, as well as agricultural land, wounding many citizens, and bombing five buildings. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu cut short his visit to the US, train traffic was halted, schools were cancelled and shelters were opened in most parts of Israel.

READ: Russia calls for ending Israel bombing of Gaza

The Israeli reactions to the missile fired at Tel Aviv have been numerous, most agreed that waging such an attack on Tel Aviv for the second time in ten days is very dangerous; they held Hamas responsible. Some Israeli officials called for the return to the policy of assassinations, making an open military confrontation inevitable. These officials considered the policy adopted by the current government inflicted heavy losses on the Israelis in terms of dispelling the image of deterrence, and made Israelis hostages to Hamas in an unprecedented position. This is to be considered a security failure.

The danger of the missile fired from Gaza to Tel Aviv lies in the way it transferred the state of panic and terror from the areas surrounding Gaza in southern Israel to its core and perhaps to the north in the future. This would require Israel to focus on restoring deterrence, because the current missile is qualitative and it is characterised by a largely destructive power.

In fact, while analysing the case of missiles fired from Gaza to Tel Aviv, many conclusions can be reached, the most important of which is the Palestinian factions’ possession of missiles capable of reaching Netanya in northern Tel Aviv because in case this missile was fired from north rather than south Gaza Strip, as it is the case now, its means that it may reach the northern border of Israel. One can imagine the impact of such action on the security, military and political levels.

The second conclusion is related to the Iron Dome which did not function and was incapable of confronting the missile. How did this happen? What role will the dome have if a war breaks out between Hamas and Israel and dozens of missiles were fired at Tel Aviv on a daily basis? The most important conclusion is that this missile helped to prove an unfortunate fact to Israelis which highlights the following: It is time to admit, nothing else can be done to Hamas. What was done was a punishment for the movement, but it could not bring peace to Israelis.

READ: Israel strikes Gaza again, rockets from Gaza intercepted

The missile fired at Tel Aviv has multiple reasons and objectives, both at the political and military levels. the most important of which was that it coincided with repression practiced by the Israeli Prison Service against the Palestinian prisoners in the Negev detention facility, and that it came less than two weeks before the Israeli elections. This would make Netanyahu unable to decide the way he shall respond to this attack. In case he went for wrecking Gaza, then Tel Aviv may be bombed repeatedly and the smell of gunpowder will disturb the Israeli voters.

The problem the Israelis faced responding to the Gaza missile lies in the way they lost the element of surprise, a very scarce factor in Gaza nowadays. The meetings of the Chief of General Staff of the Israel army, Aviv Kochavi to assess the situation resulted in calling two military brigades and the headquarters of a military command division to the Gaza fence.

However, the Israeli army did not issue the usual official orders for an immediate summons, but instead indicated that they are willing  to engage in the case of a major escalation, which makes this a precedent in the army’s history. Such circumstances indicate that the army is getting ready for a ground incursion in Gaza.

Netanyahu, as prime minister and defence minister, who was on an official visit to Washington, held telephone consultations with leaders of the security services and army generals in order to discuss the appropriate means and mechanisms to respond to the missile attack without igniting a fierce war with Hamas.

READ: Israeli ministers call for more bombs on Gaza

Israel is dealing with the Tel Aviv missile affair delicately. That is to say, the Israeli government is inclined to contain the incident without escalating the situation or igniting fierce confrontations just days before the elections on 9 April. On the other hand, the security conditions in the Palestinian territories are fragile and rather explosive, which means that in case Israel decides to carry out a large-scale attack on Gaza, the tension will be maximised in the area. On the other hand, Israel’s choice to avoid military escalation conveys that the occupations’ defence system is severely damaged and needs rehabilitation.

Gaza’s missile attack against Tel Aviv coincided with the State Security Cabinet’s (SSC) leaks about an Israeli plan for a ground invasion and reoccupation of the Gaza Strip, in addition to preparing a scenario to launch a severe blow to Hamas and its arsenal in order to dispel its ability to recover and restore its might quickly. Thus, the occupation’s army will implement the first phase of the plan.

There have also been reports in recent days about the ongoing preparations for a large-scale military operation in Gaza, possibly during the summer after the Knesset elections, as the occupation authorities are attempting to change the method of handling Hamas’ war of attrition against the Israeli forces on the Gaza fence, with reference to the return marches, night time attacks, and targeting the towns around Gaza with burning balloons.

Following the Tel Aviv missile, the debate in Israel today consists of whether Israel is on the verge of war which may take place every few weeks, months or years following a series of events or as a reaction to Hamas’ missile attacks which are periodically launched, leading to a war in the future.

READ: Israel strikes Gaza

The preparations announced by the Israeli army following Hamas’ rocket attack have been initiated with a redeployment along the security fence with Gaza and the re-positioning of about half of the reserve force that participated in “Operation Protective Edge” against Gaza in 2014 as a demonstration of the Israeli military force in order to warn Hamas not to react to the Israeli response.

The Palestinian security forces and the armed factions in Gaza increased their degree of readiness and preparedness, in anticipation of a sudden Israeli escalation. Thus, a circular has been issued to all forces and units to take utmost care and caution.

Both the Palestinian and Israeli sides are expecting the outbreak of an Israeli violent escalation yet without bloodshed or even the possibility to turn into a large-scale war during this critical period, as such a move may lead to something other than what is intended or expected.

It is true that Israel is currently busy conducting security and intelligence analysis, and studying the size of the response to the Tel Aviv missile. Indeed, the possibility of considering that “the missile was launched by mistake,” as it happened last time, is improbable. However, Netanyahu is in a very delicate situation as far as the upcoming electoral race is concerned, which governs the type and magnitude of the Israeli response.

READ: Gaza after Israel’s strikes

More than 24 hours after the launch of the rocket from Gaza to Tel Aviv, for the second time in a row in ten days, without a stone falling from the sky, or a large-scale war being waged against Hamas in Gaza, the Palestinians have passed the test of bombing Tel Aviv. Thus, the Palestinians, who used to be very cautious about hitting even the areas around the Gaza Strip, are today shelling Israeli cities more than 100 kilometres away.

After half a million Israelis fell under the range of Hamas’ rockets in the southern areas, the threat spread to more than 1.5 million Israelis concentrated in central Israel, which means that the image of the Israeli defence system against the Palestinian resistance has weakened. On the other hand, the Gaza file has returned to the discussion table of the next Israeli government.

The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.