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TIP Backgrounder: Mortars and Rockets Fired at Israeli Communities from Gaza

What happened

More than 30 mortars and rockets were launched from the Gaza Strip by Palestinian terrorist groups towards Israeli communities on Tuesday with at least 25 intercepted by the Iron Dome missile defense system in the most severe military flare-up since Operation Protective Edge in 2014.

“This is a serious, dangerous and planned terrorist attack against civilians and children. The Palestinian Islamic Jihad organization is a terror organization that is based on Iranian ideology and funding and today it used Iranian-made weapons,” IDF Spokesman Brig.-Gen.Ronen Manelis said.

The rocket fire from Gaza left Israeli residents in the border area on high alert, forcing them to remain close to bomb shelters. One mortar shell exploded in the yard of a kindergarten in the Eshkol Regional Council at 7:00 AM, causing damage to the structure. No children were present at the time.

Israel said it struck dozens of militant targets in the Gaza Strip in response to a barrage of mortar and rocket fire from the Palestinian enclave. At least one base belonging to Hamas and four to Palestinian Islamic Jihad, an allied group, were struck in Israel’s retaliation.

The series of attacks came 12 hours after Palestinians in the Gaza Strip opened fire with a machine gun at the southern Israeli town of Sderot. Earlier in the day, two Palestinians were caught in a suspected attempt to carry out attacks in Israel while trying to breach the security fence. The Hamas members were in possession of bolt cutters, knives and flammable liquid.

Political context

Tuesday’s incidents follow weeks of tension in the Gaza Strip since the weekly “Great March of Return” riots kicked off on March 30. The Israeli military said it was not seeking an escalation but warned Hamas, which is in complete political and military control of the coastal enclave, that the group will be held directly responsible for the violence.

“They have the ability, the control and the power to escalate or to deescalate the situation, to rein in the Palestinian Islamic Jihad and their own extremist factions in Hamas or to escalate the situation,” said Israeli military spokesman Jonathan Conricus.

Hamas’s dire strategic situation dictates its moves against Israel. The group is running out of ways to attack Israel, faces intense financial strains, and popular dissent in Gaza. Hamas wants to distract from the fact that it is directly responsible for the suffering of its own civilian population, wasting hundreds of millions in aid money on military infrastructure.

After weeks of sending masses of civilians into direct confrontation with Israel – including women children, even babies – to act as a buffer between its operatives trying to infiltrate the border, Hamas has resorted to previous tactics of firing directly on residents on the Gaza border.

The terrorist group continues to make clear its primary goal is the total annihilation of the state of Israel.

What’s next

Hamas’ leader in Gaza, Yihyeh Sinwar, has vowed that the border riots would continue. He added that the riots had thus far achieved several strategic goals: returning the issue of the “Right of Return” to the Arab and Islamic agenda; and disproving the claim the Palestinian issue no longer has world attention.

Sinwar said that “special events” would take place on so-called Naksa Day (June 5, in commemoration of the Six Day War) and on Jerusalem Day (June 8, riots initiated by Iran). Therefore, the Meir Amit Intelligence and Terrorism Information Center – which said on Tuesday that 83% of the Palestinians killed during the Hamas-orchestrated border riots have been identified as members of terrorist groupswarned that “it can be assumed that in the weeks ahead, Hamas will continue to sacrifice the lives of its operatives, civilians and other terrorist operatives, while encouraging and fueling the political and propaganda campaign being waged against Israel.”

What officials are saying

• “Hamas firing rockets & mortars at civilian communities in Israel — one hit a kindergarten, thankfully before children had arrived — is beyond appalling. It’s terrorism, pure and simple, as immoral as it gets. And: what possible benefit would it bring to Palestinians in Gaza? None.”
Dan Shapiro, U.S. ambassador to Israel under President Obama from 2011-2017

• “Hamas has misappropriated billions of dollars of aid and bought missiles instead of food and built terror tunnels instead of schools and hospitals. This Flotilla is one more step backwards for Hamas, and their leadership is dragging the Palestinians of Gaza with them.”
• “Reprehensible – mortars fired from Gaza at a kindergarten and community in Israel! Hamas has failed – all it can offer is terror. Palestinians in Gaza need real leaders to work on Gaza’s real problems with its water, its economy and so much more.”
Jason Greenblatt, The White House’s special representative to the Middle East

• “As kids were preparing for school this morning a barrage of rockets from Gaza fell on southern Israel. One landed outside a kindergarten. I know the resilience of communities in southern Israel but indiscriminate attacks are totally unacceptable and to be condemned unreservedly.
Emanuele Giaufret, European Union ambassador to Israel

• “We knew in advance what Hamas wants to see is dead people on the border… We tried to avoid it. It’s an almost impossible situation for the Israeli army.”
Israeli opposition leader Tzipi Livni during a press briefing with The Israel Project, defending Israel’s action during the Hamas-led border riots

[Photo: Israel Defense Forces / YouTube ]