Amid Hamas’ refusal on Thursday to accept Qatari aid funds and concerns that Palestinian Islamic Jihad could attempt to fire rockets at Israel, the IDF and other security agencies on Friday were bracing for a violent day of Gaza border protests.
Defense officials said Thursday that the Hamas-orchestrated March of Return border riots on Friday could be particularly challenging after Islamic Jihad opened fire twice at Israeli forces this week.
In one of the incidents, an IDF officer was shot in the head by a sniper from the terrorist group but miraculously was only lightly wounded after the bullet ricocheted off his helmet.
The widespread belief in the defense establishment is that Iran is pulling the strings in Gaza in an effort to avenge the setbacks it has recently suffered in Syria, and to show it is capable of opening a southern front against Israel as well.
Iran’s involvement in Syria has cost Tehran billions of dollars without much success thus far, and Maj. Gen. Qassem Soleimani, the commander of Iran’s Quds Force, is under immense pressure from home to “provide results.” Iran, meanwhile, is straining under the weight of economic sanctions and its citizens are paying the price.
Although Islamic Jihad was behind the shooting this week, Israel put the blame on Hamas as the sovereign power in Gaza and blocked the transfer of $15 million from Qatar. Israel also attacked Hamas military positions in response. Hamas was livid, and on Thursday, after Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said he had accepted the defense establishment’s recommendation to permit the Qatari aid, Hamas announced it didn’t want the money.
Amid this backdrop, as stated, security forces were bracing for an uptick in violence along the Gaza border. The IDF’s Southern Command and air force were on higher alert than normal, and a limited number of reservists were called up as reinforcements. Defense officials warned that Palestinian protesters would not be allowed to approach the perimeter fence, but reiterated that war was not imminent.
However, in recent days an Iron Dome missile defense battery was positioned in central Israel. Beyond the increasing tensions in the south, the measure could also be viewed within the prism of veiled threats earlier this week by the Syrian ambassador to the United Nations, who intimated that his country could target Ben-Gurion International Airportnear Tel Aviv in response to Israeli airstrikes on the international airport in Damascus.