Escalation in Rocket Fire in the South (Update No. 1)

Issued on: 20/06/2012 Type: Article

Overview

1.   During the past few days rocket fire attacks on Israel have escalated. Between June 18 and 1300 hours on June 29 a total of 57 rockets fell in Israeli territory. Most of them fell in the western Negev; one landed between Ofakim and Beersheba. A rocket landed close to a Border Police vehicle in the Ashqelon area, wounding 11 Border Policemen. The IDF continues its attacks on terrorist targets in the Gaza Strip. The Palestinian media reported that six operatives were killed in the Israeli attacks.

2.   In an exceptional development, the Izz al-Din al-Qassam Brigades, Hamas' military-terrorist wing, carried out the overwhelming majority of the attacks and also claimed responsibility for them. It was an exception to the restraint policy of Hamas, which in the last year did not participate significantly in the rocket attacks on Israel.[1]

The Events As They Developed

3.   On June 16 two 122mm Grad rockets were fired at Israel's south. Remains of one rocket were found at Uvda, north of Eilat, Israel's southernmost city. A few hours later remains of another rocket were found near the central Negev town of Mitzpeh Ramon. Both rockets fell in open areas; there were no casualties and no damage was done. The rockets were fired from the Sinai Peninsula.

4.   On June 18 a three-man terrorist squad infiltrated into Israeli territory near the village of Be'er Milka, close to the Israeli-Egyptian border. Three terrorist operatives crossed the border at a location where the security fence had not yet been constructed. They detonated an IED to attack to vehicles belonging to the contractor building the fence. They also launched an RPG, which missed its target, and opened fire with light arms. The shots caused one of the vehicles to fall into a ditch, killing one of the passengers.

5.   Responsibility for the attack was claimed by a jihadist network affiliated with Al-Qaeda and calling itself the Shura Council of Jihad Fighters from the Edges of Jerusalem.[2]The network announced its founding a few hours after the attack by means of a video uploaded to Islamic forums and YouTube. The video calls for the return of the Islamic Caliphate and threatens Israel with attacks from the Sinai Peninsula ("the wind of suffering blows towards the Jews from Mt. Sinai and its foothills in the Sinai Peninsula"). The final testaments of the terrorist operatives who carried out the attack were appended to the video. In our assessment, the damage done by the attack is liable to encourage other terrorist networks affiliated with the global jihad to carry out more attacks from the Sinai Peninsula and possibly from other countries bordering Israel.

The testaments of two of the three terrorist operatives who carried out the attack along the Israel-Egypt border.
The testaments of two of the three terrorist operatives who carried out the attack along the Israel-Egypt border. Left: An operative calling himself Abu Salah al-Masri, claiming to be from the Egyptian district of Mersa Matruh. Right: An operative calling himself Abu al-Huzli from Saudi Arabia.

6.   Israeli Air Force aircraft carried out a number of counterterrorism and prevention attacks against terrorist targets in the Gaza Strip. Among them were squads of terrorist operatives preparing to launch rockets and mortar shells into Israeli territory. In response the terrorist organizations in the Gaza Strip, predominantly Hamas, initiated a massive barrage of rockets targeting the western Negev.

Rocket Fire

7. The terrorist attacks peaked on June 19, when 42 rockets were fired. Since June 18 a total of 57 rocket hits have been identified in Israeli territory. Most of them landed in the western Negev in the regions of the cities of Sderot and Ashqelon. (Note: The latest round of escalation continued throughout the day on June 20.)

8. As of 1300 hours on June 20, the rocket count was the following:

1) June 18: Six rocket hits were identified in the western Negev. One fell near the town of Sderot and four near the coastal city of Ashqelon. The rockets fell in open areas; there were no casualties and no damage was done.

2) June 19: Forty two rocket hits were identified. Most of the rockets landed in open areas. Three were identified in the town of Netivot. In the evening a rocket hit a community south of Ashqelon, landing a few hundred meters from a team of police demolitions experts. Another hit a wheat field, setting it on fire.

