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Israel and Gaza inch closer to war after a rocket attack and a forceful response

“Both sides might inadvertently plunge themselves into a new a war” if they don’t step back from the brink, said an expert.

A damaged house still has a child’s swing in its yard after it was hit by a rocket in the village of Mishmeret, north of Tel Aviv.
A general view shows a damaged house after it was hit by a rocket in the village of Mishmeret, north of Tel Aviv on March 25, 2019.
Jack Guez/AFP/Getty Images

Israel and Gaza have been on the brink of war for months — and it’s possible Sunday night’s actions will push them closer to that outcome.

Rockets allegedly fired from Gaza hit a home in central Israel, north of Tel Aviv, injuring seven. It’s the second time in less than two weeks that the area has come under attack, a rarity since most rockets from Gaza target Israel’s south.

A woman in her 60s suffered injuries, including shrapnel wounds, and three young children were also hurt, according to Israel’s emergency response team. “This is a complex incident that miraculously has concluded with only light to moderate injuries,” said Eli Bin, the team’s director who was at the scene, in a statement.

The Israeli military blames Hamas — a Palestinian Islamist political organization and militant group that has governed Gaza since 2007 — for the strike. Hamas, however, says it isn’t responsible, and an unnamed Hamas official told AFP on Monday that the rocket could have streaked toward Tel Aviv due to “bad weather.”

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who is currently in the US to meet with President Donald Trump and who had planned to make a speech at a pro-Israel lobbying group conference in Washington, said he will cut his trip short and cancel the speaking engagement to deal with the incident.

“There has been a criminal attack on the State of Israel and we will respond forcefully,” Netanyahu, who also holds the role of Israel’s defense minister, said on Monday. “In a few hours I will meet with President Trump. I will return to Israel immediately afterward.”

The Israeli military says it has already started to strike targets in Gaza in what could be the most forceful attack on the territory in recent memory.

On March 14, just hours after rockets were fired at Tel Aviv, Israel hit around 100 targets in Gaza, including an underground rocket manufacturing site and drone development center pertaining to Hamas.

This time, Israel has already sent two brigades to Israel’s south and plans to call up thousands of reservists. Since many of those reservists are in Israel’s army, it’s therefore possible that the country plans to launch a ground invasion of Gaza very soon. And Netanyahu has no incentive to back down, experts say, especially since he faces a tough reelection fight on April 9.

Put together, the already sky-high tensions between Israel and Gaza will likely only grow — and a major conflict could come next.

“Both sides might inadvertently plunge themselves into a new a war” if they don’t step back from the brink, tweeted Center for a New American Security Middle East expert Ilan Goldenberg on Monday.

Israel and Hamas have fought wars before

Gaza is a tiny, densely populated strip of land located between Israel, the Mediterranean Sea, and Egypt. Approximately 25 miles long and six miles wide, it is home to an estimated 1.9 million Palestinians.

In 1967, Israel occupied Gaza and the West Bank during the Six-Day War. (Gaza had formerly been under Egyptian control.) From then until 2005, Israeli military authorities controlled Gaza in the same way they control the West Bank today.

Israel has instituted a blockade of the flow of commercial goods into Gaza, on the grounds that Hamas could use those goods to make weapons to be used against Israel. Israel has eased the blockade over time, but the cutoff of basic supplies like fuel still does significant humanitarian harm by restricting access to electricity, food, and medicine.

It’s unclear why Hamas has reportedly been launching rockets lately in the direction of Tel Aviv. One prevailing theory is that the group is facing protests due to its poor governance of Gaza, and the rocket attacks are meant as a distraction to put the focus on Israel.

Hamas and other Gaza-based militants have fired thousands of rockets from the territory at Israeli targets. Israel has launched a number of military operations in Gaza, including an air campaign and ground invasion in late 2008 and early 2009, a major bombing campaign in 2012, and another air and ground assault in 2014.

In the summer of 2014, three Israeli students were kidnapped and murdered in the West Bank, a Palestinian-controlled territory. Once authorities found the bodies under rocks in an open field, Israeli officials blamed Hamas for the deaths and vowed to seek revenge.

Thus began the last time Hamas and Israel fought a war — and it was a brutal seven-week fight.

Israel started launching airstrikes on Gaza, and Palestinians responded by firing rockets into Israel. Then on July 17, 2014, the Israeli military invaded Gaza, in part to close down tunnels that allowed Hamas to secretly enter Israel and attack the country. Ground fighting led to a spike in Palestinian casualties, which went from a few hundred quickly into the thousands.

The conflict eventually ended in August, with both sides agreeing to an Egypt-brokered ceasefire. Israel said it would relax the blockade on Gaza; Hamas declared that it won the war. More than 2,100 Palestinians and 71 Israelis were killed, while over 10,000 people — mostly Palestinians — sustained injuries.

That war was bad, but a new one could be worse.

That’s because the United States — and the Trump administration in particular — is very closely aligned with Israel. Should Israel choose to drop even more bombs and send ground troops into Gaza, Washington might let it happen with little criticism.

Which means that not only could a war break out, it could be much more bloody and dangerous than before.