IDF deploys Iron Domes ahead of Eurovision, Independence Day

Air missile defense batteries stationed throughout the country after rocket fired from Gaza lands off Israeli coast

Judah Ari Gross is The Times of Israel's religions and Diaspora affairs correspondent.

Israeli soldiers walk near an Iron Dome defense system, designed to intercept and destroy incoming short-range rockets and artillery shells on August 9, 2018. (AFP PHOTO / Jack GUEZ)
Israeli soldiers walk near an Iron Dome defense system, designed to intercept and destroy incoming short-range rockets and artillery shells on August 9, 2018. (AFP PHOTO / Jack GUEZ)

The Israeli military deployed Iron Dome missile defense batteries throughout the country on Tuesday, following a rocket attack from Gaza the previous night and ahead of what is expected to be a sensitive next few weeks.

Earlier in the day, the Israel Defense Forces accused the Iran-backed Palestinian Islamic Jihad of firing the rocket late Monday night, which landed several kilometers off the coast.

The military expects the coming weeks to be particularly tense, as they will see the start of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, the international Eurovision song competition in Tel Aviv, Israel’s Memorial and Independence Days, and the first anniversary of the opening of the contentious US Embassy in Jerusalem.

Following Monday’s rocket launch, Israel scaled back the permitted Gaza fishing zone from 15 nautical miles to six until further notice. The fishing zone had previously been extended to 15 miles — a level that the coastal enclave has not seen in over a decade — as one of the first concessions by Jerusalem under an unofficial ceasefire agreement with terror groups in the Gaza Strip.

Illustrative. An incendiary device attached to balloons that landed in the Eshkol region in Israel on March 28, 2019. (Eshkol Regional Council)

In an apparent response to Israel’s decision, Palestinians in Gaza launched several balloon-borne incendiary devices into southern Israel on Tuesday, sparking at least one fire. In recent weeks, such arson attacks have tapered off under the ceasefire brokered by Egypt last month.

The blaze occurred outside Kibbutz Nahal Oz in the Sha’ar Hanegev region. It was quickly extinguished by a team of volunteers, the fire department said.

On Tuesday morning, the IDF said the Islamic Jihad intentionally fired the rocket from the northern Gaza Strip toward coastal Israel the day before in an effort to derail ongoing efforts to maintain the ceasefire.

The Islamic Jihad is considered the second-most powerful terror group in the Strip, after the coastal enclave’s de facto rulers, Hamas, despite having a slightly larger arsenal of rockets and mortar shells, mostly locally manufactured varieties based on Iranian designs.

Baha Abu al-Ata, right, and two other senior Palestinian Islamic Jihad members in an undated photograph. (Israel Defense Forces)

The IDF specifically named Baha Abu al-Ata, an Islamic Jihad commander responsible for the group’s activities in northern Gaza, as having given the order to fire the rocket. The military said the rocket was fired from the al-Attra neighborhood of Beit Lahiya.

Identifying al-Ata by name could be seen as a tacit threat by the military. Al-Ata has been targeted by the IDF in the past, both in the 2014 Gaza war and in the smaller 2012 Operation Pillar of Defense.

In addition to the apparent threat directed at al-Ata, the IDF’s identification of Islamic Jihad as the source of the rocket fire appeared to be an effort to force the Gaza-ruling Hamas to bring the Iran-backed group to heel.

According to the IDF, the Islamic Jihad is “trying to maintain a low profile so Hamas doesn’t know” that it’s seeking to undermine the ceasefire efforts, despite claims by the two groups that they are cooperating.

Earlier this month, the Israeli military made a similar allegation. On April 1, the IDF warned that the Islamic Jihad was planning to carry out a large-scale terror attack in order to derail the relative calm along the Gaza border.

While there has not been a complete cessation of violence along the Gaza border since the ceasefire went into effect last month, the situation there has been relatively calm.

Terror groups in the Strip have threatened to bring back regular border riots if Israel does not abide by its side of the deal.

Palestinian protesters use a makeshift shield during a demonstration near the border with Israel, east of Khan Yunis in the southern Gaza Strip, on April 26, 2019. (Said KHATIB / AFP)

On Friday, dozens of Palestinians were injured in clashes with Israeli troops at various locations along the Gaza-Israel border. According to the Hamas-run Gaza health ministry 60 people were wounded, including 36 who were shot by live fire.

The IDF had no comment on Friday’s injuries, but a spokeswoman said that approximately 7,000 Palestinians were taking part in Hamas-led protests along the border. She said demonstrators “hurled rocks and a number of explosive devices” toward troops, and the IDF responded in accordance with standard procedures.

Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.

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