The militants of the Palestinian group Hamas are sending a clear message: They are prepared to take great risks to kill Israelis.

When it fired rockets at Jerusalem today from the Gaza Strip -- the first time Jerusalem has been targeted -- Hamas hoped to hit Jewish residents. The rockets, however, might just as easily have damaged Islamic holy sites or killed Palestinian residents. Even the late Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein, who hit Tel Aviv with missiles during the 1991 Gulf War, refrained from attacking Jerusalem because of its sacred status and large Palestinian population.

Hamas for the first time yesterday fired at Tel Aviv, Israel's largest city, proving its rockets had a longer range than the group previously had displayed. "There is no security for any Zionist," said Abu Obeida, a Hamas spokesman.

He seemed triumphant. Yet for all the audacity of the group's attacks on Jerusalem and Tel Aviv, those rockets, which appear to have only the crudest targeting systems, landed harmlessly. The hundreds of rocket and mortar attacks on Israeli towns close to the Gaza Strip since violence escalated this week resulted in three Israeli deaths. The destruction, and pain, however, is asymmetric. Israel's counterstrikes have caused 29 Palestinian deaths, according to officials in Gaza.

And so it always goes. "We plan more surprises," Abu Obeida said. The Israelis do, too, and they are much better planners. In preparation for a possible reinvasion of the Gaza Strip, Israeli officials are massing tanks near the border and making arrangements to call up reservists. Israel's last ground operation in Gaza, in the winter of 2008-2009, claimed as many as 1,400 Palestinian lives.

Although that operation was widely condemned internationally, that's no reason to think Israel won't act in Gaza with similar force again. Israel's leaders have grown inured to criticism from abroad, and when it comes to protecting Israel's citizens, they rarely flinch. Providing a safe haven for Jews, after all, is the raison d'etre of the state.

Hamas's purpose is to create an Islamic state in all the land that was once British mandatory Palestine. The first step is to dismantle Israel. The Palestine Liberation Organization tried a secular version of the same strategy for 30 years before  agreeing to divide the land between Israel and a Palestinian state and live in peace.

Hamas has far less international support than the PLO ever had and faces a much stronger Israel, yet it is determined to execute another losing strategy.  The group will kill quite a few more Israelis, undoubtedly, while causing far more Palestinians to die.

(Lisa Beyer is a member of the Bloomberg View editorial board.)

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