Sporadic rocket fire from the Gaza Strip into Israeli territory continues

Overview

On the evening of December 25, 2019, a rocket was launched at Ashkelon during an election rally of Prime Minister Netanyahu. So far, a total of 10 rockets were launched into Israeli territory in seven firing incidents since the ceasefire achieved at the end of the latest round of escalation (Operation Black Belt). The IDF responded to the current firing incident and to previous incidents by attacking Hamas’s targets in the Gaza Strip. So far, the sporadic rocket fire has not caused any casualties or damage, but it constantly disrupts the routine daily life of residents of Israel’s south, mainly the residents of the western Negev towns and villages. No terrorist organization has claimed responsibility for the firing incidents. In the ITIC’s assessment, the rockets were launched by rogue organizations or operatives, mainly from among the Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ), which strives to maintain tension with Israel. Hamas is against the launches, which are contrary to its policy, and in the ITIC’s assessment even tries to prevent them. However, in terms of consequences, Hamas’s enforcement activity has so far proved ineffective.

  • The continuation of sporadic rocket fire may indicate that after the latest round of escalation, a modus operandi sets in which is intended to disrupt the daily life of the residents of Israel’s south, mainly that of the residents of western Negev towns and villages. This modus operandi is characterized by sporadic fire in a scope that will not necessarily trigger a severe Israeli response. This runs counter to the policy of Hamas which, in the ITIC’s assessment, strives to calm down the ground within the framework of a minimalist arrangement. For this purpose, Hamas has even played a major role in decreasing the frequency of the return marches.[1] In the ITIC’s assessment, if sporadic rocket fire continues without effective enforcement by Hamas, this may challenge Hamas’s policy and create a potential for another round of escalation.
Firing a rocket at Ashkelon (December 25, 2019)
  • On the evening of December 25, 2019, a rocket was launched at Ashkelon from the northern Gaza Strip. It was intercepted by the Iron Dome defense system. There were no casualties and no damage. As in previous incidents, no terrorist organization claimed responsibility for firing the rocket. During the time the rocket was launched, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was holding a Likud Party rally for the primaries. He was rushed to a protected area and then continued the rally.[2]
Cartoon that reads, “They say he is a coward [but] he is not dead yet. Hit him!” (PALDF forum user affiliated with Hamas, nicknamed Hurr, December 26, 2019)    Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu being evacuated to a protected area during the red alert siren in Ashkelon (Facebook page of Ashkelonet City News, December 25, 2019).
Right: Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu being evacuated to a protected area during the red alert siren in Ashkelon (Facebook page of Ashkelonet City News, December 25, 2019). Left: Cartoon that reads, “They say he is a coward [but] he is not dead yet. Hit him!” (PALDF forum user affiliated with Hamas, nicknamed Hurr, December 26, 2019)
  • In response to the rocket launch, Israeli aircraft attacked several Hamas targets in the Gaza Strip (IDF Spokesperson’s Twitter account, December 25, 2019). According to Palestinian media, the IDF attacked outposts of the “resistance” throughout the Gaza Strip: the new port area in western Khan Younes; the “Ashkelon” outpost north of Beit Lahiya; the Al-Bahria (Marine Police) outpost; and the Bader outpost in the northern Gaza Strip. There were reports of damage in some of the airstrikes. However, so far, no casualties have been reported.
Hamas’s initial reactions
  • Hamas’s Spokesman Fawzi Barhoum blamed Israel for what he called “continuation of the escalation against the Gaza Strip residents and attacking the resistance outposts.” Barhoum noted that the attack reflected the depth of Israel’s crises and “frustration” in view of its failure to cope with the “new rules” imposed by the Izz al-Din al-Qassam Brigades. He added that Hamas and the other organizations would continue to defend themselves and would not accept Israel’s “equations” (i.e., rules of the game) (Maan; Shehab, December 26, 2019). In his comments, Barhoum refrained from referring to the launch of the rocket which triggered the Israeli response
  • According to Palestinian social media users, Israeli media pointed a finger at Khalil al-Bahtini, a senior figure in the Palestinian Islamic Jihad, as the one who was responsible for launching the rocket (Hamas-affiliated PALDF forum, December 25, 2019). However, Israeli TV channels Keshet and Reshet reported about that based on reports coming from Gaza (Keshet News Twitter account, December 25, 2019; Twitter account of Channel 13 correspondent Tal Lev-Ram, December 25, 2019).

Khalil al-Bahtini (Rotter.net forum, December 25, 2019)
Khalil al-Bahtini
(Rotter.net forum, December 25, 2019)

Rocket fire since the ceasefire at the end of the latest round of escalation in the Gaza Strip (Operation Black Belt)

On November 14, 2019, at dawn, a ceasefire was achieved after Operation Black Belt. In spite of the ceasefire, rocket fire from the Gaza Strip at Israel continued. So far, 10 rockets were launched into Israeli territory mainly in the evening or at night in seven firing incidents (updated to December 25, 2019). No organization claimed responsibility for launching the rockets. Most of the rockets were launched at the city of Sderot and western Negev towns and villages. In two incidents, rockets were fired at the city of Ashkelon.

  • The following is a list of firing incidents since November 17, 2019[3]:
    • On December 25, 2019, a rocket was launched at Ashkelon. It was intercepted by the Iron Dome defense system.
    • On December 19, 2019, a rocket was launched at western Negev towns and villages. It exploded in an open area.
    • On December 18, 2019, a rocket was launched at Sderot. It was intercepted by the Iron Dome system.
    • On December 7, 2019, three rockets were launched at Sderot and western Negev towns and villages. The three rockets were intercepted by the Iron Dome system.
    • On November 29, 2019, a rocket launch at Ashkelon and the western Negev towns and villages was identified. The rocket fell in an open area.
    • On November 26, 2019, two rockets were launched at western Negev towns and villages. The Iron Dome system intercepted one of them. The second fell in an open area.
    • On November 25, 2019, a rocket was launched at western Negev towns and villages. A hit was identified in an open area.

Sporadic rocket fire at Israel since the end of Operation Black Belt

[1] See the ITIC's Information Bulletin from December 23, 2019, “The return marches: towards a new format?” On December 26, 2019, the Supreme National Authority of the Great Return March announced that starting on March 30, 2020, the marches would take place once a month or on national commemoration dates (Palestine Online; Dunia Al-Watan, December 26, 2019).
[2] There was a similar incident on September 10, 2019, a week before the Israeli elections, during Netanyahu's speech at an election campaign rally in Ashdod, when two rockets were launched from the Gaza Strip at Ashdod and Ashkelon. The Prime Minister was rushed to a protected area and then returned and continued his speech. At the time, the incident was used by Hamas and the PIJ for propaganda purposes.

[3] On the night of November 16, 2019, two rocket launches from the Gaza Strip to Beer Sheba were identified. It appears that Hamas operatives were responsible for them, although Hamas had refrained from launching rockets at Israel throughout the round of escalation. This incident was a finale of sorts and therefore it is not part of the statistics below.