Israel on Sunday struck military sites in Gaza Strip in response to rockets fired by Palestinian armed groups based in the Gaza Strip.
Israeli authorities said Israeli aircraft in the early hours of Sunday struck a weapon manufacturing facility and an underground tunnel of terrorist group Hamas. Rockets from Gaza Strip were fired at Israel on Saturday evening. No Palestinian group claimed responsibility for the rockets. The Palestinian rockets did not cause any harm and landed in an open area near the Gaza-Israel fence.
Later, Hamas fired at the Israeli aircraft which were launching missiles inside Gaza Strip. The Times of Israel reported Hamas as saying that its armed wing targeted Israeli aircraft with anti-aircraft fire and surface-to-air missiles.
Despite rising Israeli-Palestinian tensions, the Gaza front had been quite lately. Hamas and other groups such as Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ) had been quiet since August when Israel and PIJ fought a three-day war before eventually reaching a ceasefire.
Palestinian rocket attacks at Israel
Groups based in Gaza Strip often fire rockets at Israel, which responds with strikes of its own. The exchange of fire often leads to civilian casualties. Since Israeli airspace is largely protected by air defence system called Iron Dome, which intercepts a large number of Palestinian rockets, most of the casualties take place in Gaza Strip.
The Palestinian regions outside of Gaza are governed by Palestinian Authority (PA) and Gaza Strip is governed by Hamas. In 2006, Hamas won elections in Gaza and the conflict with other party Fatah resulted in Fatah's expulsion from Gaza in 2007. Since then, the two sides have held rounds of negotiations but have failed to integrate themselves.
Groups like Hamas and PIJ often fight Israel and rely on rockets. The last major conflict between the two sides was in May 2021 which began with Gazan rockets in Israel following weeks of Israeli-Palestinian tensions. One Indian national living in Israel was also killed in Gazan rockets. By the time the 11-day war finally ended, 243 Palestinians, including civilians, and 12 Israelis and one Indian were dead.
Both Hamas and PIJ are committed to the destruction of Israel and the creation of a Palestinian state in its place. While PIJ remains opposed to the two-state solution, Hamas has expressed openness to the idea of such a plan, though a two-state solution would be in violation of its objective of destroying Israel.
"The group’s [Hamas] ideology blends Islamism and Palestinian nationalism and seeks the destruction of Israel and the creation of an Islamic state between the Mediterranean Sea and the Jordan River...PIJ is dedicated to eradicating Israel and establishing an autonomous Islamic Palestinian state in the lands currently comprising Israel, the West Bank, and Gaza....Accordingly, PIJ refuses to negotiate with Israel, rejects a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and carries out numerous terror attacks against Israeli targets and interests," says think tank Counter Extremism Project (CEP).
The employment of rockets by Hamas and PIJ puts disproportionate strain on Israel as while their rockets are dirt-cheap, the Iron Dome missiles fired by Israel are very expensive.
Gaza rockets getting better, putting Israel in troubled spot
Over the last decade, Gazan rockets have improved their range and production. Their affordability means that Israel employs disproportionate force to counter them.
Moreover, since it's harder for Israel to replenish its Iron Dome missiles, if an overwhelming number of Gazan rockets are fired at very short intervals, then the Iron Dome system can get overwhelmed and run out of missiles. Though such a situation has not yet arisen.
"In 2008-2009, Hamas could only strike communities bordering Gaza, a range of 20 km to 50 km. By 2012, it had slightly expanded its range, and by 2014, rockets not taken down by Israel’s Iron Dome defense system could theoretically reach half the country. Today, Hamas rockets can reach the entire country of Israel from the tiny Gaza Strip," reported Washington Examiner in 2021, adding that Once smuggled by land or water from Sudan along the Red Sea, then in Sinai tunnels to reach Gaza, Hamas rockets are now manufactured in the Gaza Strip itself.
"The rockets being fired from Gaza are extremely cheap: whereas Iron Dome’s interceptor missiles are estimated to cost anywhere from $20,000 to $100,000, Hamas and Islamic Jihad are using DIY technology... The level at which Iron Dome will be overwhelmed is a closely held secret, but some independent experts estimate it is reached at around 1,500 simultaneous incoming targets," noted journalist Praveen Swami in an article.
Recent Israel-Palestine tensions
The latest exchange of fire between Israel and Gaza come at a time when Israel-Palestine violence is at its worst since 2006.
Just on Friday, a Palestinian man was killed by Israeli security personnel after he allegedly stabbed Israeli security forces personnel in West Bank.
So far, at least 28 Israelis and 140 Palestinians, including terrorists and militants, have been killed this year.
Further escalation is likely, as the most right-wing and religious government in Israel's history is poised to be installed in coming days or weeks, with former Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu returning to power.
In coalition agreements, Netanyahu has already handed key authorities in the West Bank to ultra-nationalist faction leaders, including former fringe figure Itamar Ben-Gvir, known for his anti-Arab rhetoric. The new roles include oversight of Israeli settlement construction and the paramilitary border police, often deployed in Palestinian population centres.
The Friday's killing and latest Israel-Gaza exchange also comes within two weeks of a bomb blast in Jerusalem which killed one and wounded at least 21. While Palestinians have carried out stabbings, car rammings, and shootings in recent years, bombing attacks have become very rare since the end of a Palestinian uprising nearly two decades ago.
The Israeli military has been carrying out a major anti-terror offensive in the Palestinian Authority-controlled West Bank following the attacks which have left over 130 Palestinians dead. More than 2,000 Palestinians have also been apprehended in these raids since the beginning of the year.
The Israeli military says the raids are meant to dismantle militant networks and thwart future attacks, but the Palestinians say they entrench Israel's open-ended occupation, now in its 56th year.
(With AP inputs)