The third long-range rocket fired toward central Israel from
the Gaza Strip in the last two weeks caught the country by surprise on Monday
morning. This time it destroyed a civilian home.
Incoming rocket sirens blasted throughout communities in the Sharon and Emek Hefer regions at 5:20 am, sending thousands of sleepy Israelis into their bomb shelters.
They had 90 seconds to seek shelter before the J-80 rocket, which has a range of 120 km, smashed into a house, igniting a fire which destroyed the building and wounding seven people.
According to the IDF, the rocket, carrying a warhead containing dozens of kilograms of explosives, was launched from a Hamas launch pad in the southern Gazan city of Rafiah.
Like the two rockets fired towards Tel Aviv on March 14, it was not intercepted by the Iron Dome missile defense system.
In a telephone interview with reporters, IDF Spokesman Brig.-Gen. Ronen Manelis said that the mobile Iron Dome system is deployed according to “operational priorities,” likely meaning that it was not positioned to protect the Sharon and Emek Hefer regions.
Unlike the two earlier rockets fired towards Tel Aviv, which the army said were fired “by mistake,” Manelis rejected that option, stating that it was “a serious incident, and we will treat is as such.”
But the activation of the Iron Dome missile system – or lack thereof – is just one of the questions regarding this incident.
The bigger question is what is going on with Hamas in Gaza?
The attack comes as tensions run high in the Gaza Strip ahead of the annual “Land Day” protests on March 30 and the one-year anniversary of the beginning of the ongoing “Great March of Return” border riots.
In recent weeks, that rioting has increased in intensity, with violent night-time riots and dozens of incendiary and explosive balloons launched into southern Israel.
Domestically, Hamas is also facing protests by Gazans fed up with the worsening humanitarian conditions in the blockaded enclave.
On Sunday, Hamas inmates attacked corrections officers in the Negev’s Ketziot Prison with improvised weapons fashioned into knives.
The attack – which left the two officers and dozens of Hamas members wounded – came as security prisoners were being moved between cells and as part of an ongoing effort by Israel to eliminate the use of cellphones by prisoners.
The incident came a week after Hamas prisoners in the Ramon Prison set fire to 14 beds, causing a blaze in the jail’s wing.
Hamas leader Yahya Sinwar spent decades in an Israeli prison before being released as part of the 2011 Gilad Schalit prisoner exchange. He can’t ignore what is happening inside Israeli prisons.
Perhaps Hamas wants to send a message: If things are not quiet in Israeli prisons, they won’t be quiet outside of them either.
The timing of the rocket – just weeks ahead of Israel’s elections and while Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was in Washington – is also notable.
Was the rocket fired to spoil Netanyahu’s victory lap after US President Donald Trump announced last week that he would recognize Israeli sovereignty over the Golan Heights?
While the IDF’s military intelligence has assessed that Hamas does not want to enter into another war, Israel has been taken by surprise with the rocket launches.
The country will have to respond in a forceful way against terrorist groups in the Strip. The difficult part will be to launch a military reprisal powerful enough to stop further rocket attacks without causing the situation to deteriorate further, triggering a fourth Gaza war.