Let’s start with the good news: As of Thursday morning, it appears as if the parties involved in the fighting along the Israel-Gaza border, Hamas and Islamic Jihad, have calmed down. Israeli strikes Wednesday focused solely on targeting unmanned rocket launch sites. In other words, there were no Palestinian casualties in any of the 29 strikes.
Islamic Jihad stopped firing at Israel in the early evening hours of Wednesday. And while two lone rockets were fired overnight, as well as a few more Thursday morning, compared to Wednesday’s barrage it seems that the militant organization is signaling that is does not desire any further escalation.
But here is the not-so-good news. Although Hamas has exhibited impressive control of the situation in the Gaza Strip in recent years, the last sequence of events indicates that its power is no longer what it once was.
Moreover, and for the umpteenth time, Israelis received further evidence of the damaging implications internal Palestinian politics can have on Israel.
Islamic Jihad’s actions, as well as statements made by its spokesman afterwards, lead to the obvious conclusion that the organization is challenging Hamas and trying to market itself as the new leader of the Gaza Strip. It started a day beforehand, when Islamic Jihad sent its operatives to confront IDF forces near Khan Younis. During the exchange of fire, where three Palestinians were killed, Hamas stood on the sidelines and did not intervene. That same day, two more Palestinians were killed in the West Bank, and Hamas and the Palestinian Authority similarly refrained from responding — prompting Islamic Jihad’s rocket salvo on Wednesday.
Arguably the culmination of its challenge to the status quo arrived overnight, when Islamic Jihad published a statement warning the residents of Gaza that it would act against anyone suspected of collaborating with Israel. So now, Islamic Jihad, not Hamas, is punishing alleged collaborators with the Jewish state.
Islamic Jihad’s Secretary General Ramadan Shalah gave a telling interview Wednesday on Iranian TV, saying that the response of the organization would expand and become much harsher if Israel continued its actions against the Palestinians.
The message is familiar and predictable. However, Shalah’s decision to go on air in Iran suggests that Islamic Jihad is operating against Hamas’s interests under the guidance and encouragement of the Islamic Republic. Iran’s Revolutionary Guards are trying to strengthen Islamic Jihad (see: Kloc-C arms shipment) and build up its military capabilities in order to weaken Hamas, as a form of punishment to the Gaza-ruling party for participating in the fight against the Assad regime in Syria.
It now seems reasonable to assume that Iran will continue to try to undermine the relative calm in the region, either through Islamic Jihad in the Gaza Strip to the south, or Hezbollah in Lebanon and the Golan Heights to the north.