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News Analysis: Israel's southern border remains stable despite recent rocket attacks

English.news.cn   2014-01-22 00:46:12

by Adam Gonn

JERUSALEM, Jan. 21 (Xinhua) -- Residents of southern Israel have once again had their lives disrupted by rockets fired from the Gaza Strip and the Sinai Peninsula.

On Monday night, two rockets landed outside the resort town of Eilat on the Red Sea, and last week nine rockets were fired targeting the city of Ashkelon, five of which were intercepted by the Iron Dome missile defense system.

Rocket attacks like these, especially the one targeting Ashkelon, have become a regular occurrence and analysts that spoke to Xinhua on Tuesday argued that this level of continual instability is likely to continue.

Ephraim Kam, a senior research fellow of the Institute for National Security Studies in Tel Aviv, told Xinhua on Tuesday that "the situation in the south near Eilat won't bring about an escalation because both Israel and Egypt are trying to contain and disrupt this firing."

However, Kam was less certain on the situation in Gaza, arguing that "the question is to what extent Hamas is interested in this firing or if Hamas will try to stop them."

ISRAELI-EGYPTIAN COORDINATION

Moshe Marzuk, a former Israeli officer and a researcher at the Interdisciplinary-Center in Herzliya, said that attack on Eilat was most likely carried out by "a small organization that belongs to the 'Global Jihad.'"

"Global Jihad" is a blanket term some analysts use to describe terrorist organizations that are either inspired by or affiliated with al-Qaida, many of who are located in ungoverned regions such as the Sinai.

A strategic problem for Israel when it comes to dealing with attacks from the Sinai is that there is no central authority, such as Hamas in Gaza. Also, the Jihadi groups operating in Sinai do so independently and without concern for the local population. This means that Israel can't "send a message," as it does with Hamas, by striking a rocket factory or even killing an operative.

On the other hand, Marzuk noted "the Egyptian army and security forces will to their best stop (these attacks) because they threaten Egypt's national security and Israel has good relations with the army and the military forces."

The Israeli and Egyptian armies have ever since the signing of the peace agreement in 1979 had strong ties, despite the cool political climate. Not only are Israel and Egypt the two largest recipients of U.S. military aid in the Middle East, but both see a common enemy in the Muslim Brotherhood and Hamas.

Even when the Muslim Brotherhood came to power after the downfall of former Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak in 2011, the ties between the armies remained strong. Moreover, according to Kam, "the coordination now is better than before, especially since the Muslim Brotherhood was removed from power."

An army-backed interim government took control of Egypt in July 2013 and an offensive was launched in Sinai against militants. The operation, with Israel's approval, has included units banned in the peace agreement, which only allows for light infantry. There have been reports of Egyptian tanks operating close to the border with Israel and attack helicopters flying over Gaza.

GAZA

As part of their effort to stabilize the situation in the Sinai, the Egyptian army has closed down a majority of the smuggling tunnels that ran under the Egyptian-Gaza border which provided Hamas with an additional income via taxation on smuggled goods. The closing of the tunnels combined with the removal of its ally, the Muslim Brotherhood, from power has led to a weakened Hamas.

Kam argues that because Hamas is now weaker, it's more difficult for it to stop this firing of rockets. However, he predicted that Hamas will try to stop the rocket fire because it's not in Hamas' interest for the situation to deteriorate.

Although no groups have taken responsibility for the rockets fired towards Ashkelon, Marzuk said: "Israel sees Hamas as being in charge of what happens there and Israel believes that Hamas can do more (to stop the attacks)."

One possible motive behind the attacks, Marzuk proposed, could be that they are part of the internal politics of Gaza instead of an attempt to bring about an escalation with Israel.

Editor: yan
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