With air strike on Gaza, Israel tells Hamas 'get it together'

Israel's deadly strike today was a warning to Hamas to rein in more extreme militants, like the Salafist group that is firing rockets into Israel. Hamas is already on it.

Suhaib Salem / Reuters
Palestinians sit around the grave of Haitham Al-Mes-hal, who relatives said belonged to a militant Jihadist Salafi organisation, after his burial at a cemetery in Gaza City April 30, 2013. Israel on Tuesday launched its first targeted attack on a militant in Gaza since November, killing the Palestinian jihadist in an air strike that put further strain on a five-month-old ceasefire.

Israel’s assassination of a suspected militant in Gaza today, the first fatal attack since a November cease-fire, is widely seen as a warning shot to Hamas.

Tension has been high over the past two days along the Israel-Gaza border. Salafist groups have sent rockets into Israel, following a rocket attack earlier this month on Israel’s popular southern resort city of Eilat.

But Gaza-based political analyst Mustafa Ibrahim says Hamas got the message before Israel even sent it. Since the beginning of April, authorities have arrested dozens of Salafists who were accused of launching rocket attacks against Israel. Hamas is keen to keep the cease-fire with Israel, and the increasing violence has embarrassed them.

“The cease-fire is a good for Hamas, which needs some calm to strengthen its power and rule in Gaza,” says Mr. Ibrahim. “Hamas is also conducting a reconstruction program in the Gaza Strip with the help of Qatar and Turkey who donated hundreds of millions of dollars for this purpose, so it's not logical that Hamas is willing to restart war with Israel.”

Hamas's limited authority

Israel’s strike today killed Haitham al-Meshal, who it blamed for a rocket attack on the southern city of Eilat earlier this month. An Al-Qaeda-linked group, Al-Mujahdeen Shura Council – Environs of Jerusalem, announced today that Mr. Meshal was one of its members, but council leader Abu Thaer did not specify whether Meshal had participated in the April 17 Eilat attack.

Salafist jihadists follow a global ideology against infidels – Israel, America, and the West – rather than one that focuses purely on resistance to Israel’s oppression of Palestinians. While Hamas meets periodically with the major Palestinian militant factions in Gaza, recent attacks show it cannot always keep a lid on all violence.

Hamas spokesman Fawzi Barhoum today accused Israel of trying to drag Gaza into a “vicious circle of violence.” Mr. Barhoum did not say whether Hamas’s military wing is going to respond to the Israeli attack or not.

But the head of Hamas government media office, Ihab el-Ghussein, said Egypt, which brokered the cease-fire between Hamas and Israel to end a week of fighting in November 2012, must intervene to stop Israel's aggression against the Palestinian people and abide by the understandings of the cease-fire.

When is 'enough is enough'?

Israel launched several air strikes earlier this month in response to scattered rocket attacks, but they did not kill anyone – nor did they appear intended to kill anyone, as they fell in relatively open areas. But the combination between a rise in rocket fire and the attack on Eilat, an important tourist destination, appears to have pushed Israel to more targeted action.

“The attack today is not a surprise,” says Prof. Efraim Inbar, director of the Begin-Sadat Center for Strategic Studies at Bar-Ilan University. “Eventually enough is enough.”

But Ibrahim, the political analyst, says he believes Israel will exercise a certain degree of patience with Hamas going forward.

“If jihadists are going to fire more rockets, Israel will not respond. I think it will give Hamas a chance to prove that it can control everyone in Gaza,” he says. “I also believe that Hamas will use force against Salafists especially because they are not liked or accepted by most of the Palestinians in the Gaza Strip.”

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