3) The morning of June 20: Nine rocket hits were identified. One rocket fell in an open area west of Beersheba. Rockets falling in the western Negev in the afternoon caused a fire which damaged several vehicles. Three women were treated for shock.

Rocket Fire during the Current Round of Escalation

Rocket Fire during the Current Round of Escalation

Note: As of 1300 hours, June 20.

Recent Rounds of Escalation

Recent Rounds of Escalation

IDF Response

9. In response to the recent escalation in terrorist attacks, on June 18 and 19 Israeli Air Force aircraft struck a number of terrorist targets in the Gaza Strip. In addition, terrorist squads preparing to fire rockets into Israel were also struck. The Palestinian media reported that six Palestinians (i.e., terrorist operatives) had been killed in the Israeli Air Force strikes.

10. On June 19 and 20 the IAF struck a total of eight terrorist targets in various Gaza Strip sites used for terrorist activities. IAF aircraft also stuck terrorist squads preparing to launch rockets into Israel's south.

11. According to media reports, at noon on June 20 IAF aircraft struck a Palestinian on a motorbike near Rafah, killing him and wounding two other Palestinians. The terrorist operative who was killed apparently belonged to an organization affiliated with the global jihad and had been involved in the attack along the Israel-Egypt border in which an Israeli civilian was killed (Ynet, June 20, 2012).

Claiming Responsibility and Responses to the Escalation

12. So far most of the rockets were fired by Hamas' military-terrorist wing, the Izz al-Din al-Qassam Brigades, which had not significantly participated in the rocket attacks during the past year. The Izz al-Din al-Qassam Brigades said in its announcement claiming responsibility that the rocket fire was in response to the IAF attacks in the Gaza Strip which killed six operatives. Most of Hamas' announcements claimed that the rocket fire targeted IDF posts (Izz al-Din al-Qassam Brigades website, June 19, 2012).

13. Additional terrorist organizations (whose participation in the rocket fire was secondary) claimed responsibility. Among them were the Popular Resistance Committees (Salah al-Din website, June 19, 2012), and the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine's military-terrorist wing (Ali Mustafa Brigades website, June 19, 2012). However, the Palestinian Islamic Jihad, which led the previous rounds of escalation, did not participate.

14. Hamas explained its participation in the rocket fire as follows:

1) Abu Obeida, spokesman for Hamas' military-terrorist wing, said that the large number of Palestinians killed by the IDF made the Izz al-Din al-Qassam Brigades decide not to ignore the attacks. He said that the various organizations coordinated their responses (Al-Aqsa TV, June 19, 2012).

2) Ismail Radwan, senior Hamas figure, accused Israel of "tainting the atmosphere of Palestinian reconciliation," saying that Israel was fully responsible for the escalation (Al-Aqsa TV, June 19, 2012).

15. However, the Palestinian Islamic Jihad referred to its non-participation in the current round of escalation. For example, Khaled al-Batash, senior PIJ figures, said that the organization was monitoring events and if "Israeli aggression" continued, it would respond as well. He also warned that this round of escalation would be "more powerful" than the last (Safa News Agency, June 19, 2012). A spokesman for the PIJ's military-terrorist wing said that they wanted to send Israel the message that [the terrorist organizations] would have the last word on the ground, not Israel (Al-Quds, June 19, 2012).

[1]For further information see the May 23, 2012 bulletin "Hamas' restraint policy in the Gaza Strip: the results of the tension between Hamas' jihadist ideology and pragmatic considerations, which include governmental obligations and Israel's deterrent capabilities." Note: Following the round of escalation in March 2012, Hamas was criticized for not participating in the rocket fire and allowing the Palestinian Islamic Jihad to carry out most of the attacks.

[2]The term "edges of Jerusalem" is taken from a hadith (part of the oral tradition) attributed to Muhammad and refers to the territory of Palestine.

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