The New Terrorist Threat On Israel’s Borders

Young protesters in the Gaza Strip take part in the continued “March of Return” riots near the Israeli-Gaza border on March 22, 2019 (Photo by Abed Rahim Khatib/Flash90)

The turbulence in southern Israel over the weekend portends violent days coming up, which will force Israel to again face the familiar dilemma of how much force to use against the terrorist groups in Gaza.

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The main driver behind this weekend’s hostilities is the upcoming Israeli election. The sense in Gaza is that Israel wants to avoid a clash and is hence more susceptible to pressure. Prior to the April 9 election Gaza’s armed groups also stepped up their attacks.

In April, Israel eventually responded forcefully, which tempered the attacks. Now, however, it is opting for a more measured response. There are three primary reasons for this. The first is that the terrorist attacks, including those perpetrated on Friday and Saturday, were either thwarted or intercepted and didn’t cause damage or casualties.

The second reason is the situation in the north. Although the high alert levels along the border were gradually lowered over the past week after Hezbollah’s anti-tank missile attack against an IDF vehicle in northern Israel, Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah’s promise to strike again—apparently via the air—to avenge the alleged Israeli drone attack in southern Beirut, is still in play and obligates the IDF to remain highly vigilant.

The third reason is the situation in Gaza. Hamas doesn’t want a fight with Israel at the moment. This is apparently what it conveys through every message and discussion it holds with Egyptian and United Nations mediators.

However, at the same time Hamas is currently facing a domestic problem: A series of suicide bombings in the Strip targeting Hamas policemen have painted the organization as an Israeli collaborator, forcing it to somewhat rein in its campaign against its rivals in the coastal territory and take a tougher line against Israel.

The result was more violence than usual on the border on Friday. The IDF was forced to respond with live fire, which led to the deaths of two protesters. The Palestinian Islamic Jihad—which is constantly looking for reasons to disturb the calm, whether out of boredom or on behalf of its Iranian patron—then decided to fan the flames, firing rockets at Sderot. The IDF attacked Gaza targets in retaliation. The PIJ then launched a drone targeting am armored IDF vehicle patrolling the border, leading to Israeli airstrikes in Gaza on Saturday night.

This conflict is currently on a low burn, but could easily spiral out of control. The challenge facing Israel and Hamas is avoiding this, certainly over the coming tense days before the election and after, during the holidays. This means that the IDF will also be on high alert in the south, mainly against threats from the air, to shoot down rockets and foil any attempted drone attacks.

The drone attack on Saturday was the second of its type attempted by PIJ. In the first, the organization tried using a drone to drop a mortar shell on a tank. On Saturday, the group seemingly used a small explosive device or improvised grenade attached to a drone. Despite the tight restrictions on the goods allowed to enter Gaza, the terrorist organizations there have still been able to smuggle in drones and weaponize them (and, it can be assumed, turn them into intelligence gathering tools).

We can expect this threat to intensify in the short term. These drones can be bought cheaply anywhere in the world; they are easy to operate and direct with precision, and are difficult to spot and intercept. This makes them the ideal weapon for terrorist groups in all sectors. In August, the task of neutralizing the drone threat was assigned to the Israel Air Force, which is now establishing specific systems and methods to meet the challenge. As part of these efforts, the IAF is testing several civilian technologies to intercept or hack drones, and could soon integrate them operationally.

(JNS/Yoav Limor)

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