Tensions Flare Along Israel's Borders

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A security officer from Hamas stands next to a damaged vehicle in the Gaza Strip on July 31. i

A security officer from Hamas stands next to a damaged vehicle in the Gaza Strip on July 31. Israeli warplanes fired missiles, killing a senior commander of the Hamas military wing and wounding 11 others, in retaliation for a rocket from Gaza that hit the Israeli coastal city of Ashkelon. Hatem Moussa/AP hide caption

itoggle caption Hatem Moussa/AP
A security officer from Hamas stands next to a damaged vehicle in the Gaza Strip on July 31.

A security officer from Hamas stands next to a damaged vehicle in the Gaza Strip on July 31. Israeli warplanes fired missiles, killing a senior commander of the Hamas military wing and wounding 11 others, in retaliation for a rocket from Gaza that hit the Israeli coastal city of Ashkelon.

Hatem Moussa/AP

Israel's long hot summer is becoming increasingly tense. Over the past 10 days there have been three serious incidents — two separate attacks on Israel's southern border and clashes in the north with the Lebanese army.

On July 30, a rocket fired from Gaza hit the Israeli city of Ashkelon. Last Saturday, another Gaza rocket hit a children's center in an Israeli border community. There were no Israeli casualties, but Israel held the militant group Hamas, which controls the Gaza Strip, responsible. It retaliated with a strike on a Hamas military commander, killing him and members of his family.

On Monday, a series of rockets fired from the Egyptian Sinai missed Israel's city of Eilat, killing a man in the Jordanian port of Aqaba instead. Again, Israel blamed Hamas and warned of harsh retaliation.

Different Priorities For Hamas

But in both Israel and Gaza, observers say another conflict with Hamas is unlikely.

"We are not interested actually to escalate the situation because our priority as government is for rebuilding Gaza," Hamas Deputy Foreign Minister Mahmoud Zahar says from his plush offices in the Gaza Strip. He says Hamas wasn't behind the attacks.

Political analyst Mkhaimar Abusada, a professor at Al-Azhar University in Gaza, says the attacks were probably the work of more radical Islamist militants opposed to Hamas' rule in the Gaza Strip.

"I really think Hamas is much more interested in keeping its government and keeping its position here in Gaza," he says. "Hamas knows that any new confrontation with Israel is going to cost them their government and maybe their existence as a government, as a movement here in the Gaza Strip."

Avi Issacharoff, the Middle East correspondent for the left-leaning Israeli paper Haaretz, says Israel's offensive in the Gaza Strip a year and a half ago had a desired result. "Hamas is now acting as, you know, the good boy that learned his lesson and now is arresting people that are trying to shoot rockets," he says. "At the end of the day, this is the quietest era ever between Gaza and Israel since 2001."

Hezbollah's New Strength

Up until this week, the border between Israel and Lebanon had also been quiet. On Tuesday, though, that calm was shattered. The Israeli military says its troops were pruning trees on their side of the border when a sniper from the Lebanese army targeted a senior military commander, killing him and injuring a deputy.

Israel retaliated, killing two Lebanese soldiers and a journalist. Lebanon maintains it was protecting its territory and Israel provoked the fight.

Israeli soldiers secure the area near the border with Lebanon on Wednesday. i

Israeli soldiers secure the area near the border with Lebanon on Wednesday. Mohammed Zaatari/AP hide caption

itoggle caption Mohammed Zaatari/AP
Israeli soldiers secure the area near the border with Lebanon on Wednesday.

Israeli soldiers secure the area near the border with Lebanon on Wednesday.

Mohammed Zaatari/AP

Israel's nemesis, the Lebanese Hezbollah movement, was apparently not involved in the incident. Still, that doesn't mean there won't be a confrontation in the near future with Hezbollah, because of its links with Iran and its suspect nuclear program, says Ron Tira, an adviser to the Israeli Air Force's campaign planning department.

"Time is running out with Iran," he says. "Somewhere in the next few months, possibly not too many months, a decision will have to be made whether it's time to accept either the idea that Iran will become nuclear or take military action against Iran because all other courses have proven ineffective."

And if Israel decides to strike Iran, then it's likely that Hezbollah will get involved. Tira says since the 2006 war that Israel launched in Lebanon, Hezbollah has been stockpiling arms and has become a much more formidable opponent.

Tira says Hezbollah can now cause large-scale destruction in Israel.

"The sort of damage that Hezbollah can inflict on Israel today — per day — is five notches higher than it was in 2006," he says. "And therefore we need to shorten the war dramatically, which means that we need to resort to extreme measures immediately."

So while he's not sure when a war will happen, if it does, it will be brutal for all sides.

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