Hamas loads the launchers once again

Israeli soldiers examine a crater left by a shell fired from the Gaza Strip

Israeli soldiers examine a crater left by a shell fired from the Gaza Strip

Hamas has escalated its rocket attacks from Gaza, two years after Operation Cast Lead. But Israeli officials believe that the movement is not interested in a return to open hostilities and is, for now, "testing the limits".

Before this month and since the end of the Gaza conflict two years ago, Hamas had refrained from taking part in the attacks against Israeli patrols on the border and from carrying out missile launches against Israeli towns and kibbutzim.

Most of the attacks had been by small Salafist organisations, which do not accept Hamas's rule of the Gaza Strip. According to senior Israeli intelligence officials, the rise in attacks on Israel, over 40 rockets and mortar shells in the last three weeks, are a result of Hamas directing larger movements that are under its control, including Islamic jihad and the Popular Resistance Committees, to launch the assaults.

Earlier this month, an Israeli tank suffered a direct missile hit but which failed to cause any casualties. The IDF believes that the advanced Russian-manufactured missile was fired by a Hamas cell.

According to Israeli intelligence assessments, Hamas is not interested in a new round of warfare in Gaza as it is still rebuilding its military infrastructure, damaged in the operation two years ago. Therefore it is largely using proxies to carry out the attacks.

The increase in attacks is attributed to a number of factors. The IDF believes that Hamas in interested in reminding all the players in the region that it is still capable of military attacks and testing some of the new capabilities it has acquired over the past two years with the help of Syrian and Iranian advisers.

It is also believed that many Palestinian operatives are frustrated at being held back from attacking Israel and the recent strikes have been a way of allowing them "to let off steam". The IDF has also stepped up its reactions to the attacks. Last week, the Israeli Air Force carried out its largest attack on Gaza in two years, striking tunnels, command posts and arms depots.

    Last updated: 3:05pm, December 29 2010