What happened today, when for the first time since 2014 several million Israelis were under direct rocket fire, was a wake up call. Schools were cancelled and many businesses shut down for the day. Abu Al-Ata, the military commander for Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ) in Gaza was assassinated in a target killing. He was a “ticking time bomb” according to Bibi Netanyahu.
However, what is interesting is the relative quiet. There is a controlled war being waged. Israel also struck at the home of another PIJ operative in Damascus. The fact there is not more serious escalation, at least initially, is puzzling.
Or perhaps our adversaries are digging in for the long game.
The controlled reaction seemingly shows that other actors outside of PIJ are calling the shots. They are able to have enough sway to largely keep the situation in check. One is only to remember the death of Hamas Leader Jabari and the week long escalation that it precipitated. So far, after a few hours, a relative lull has been restored. What is important to note is not how long the lull will last but that the rocket fire, both range and amount, is being controlled.
Hamas, the de-facto sovereign in Gaza has so far restrained itself. We do not know for how long. The PIJ are its rivals, it is possible that they secretly delight in Al-Ata’s elimination for it makes their politics easier. For the last year PIJ has been firing rockets at us, with Hamas rubbing their noses saying “not our problem”. With the main architect gone, there is one less big shot that wishes to act independently. This means Hamas, if they play their cards right, comes out stronger.
Nevertheless, the real player on the other side is not PIJ, or even Hamas, it is Iran. The final say over how much escalation will take place, will be decided in Tehran. Through their forces throughout the Middle East, they could unleash a devastating war on Israel with hundreds of thousands of missiles if they wanted to. However, for their own calculations, the timing is simply not right. Like a seasoned chess player, they are moving their pieces slowly, waiting for the opportune moment to unleash hell.
Abu-Ata and his colleague in Damascus were important to Iran, but not all important. They have so far demonstrated an impressive ability to control the situation. Nevertheless, lets not be fooled by the puppet master. They have also failed to respond to the hundreds of attacks on its forces in Syria and Iraq.
The situation as we see it is an illusion. When they will decide, the real war will begin.