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Rockets Slam Into Israel as Syrian Conflict Spills Over Into Gaza Strip

This weekend’s Palestinian rocket fire into Israel, after which Israel responded with airstrikes, can be traced to the war raging in Syria and, by extension, to Iran.

The attack broke forty days of relative quiet. While Palestinians in Gaza have fired several rockets against Israel since Israel’s Operation Pillar of Defense last November, they have mostly maintained the ceasefire established after the conflict. Late Sunday and early Monday morning however, six rockets fired from the Gaza Strip hit various areas in the south of Israel.

The Iron Dome missile defense system intercepted two rockets and four hit open areas. No injuries or damage were reported.

The IDF estimated that the pro-Iranian Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ) was behind the rocket fire. Most straightforwardly, the rocket fire looks like a blatant effort by PIJ to defy Hamas and its orders not to launch attacks against Israel and to respect the cease fire.

Under the surface, the attack against Israel was most probably ordered by Iran, with Tehran exploiting divisions among Palestinians that have taken hold as the Syrian conflict heightens sectarian tensions across the region. Sunni organizations, including the PLO and elements in Hamas, support the Syrian rebels. They oppose the Alawite regime of Syria President Bashar al-Assad, which is backed by Shiite Iran and its Lebanese Hezbollah client. Tensions with the Shiite bloc have led to Hamas members being expelled or forced to leave Damascus and, more recently, Lebanon. The old alliance between Hamas and Iran, which lasted for more than a decade, is in shambles.

The only significant Palestinian organization which continues to support the Assad-Hezbollah-Iran axis is the Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ), and tensions between the group and Hamas have been mounting. Recent days saw the death of an Islamic Jihad terrorist at the hands of Hamas’ security forces, leading PIJ to announce it was suspending ties with Hamas for the time being.

Iran thus likely ordered PIJ to punish Hamas by launching this weekend’s missile attack against Israel. Tehran hopes that by retaliating with full force, Israel would be a tool against Hamas.

But neither Hamas nor Israel, has any incentive to escalate the situation at the moment. Summer vacation is approaching, and millions of children out of school. Israeli sources told The Tower that they hope that the current tension will be contained.

In response to the rocket fire, then, the Israel Air Force (IAF) retaliated by attacking various targets in Gaza. The targets, including a rocket-launching pad and a weapons cache, belonged to the Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ). Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon ordered the closure of the border crossings between Israel and the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip.

Hamas ordered its men to be on alert for harsher Israeli response.

[Photo: Israel Defense Forces / Wiki Commons]