Israel and Hamas have made considerable efforts to prevent the situation in southern Israel from escalating after the toughest day of fighting in the Gaza Strip since Operation Pillar of Defense in November 2012. Senior Egyptian officials were involved in these efforts, guided by Israel's unequivocal demand of Hamas to curb the situation on the ground.
Defense and Shin Bet security agency officials said Tuesday that the sniper fire, which killed one Israeli, was the work of a radical terrorist group in the Gaza Strip, which acted without Hamas' knowledge and contrary to its directives.
Hamas is facing pressure from both Israel and Egypt now and is under clear strategic distress. Its terrorist efforts are focused on indirectly ordering attacks on Judea and Samaria. However, with regard to the Gaza Strip, Hamas seeks to maintain a cease-fire to continue recovering from Operation Pillar of Defense -- especially with regard to its stockpiles of long-range missiles and its command and control capabilities.
Israel responded on Tuesday with an unusual use of tank and artillery fire, on top of an airstrike, against "front-line targets" -- in other words, Hamas targets.
The message to Hamas was clear: In ruling Gaza, you are responsible for keeping things quiet. Defense officials hedged that the message was received, and while the death of a Palestinian child in one of the airstrikes inflamed the Palestinian street, Hamas seemed to take the steps necessary to cool the heated atmosphere.
Tuesday's terror attack, Monday's rocket fire and the rise in security incidents over the past few months seem unrelated, considering that the Gaza Strip and the West Bank struggle with different plights and therefore its residents have different motives to commit acts of terror. That said, Israel should be very concerned.
In Judea and Samaria, the majority of terrorist activity is conducted by Hamas and the Islamic Jihad, which seek to undermine the Palestinian Authority and sabotage the peace process. Terrorist activity in Gaza Strip is promoted by radical fringe groups seeking to discredit Hamas. The common denominators may be desperation over the economic situation and an ever-present desire to harm Israelis.
Even in the absence of a direct link, this disconcerting string of events requires Israel to reassess the situation. The desire to contain the conflict rather than allow it to deteriorate is true for both Gaza Strip and the West Bank, but each requires a different approach.
If security assessments prove true, the peace talks looming deadline spells an increase in terrorist attacks. Israel will need to employ every diplomatic, military and political avenue to avoid an unwanted escalation that might set both sectors ablaze.