Gaza militants fired some 250 rockets at Israel, which responded with strikes as a fragile ceasefire again faltered in an escalation that left four Palestinians dead, including a baby in disputed circumstances on Saturday.
On Sunday, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu ordered Israeli military forces to retaliate the Gazan militants through "massive strikes."
Like any other issue in the Middle East, the recent violence in Gaza is also very complicating. This round of violence was provoked by the Palestine Islamic Jihad (PIJ), an Islamic political and military group based in Gaza with several hundred members. From mid-April, the PIJ militias fired rockets from Gaza to Israeli targets.
Israel Defense Forces (IDF) retaliated by launching airstrikes against targets in Gaza, leading to the violence escalation between Israel and Hamas, which is the dominating group in Gaza.
In short, the recent violence provoked by the PIJ led to the confrontation between Israel and Hamas.
For more than a decade, Israel perceives Hamas in the Gaza Strip as the most pressing threat in the region. After Hamas successfully occupied the Gaza Strip in 2007, several major military confrontations erupted, including Israel's massive strikes against Hamas in Gaza in 2008, 2012 and 2014.
Palestinian protesters take part in a night demonstration near the fence along the border with Israel in Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip, March 19, 2019. /VCG Photo
After 2007, the Gaza Strip was dominated by two rivals, Israel and Hamas. As an important political and military group, the PIJ came into formation in the late 1980s when the first Intifada, or the Palestinian Revolt, erupted in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip against the Israeli occupation.
In the 1990s, the PIJ became a relatively low-profile actor in the competitions among Palestinian factions. Fatah and other groups were the major actors in both Palestine Authority and other political arenas. Inside the Islamic political groups, although both Hamas and the PIJ were independent of the Muslim Brotherhood movement in the Gaza Strip, it was Hamas that became the major player in Gaza while the PIJ became relatively marginal and low-profile.
From late 2018, PIJ has been playing a larger role in the region. The rise of the PIJ in Gaza could be largely attributed to the assistance of Iran after 2012. From the late 1980s to early 2012, Iran was the major supporter of Hamas and provided Hamas with a large amount of money and weapons. Some security analysts even described the close ties between Iran, Hamas in Gaza, Hezbollah in Southern Lebanon and Syria as the "resistance axis in the Middle East."
However, after 2012 when the Syria civil war erupted, Hamas gave up its close ties with the governments of Iran and Syria, largely because of Hamas's shared Sunni sectarian sense with the opposition groups in Syria. Qatar became the new major supporter to Hamas, while Iran started to perceive the PIJ, which is seeking to follow Iran's Islamic revolution in 1979 to establish an independent Islamic nation in Palestine.
Meanwhile, the ties between Hamas and Israel also witnessed transformations. From 1987 when the Hamas was formed, its leadership refused to recognize the legal existence of Israel and promised to retake all the Palestine territories occupied by Israel, not only including the West Bank, Gaza and East Jerusalem, but also the entire area of Israel to establish a state based on Sharia law or Islamic law.
However, after more than a decade of military confrontations and standoffs, Gaza became isolated due to sanctions by Israel, and the unemployment rate in Gaza reached nearly 60 percent. Hamas recognizes that it is necessary to readjust itself to new circumstances through a pragmatic manner.
In May 2017, Hamas published a new policy document in which it showed its willingness to establish an independent Palestine state in the West Bank and Gaza with East Jerusalem as its capital. The rockets fired by Hamas militias from Gaza to Israel largely decreased, and Egypt became the "messenger" for both sides.
Palestinians react to tear gas fired by Israeli troops during a protest at the Israeli-Gaza border fence, east of Gaza City, March 29, 2019. /VCG Photo
Increasingly silent Hamas did not mean that peace was finally there, but new challenges started to rise. The PIJ, with assistance from Iran, started to become more and more provocative. In September of 2018, Ziad Nahala became the new leader of the PIJ to replace the Ramadan Shallah who suffered a stroke, and the PIJ's policy became increasingly tough.
In October of 2018, the PIJ fired rockets against Israel from Gaza, and it was under the mediation from Cairo that Israel and the PIJ reached a temporary truce. The peace did not last long, and new rockets fired by the PIJ militias, especially its Jerusalem Brigades in northern Gaza, again endangered the security of Israel.
Israeli society believes that it is Hamas who should be responsible for the provocations because Hamas dominates Gaza and the PIJ is only a relatively small military group.
Hamas, however, is very embarrassed and is not able to cease the rockets firings of the PIJ because the rockets could be perceived by Palestinians in Gaza as their dissatisfaction and despair in the face of isolation and economic hardship. Once Hamas arrested the members of the PIJ, Hamas might lose its popularity among Gaza public.
It reminds us of a similar scenario in the early 2000s, when Hamas was still weak, and the Fatah-led Palestine Authority controlled both the West Bank and Gaza.
Hamas at that time launched massive terrorist attacks in Israel and demanded the Palestine Authority led by Yasser Arafat to take harsher attitudes towards Israel, while Israel also arrested all the members of Hamas to stop the terrorist attacks. Finally, Hamas rose to be an equal player with Fatah and dominated Gaza after 2007.
The recent crisis between the PIJ and Israel shows the rising influence of PIJ in the Gaza Strip, although the Hamas might not allow the PIJ to become a full partner in the Hamas government in Gaza. A new challenger to Hamas might further complicate the fragile peace between Israel and Palestine.
Copy Editor/Xu Kunyang
Author: Wang Jin is a research fellow at the Charhar Institute and a research fellow at the Syria Research Center, Northwest University of China.
Source: CGTN, 2019-05-06
Original Link: https://news.cgtn.com/news/3d3d674d326b444e34457a6333566d54/index.html