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Gaza militants lucky they only blew up a chicken coop

One of 70-odd rockets fired from Gaza into Israel this week hit a chicken coop, critically wounding two Thai migrant workers.

If it had killed children on the Israeli farm, Israel and Gaza would probably be at war.

Gaza's Islamist rulers, Hamas, know what a fine line they tread when they fire rockets at Israel: maybe they'll explode in a field and draw a few air strikes; or maybe they'll hit a school and Israel will bombard Gaza, as it did in the short war of 2008-2009.

Over 1,300 Palestinian lives were lost and 13 Israelis died.

Since then, the sporadic conflict has been almost choreographed in the predictability of strike, counterstrike, escalation, de-escalation and truce.

What was less predictable was that Hamas would launch one of the biggest rocket barrages of the year just one day after the emir of Qatar paid a landmark visit.

The pro-Western Qatari leader was the first head of state to visit Hamas since they seized power in 2007. He also gave $400m (€309m) in reconstruction aid to help its 1.7 million people.

This might have prompted a pause, but instead, Hamas sent a rain of rockets into Israel.

"It was a calculated escalation," said Khalil Abu Shammala of the Ad Ameer human rights group.

"Hamas and other groups have rockets with ranges of 20km and more. But they did not use them and that is evidence the escalation was calculated and limited.

"As a resistance movement, Hamas feels embarrassed in front of its own members, so it attempts through these limited responses to prove it remains on the battlefield," he said.

This is a tactical necessity, he said. "Hamas strategy today is to win the recognition of the international community."

Long game

Analysts think Qatar, building up a leader's role in the Sunni Muslim world and influence beyond the Gulf, hopes to tame Hamas, get it to reconcile with Western-backed Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas, and advance Middle Eastern peace.

This is a tall order: Abbas recognises Israel, Hamas does not; the major powers do not talk to Hamas.

Small wonder that Middle East peace got scant mention in the third US presidential debate. The "peace process" is dead on its feet.

But the gas-rich monarchy has deep pockets, and Hamas says it has time and stamina for a long game. Gaza consultant Omar Shaban said Wednesday's rocket barrage did not "violate the rules of the game," a phrase Israeli strategists also employ.

"I believe restraint was part of the Qatari deal," he said.

Irish Independent