The military wing of Hamas published a report this morning on its website in which it states that “the Izz ad-Din al-Qassam Brigades continues to attack the enemy with rockets for the second straight day, and has launched 9 rockets at the Sofa military base.”
The message points to several interesting developments in Hamas’ military operations since the latest round of fighting began in the south. Firstly, Hamas is launching rockets and claiming responsibility. This may sound strange to strange, at least to people who think that Hamas has been behind the rocket fire over the past couple of years. But the facts show something else entirely: since Operation Cast Lead, Hamas has almost completely refrained from firing rockets into Israel. April 2011 was the last time that Hamas officially took part in rocket fire. Even during the last round of fighting in March of this year, Hamas remained outside the clashes with Israel, and refrained from firing rockets. Moreover, Hamas established a special security mechanism to be in charge of stopping other Gazan organizations from launching rockets.
The second fact that arises from the internet message is that Hamas is acting like an organized military: its members are aiming at military bases near the border with Gaza, rather than at civilian targets. Moreover, the organization is restricting its members to firing rockets strictly at targets near Gaza (aside from one instance), but the other Palestinian organizations that have joined the fighting have been firing rockets at civilian targets. Most of rockets have been launched at military bases or other security forces - a new method of operation for the organization. If until now it has refrained from launching rockets into Israel, it is clear that over the past two days, Hamas has changed the rules of the game and will only launch rockets at military targets.
The change stems from a few reasons: first, after the harsh criticism leveled at the organization in March for not participating in the rocket fire (and was compared to the Palestinian Authority), it is important for Hamas to prove that it is still a “resistance organization” that wants and is able to continue and fight Israel. Islamic Jihad, the Popular Resistance Committee as well as groups identified with Al-Qaida all mocked Hamas when it refused to fire rockets at Israel. The heads of Hamas have no desire to go back to that situation again.
Additionally, the latest round of fighting is an attempt on the part of Hamas to deter Israel. On Monday, a member of Hamas’ armed wing, who was operating as part of a Hamas offshoot which is not officially part of the organization (”Defenders of Al-Aqsa”, who Israel claims is funded by Hamas’s Interior Minister Fathi Hamad) was killed in an Israeli air strike. Hamas’ response is restrained and practical: you killed one of our troops, now we will attack military bases. Thirdly, there is no doubt that the likely victory of the Muslim Brotherhood in the Egyptian presidential elections gives Hamas the feeling that the president in Cairo is one of their own.
Furthermore, it is clear that Hamas is not interested in a massive escalation, and is refraining from widening the range of its fire, at least for now. The resumption of Hamas’ rocket fire gives Israel a good reason to worry, as it may spell the end of Israel’s deterrence which it has built up since Operation Cast Lead. But like Hamas, Israel has every reason to seek quiet and let the latest round of violence pass.