The intensity of Hamas missile strikes against Israel is again increasing, including in areas of Tel Aviv and Jerusalem. Canada, the European Union, Israel, Japan, and the United States consider Hamas a terrorist organization. As of May 12, 2021, at least seven Israeli citizens have been killed and more than 200 have been wounded. Tel Aviv said that of the approximately 1,500 missiles fired, the Iron Dome air defence system has successfully intercepted around 90 percent of them. Israel has retaliated with air strikes against the terrorist organization, and on May 11 alone, more than 500 positions were hit, eliminating high-ranking commanders of Hamas. According to the Ministry of Health of Palestine, over sixty Palestinians have been killed since the start of the raids, thirteen of whom were children, while more than 230 have been wounded. Due to the high intensity of missile strikes against Israeli targets, Tel Aviv has relocated forces to the Gaza border. Inter alia the international community is calling for an end to hostilities and a de-escalation of tensions.
The escalation comes amid rising tensions between Israeli authorities and Palestinians over the past month over austerity measures by police during the Muslim holiday of Ramadan and efforts to evict Palestinian families from the Sheikh Jarah district of Jerusalem in favour of Israeli settlers. Law enforcement twice raided the Al-Aqsa Mosque, one of the holy sites in Islam where the clashes took place.
The intensification of hostilities between Israel and Hamas comes at an opportune political moment for both Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and the terrorist group. Netanyahu will almost certainly try to mobilize support for himself at a time when the opposition is trying to form a government that will remove him from power. At the same time, for Hamas, such clashes represent an opportunity to emphasize its legitimacy as a defender of Palestinians, especially after Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas of the opposition Fatah party once again postponed presidential and parliamentary elections. In a speech on Tuesday (May 11, 2021), Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh blamed Israel for the intensifying clashes over the last month and said the group had merely defended Jerusalem.
Taking into consideration the heightened tensions, the objective security threats, and the political determinations of the stakeholders, the intensity of Hamas’ missile strikes is likely to continue to increase, while Israel will counter with air assaults. It is increasingly likely that the Israeli armed forces will launch a ground offensive to neutralize Hamas' strategic positions. At the same time, despite the widespread international response and calls for a ceasefire, sanctions are unlikely to be imposed on Israel. Hamas has a close relationship with the Lebanese Hezbollah, with which it shares common goals. Furthermore, the two terrorist organizations are backed by Iran, and Tehran is using them to project its influence throughout the Middle East. Limiting Iranian influence is a key goal for Israel and its allies, particularly the United States, and even most countries in the region.
Martin Sokolov is a co-founder of the Youth Research Centre "Knowledge and Progress" in Bulgaria, an Associate Fellow at the Centre for National Security and Defence Research at the Bulgarian Academy of Sciences, and former NATO analyst.