Hamas claims to have been just as surprised at the resumption of rocket fire Tuesday afternoon as Israel was, with the movement’s leaders declaring that it had nothing to do with a volley of missiles fired at Beersheba eight hours before a day-long truce extension was set to expire.
Israel holds Hamas responsible for all rockets fired out of Gaza, whether or not the group is directly involved, but signs point to the possibility that a smaller group, fed up with ceasefire talks, launched the rockets Tuesday.
On Facebook, Hamas deputy political bureau chief Moussa Abu Marzouk accused Israel of breaking the truce, saying it couldn’t resist a golden opportunity to assassinate Hamas military chief Muhammad Deif. “In an unexpected move, Israel announces that three missiles landed in it. Netanyahu declares the end of negotiations, pulls the [Israeli negotiation] delegation, and ends the ceasefire to everyone’s astonishment,” Narzouk wrote, recounting the events that unfolded in Cairo. “We do not know the reason for these steps, but not long after that, news came that no rockets were launched from Gaza. That was just an excuse to target an important figure in Hamas.”
Abu Marzouk’s narrative, posted online overnight Wednesday, was already Hamas’s official line. “The violence was initiated by the Israeli occupation,” asserted Hamas negotiator Izzat al-Rishq in a TV appearance Tuesday evening, quoted on the movement’s official website. “The resistance was always here [in Cairo] and gave these negotiations their full chance.”
“Israel imposes war on us once again, and we are left with no choice but to face it and win,” he added on Facebook Wednesday morning.
Hamas regularly accuses Israel of breaching truces, even when it clearly attacks first. The firing of rockets at Beersheba was widely documented in both Israeli and international media. Residents reported hearing loud booms and damage from the missiles landing in open areas was shown on television, rendering Hamas’s claims of a false flag incident patently untrue.
Nearly six hours passed from the moment three rockets hit open areas in Beersheba, and the targeting of Deif, which left his wife and infant son dead. Hamas said Wednesday that Deif, not seen in public for years, survived the bombing. Time will prove the veracity, or otherwise, of this claim.
Still, despite the assertion of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s spokesman Mark Regev that it was Hamas which broke the truce (for the eleventh time), and notwithstanding Israel’s stance that Hamas bears overall responsibility for all attacks from Gaza, it is quite possible that a different organization actually fired the rockets. As of this writing, no Palestinian movement had claimed responsibility for breaching the truce.
Me on CNN: When Hamas shot rockets at Israel it not only broke the ceasefire but ALSO the premise for the Cairo talks http://t.co/yfaxpFlIYg
— Mark Regev (@MarkRegevPMO) August 20, 2014
At 11:15 on Tuesday night, Hamas claimed responsibility for the launching of two Grad missiles at Beersheba. An IDF spokesperson confirmed to The Times of Israel that two rockets were in fact launched from Gaza at that time; one intercepted by the Iron Dome system over the city and the other landing in an open area.
But a few minutes later, another Gaza-based armed organization not represented at the table in Cairo, the Popular Resistance Committees (PRC), claimed responsibility for firing three Grad rockets at Beersheba at exactly 11:30. The IDF spokesperson had no record of three rockets launched at that time, but the Popular Resistance Committees boasted nevertheless that “the Zionist enemy admitted the rockets landed and that loud explosions were heard in Beersheba,” in an attack supposedly avenging the Deif assassination attempt.
It is possible that PRC was belatedly claiming responsibility for rockets launched eight hours earlier, hesitant to admit it had broken the truce but nonetheless proud of a task well performed.
The PRC would be a prime suspect for bypassing Hamas by firing at Israel. Created in 2000 by former Fatah member Jamal Abu Samhadana, the group, through its armed wing the Al-Nasser Salah Ad-Din Brigades, carried out numerous terror attacks against Israeli civilians living in the Gaza Strip prior to Israel’s unilateral withdrawal from the Strip in 2005. PRC also actively took part in rocket launches at Israel throughout Operation Protective Edge.
Just hours before the rockets were fired at Beersheba, the PRC issued a strongly worded communique accusing Israel of “procrastination and deception” in its dealings with the Palestinian negotiators. It called on Egypt to “pressure the Zionist enemy to comply with our people’s demands and reject out of hand the conditions placed by the Zionist enemy in return for removing the siege.”
The IDF spokesman stopped short of blaming Hamas for the initial launches at Beersheba, instead accusing “Gaza terrorists.” But the Prime Minister’s Office considered the distinction of little consequence, even if Hamas was unaware of the launches when they took place.
“Hamas is responsible for rocket fire from Gaza,” an unnamed Israeli official told The Times of Israel.
That sentiment was echoed by Netanyahu’s former national security adviser, Yaakov Amidror, now a researcher at the Begin-Sadat Center for Strategic Studies.
“Hamas can’t play this game: when it’s convenient for it, it represents the Gaza Strip, when it isn’t, it doesn’t. There’s no such thing. That’s life,” Amidror told The Times of Israel. “Hamas is the body that controls the [Gaza] Strip. It can’t come to Cairo making claims and demands, but when it’s inconvenient for it, to simply say ‘it’s not me, it’s him.’ If you can’t control, say so, and we’ll know you’re not the address [to talk to].”
Amidror added that Israel would be justified in striking Hamas targets even knowing that it was a different movement that fired the rockets.
“Of course it would,” he opined. “Having said that, we have to act intelligently.”
If Israel knew for certain that Hamas was uninterested in escalation and was being entrapped by a renegade movement, acting against Hamas would be foolish, the ex-security official said.
“When we have both a 5-kilogram hammer and a 2-kilogram hammer, the heavier one isn’t always better,” he said.