Saturday September 5, 2015
Israel Hayom
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Yoav Limor

How stands the union?

As frustrating as it may sound, Israel sustained rocket fire on Sunday, for nothing. The rival factions in the Gaza Strip followed that old joke about two people who fight among themselves and then go and beat up a third party, and a local clash between Hamas and Islamic Jihad turned into rocket fire on Israel's south.

The clash in the northern Gaza Strip began with a disagreement about Hamas fostering a policy of relative calm, and culminated with an attempt by Hamas security forces to arrest an Islamic Jihad operative. The man attempted to flee and was killed during the chase. That led to a tense funeral in Gaza, after which several Islamic Jihad terrorists fired six rockets at Israel.

One rocket hit the Palestinian side of the border, two were intercepted by Iron Dome and the rest landed in open areas.

It was unclear on Monday whether the rocket fire was the independent work of several local terrorists, or if they were following orders from higher up, as the Islamic Jihad's leadership may be trying to challenge Hamas' rule in the Gaza Strip.

It is no secret that the rift between the two factions has been growing wider, part of the deep ideological struggle dividing the Arab street. Both Hamas and the Islamic Jihad are Sunni organizations, but while the former has severed its ties with Iran and Syria and now relies mostly on Egypt and the Persian Gulf states, the latter continues to receive weapons from Iran, instructions from Damascus and training from Lebanon.

The strife is expected to escalate further in the coming months, over two major issues: the buildup of military power and the cease-fire policy. Hamas seeks to preserve the cease-fire with Israel to recover from the blows it sustained during operation Pillar of Defense in November 2012, and it is concerned that a confrontation now would jeopardize its relationship with Egypt. Some factions in the Islamic Jihad, on the other hand, are interested in an escalation, as they are bolstered by the steady subsidies and weapon supplies from Iran.

This discussion is theoretical for now, and Israel's deterrence in the Gaza Strip is significant and very much in place, despite Sunday's rocket fire. The last rocket to hit the south prior to Sunday was on May 15, some 40 days ago, and 22 rockets in total have been fired at Israel since Operation Pillar of Defense -- dozens of percentage points less that before that military campaign.

The Israel Air Force was quick to strike Gaza on Sunday in an attempt to preserve deterrence, and the government warned that fire would be met with fire. Israel hopes this will be enough to maintain the peace in the south for the time being.

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