The firing of 60 rockets and mortar shells from the Gaza Strip on Wednesday at towns across the western Negev sent a more resolute message than anything Israel has known since the launching of Operation Pillar of Defense some 16 months ago. It doesn't take a prominent think tank using information based on confidential intelligence reports to asses with a high degree of probability, albeit with a low degree of certainty, what may have caused Islamic Jihad to set the southern region ablaze.
The elements are well known. Iran probably gave the green light to Islamic Jihad's militias, commanding them to respond to the seizure of its missile ship in the Red Sea, which was meant to be unloaded in Sudan and smuggled overland to the Gaza Strip. That operation marked a serious blow to Iran's status, and it is responding with measures that will bury Israeli claims against the ayatollah regime.
Under explicit instruction from Tehran, Islamic Jihad could make emphatic demands from the Hamas regime in Gaza. They encounter a degree of understanding, especially because relations between Iran and Hamas have grown closer since Hamas was seriously disconnected from the central government in Egypt. This is the first time since Operation Pillar of Defense -- which was more successful than its predecessor Operation Cast Lead -- that Palestinian terrorist groups have come together with this much understanding against Israel and Egypt.
The rest of the dividends are of secondary importance. From Islamic Jihad's and Hamas' perspectives, this is an opportunity to sabotage the negotiations between Israel and the Palestinian Authority, which rules from Ramallah, and to disrupt British Prime Minister David Cameron's visit to the Knesset.
The necessary Israeli response is not the one suggested by Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman on Channel 2. He would like to see a complete occupation of the Gaza Strip. The price of occupation would not be very high. But afterward, the cost of maintaining control of Gaza would be steep indeed, both in terms of increasing terrorist attacks against Israeli soldiers on the field and in terms of the fact that the international community, in its self-righteousness, will forget within a few days why Israel had to recapture that loathsome strip of land in the first place. Israel won't know how to get out of that one without bowing its head in shame.
The government, however, isn't even going to discuss his declaration. We could even guess that Lieberman won't deliberate his own suggestion; it signified nothing more than a political-populist proclamation.
As was anticipated, Defense Minister Moshe Ya'alon ordered the closure of the Israel-Gaza crossing to prevent Gazan residents from paying visits to security prisoners, but in a few days Israel will ease the punitive measures. The EU is already preparing a perturbed statement condemning the starvation of Gaza's residents, with the backing of several individuals in Israel.
On Wednesday, Israel opted for proportional retaliation: impressive, thunderous and damaging enough to Islamic Jihad, but not enough to engender another round by Palestinian terrorists. The cease-fire will resume for a while. But the developing reality on the Gazan front is a good reason to be extremely attentive to every meticulous security arrangement Israel needs in all arenas and along the border.