by Yoav Limor
The escalation noted over the past few weeks in southern Israel has been riddled with paradoxes. On Sunday, Israel added one more to the mix, intentionally increasing the use of firepower in the hopes of quelling tensions.
The conscious decision to carry out a targeted assassination against an Islamic Jihad operative could have agitated the already volatile situation in Gaza Strip even further, but it was actually meant to achieve the opposite.
The hit was Israel's way of informing Hamas that it is perfectly willing to "go crazy" and initiate an escalation. In other words, Israel has made it clear to Hamas that if the south heads for yet another round of fighting, Jerusalem -- not Gaza -- will call the shots.
For now, it seems Gaza got the message, especially since it was followed by a series of stern warnings that were passed to Hamas by Israel through Egypt -- and also by Egypt itself -- saying that the sharp increase in rocket fire was unacceptable.
Another aspect of the paradoxes seen in Gaza is that the latest bout of rocket fire was executed as part of an internal struggle between Hamas and the Islamic Jihad -- they lock horns and Israel comes under fire.
And speaking of paradoxes, the escalation in rocket fire coincides with Israel's decision to increase the humanitarian aid transferred to Gaza Strip on a daily basis. With Egypt placing Hamas' rule under siege by cracking down on its Sinai-based smuggling enterprise, Israel has become Gaza's only lifeline -- as well as its punching bag.
Defense officials have expressed concern that even if the current escalation in southern Israel wanes, the overall trend is very disconcerting.
For now, Hamas is adamantly avoiding confrontation with Israel, mainly over its own strategic distress and ongoing armament efforts. The fact that Hamas' grip on power is slipping does not bode well, as it finds it increasingly difficult to control the smaller Gaza-based terror groups, let alone rein in the Islamic Jihad, which is under growing pressure by Iran to carry out terror attacks.
Israel has no interest in further escalation, not only because it would prefer to avoid the complexities of the Gaza quagmire, but because it fears that a military campaign might actually reinforce Hamas and help it re-establish its relationships with Egypt and the Palestinian Authority.
To sidestep this quicksand, the military is currently trying to maintain deterrence and ensure that Gaza's rulers understand the potential cost of a serious security escalation -- that is what the weekend strikes on terror cells in Gaza and Sunday's hit were really about.
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