TEL AVIV – Iran is attempting to use jihadist surrogates in the Gaza Strip to cause a mass casualty event in Israel that would provoke an Israeli ground operation, according to informed Middle Eastern security officials.
The officials explained Hamas fears the damage a ground operation will cause to its terrorist apparatus and has been careful for now not to escalate the conflict with a game-changing attack that would leave Israel with no choice but to mount a ground offensive.
As of now, diplomatic sources inside Israel say that despite the activation of a reported 40,000 reserve troops, the Israeli government is hopeful a ground operation won’t be necessary. A successful missile attack with mass casualties in central Israel would likely change that assumption.
Hamas generally has only fired one or two missiles at a time at central Israeli population zones like Tel Aviv and Jerusalem, working under the assumption that all rockets in those areas will be shot down by Israel’s Iron Dome anti-missile system.
While the terrorist organization has launched missiles further north than it did during the Gaza-Israel conflict of November 2012, it has so far mostly been sticking to the same “rules” that it utilized during that campaign.
On Thursday, there were four missiles in a short time span, but there was no word immediately on damages from those.
In 2012, Israel launched an eight-day aerial campaign against Hamas in Gaza in response to repeated missile attacks targeting nearby Israeli civilian population zones. No ground offensive was mounted despite periodic Hamas rocket fire into the vicinity of Tel Aviv and Jerusalem.
Nearly all rockets fired into central Israel during that conflict were either shot down or landed in open areas. The Iron Dome system usually doesn’t deflect missiles it determines will land in open areas, such as the sea.
The 2012 conflict ended with a cease-fire that, for a period at least, saw the Gaza borders reopen and the scaling back of Hamas’ international isolation.
The Islamist terror group is attempting to achieve similar results from this campaign, say the Middle Eastern security officials. Hamas, which has been increasingly isolated lately, hopes to win concessions from Israel in a truce agreement following a period of sustained rocket attacks inside Israel and Israeli aerial bombardments targeting Hamas’s Gaza infrastructure.
However, according to the officials, Iran has been attempting to pressure the Iranian-backed Islamic Jihad and other Gaza-based organizations to carry out an event that would draw Israel into a ground war, such as with successful missile attacks on Tel Aviv.
Iran has been trying to convince Islamic Jihad to defy Hamas’ command-and-control and launch an overwhelming number of missiles at once into central Israel. While Iron Dome’s missile defense capabilities are classified, it is widely assumed the missile batteries are not capable of downing a large salvo, such as a dozen incoming missiles aimed at the same area.
An Israeli ground operation in Gaza could serve Iran’s purposes on several fronts. Iran would enhance its stature as a player in the Israeli-Palestinian arena if its jihadist operatives were able to defy Hamas and provoke a larger war. Also a Gaza conflict could help deflect attention from the enhanced insurgency.
On Thursday, Islamic Jihad Spokesman Abu Ahmed said, “The Palestinian resistance is ready for IDF’s ground battle in Gaza and the possibility of expanding the circle of war.”
“The option of adding more Israeli cities to the rocket fire of the Palestinian resistance is taken into consideration,” he stated.