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Analysis// By Ben FrankelEscalation: Hamas launches a Fajr-5 missile at Tel Aviv; no damage or casualties

Published 15 November 2012

An hour-and-a-half ago — around 11:30am EST, 18:30 Israel time – Palestinians from Gaza launched a Fajr-5 missile at Tel Aviv; Hamas said the missile was launched by the Islamic Jihad organization; the missile fell south of Tel Aviv, causing no damage or casualties; there is no doubt that a direct attack by Hamas on Tel Aviv constitutes, for Israel, a crossing a clearly delineated red line; what should we expect now? There are two possibilities: Hamas may consider the symbolic value of launching a missile at Tel Aviv as balancing the substantial and material blows it has suffered in the last twenty-four hours, and agree to Egyptian efforts to mediate a cease fire; if the past is an indication, however, then Israel will move one rung up the escalation ladder in response to this crossing of an Israeli red line before agreeing to a cease fire with Hamas

An hour-and-a-half ago — around 11:30am EST, 18:30 Israel time – Palestinians from Gaza launched a Fajr-5 missile at Tel Aviv.

Hamas said the missile was launched by the Islamic Jihad organization.

Yesterday (Wednesday), at 15:45 Israel time, the Israel Air Force (IAF) took less than twenty minutes to destroy nearly all of Hamas’s and Islamic jihad’s Fajr-3 and Fajr-5 missiles, and the dug-outs used to launch them.

Ehud Barak, Israel’s defense minister, said yesterday that not all of the Fajr-5 missiles were destroyed in the attack, and there was an expectation in Israel that Hamas or the Islamic Jihad would try to launch the few remaining mid-range missiles they still had, for two reasons:

  • If these missiles remained in storage, the IAF would destroy them (this is “use-‘em-or-lose-‘em” phenomenon, much debated during the cold war)
  • Hamas has suffered a stunning blow to its command and control structure (the killing of Ahmed Jabari, the organization’s charismatic and innovative military chief, and a few of his top lieutenants), and the destruction of its strategic capabilities (the near-total destruction of the organization’s mid-range missile fleet); it was understood that Hama would feel the need to point to some achievements in this round of violence, and a symbolic launch of a missile at Tel Aviv would achieve this goal

The missile fell south of Tel Aviv, causing no damage or casualties.

There is no doubt that a direct attack by Hamas on Tel Aviv constitutes, for Israel, a crossing a clearly delineated red line.

What should we expect now? There are two possibilities:

Cease fire
Substantially and materially, Hamas has lost this round. Its military leader is dead, and its strategic weapon systems are gone. As was the case with Hezbollah in the 2006 war with Israel, symbols may be powerful enough in this media age to compensate for substantive and material losses. Hamas may thus decide that it has salvaged some of its honor by firing a missile at Tel Aviv, while Israel may decide that it has inflicted sufficient pain on Hams so that it – Israel – has been able to re-establish its deterrence posture, and sufficient material damage on Hamas meaningfully to degrade the organization’s strategic, if not tactical, capabilities.

Add to that the fact the tomorrow, Friday, the Egyptian prime minister is scheduled to visit the Gaza Strip in order to negotiate a cease fire between Israel and Hamas.

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