Last Wednesday, Grad Katyusha rockets were fired into southern Israel from Gaza. On Saturday afternoon, the Israel Air Force hit a terrorist squad in Gaza that was preparing to launch additional long-range rockets. Reportedly, it was the same squad that had launched the rockets on Wednesday. Among those killed were Islamic Jihad commander Ahmed al-Sheikh Khalil and four of the group’s munitions experts.
From that point on, the heat increased, as Islamic Jihad continued to launch those rockets. Ashdod was hit the hardest, but areas of Be’ersheva, Ashkelon, Ashdod, Kiryat Malachai, Gan Yavne and the Shaar Hanegev Regional Council were under fire from more than 20 projectiles — Grads, Kassams and mortars — through Saturday.
A rocket that landed in a residential area of Ashkelon on Saturday evening badly wounded Moshe Ami, 56, who later died on the operating table. He was the father of four.
In all, four other Israelis were wounded in the barrage of rockets and considerable damage was done to buildings. Needless to say, the IAF was in the air and continued to target terrorists and relevant sites in Gaza. Saturday night, according to an IAF release: “Three rocket launching sites and one terror tunnel were targeted in the northern Gaza Strip, and in the southern Gaza Strip two terror activity sites were targeted…Hits were confirmed.” I am reading at this point that some 11 terrorists have been taken out.
Yesterday, late in the day, a “cease fire” — arranged via Egypt — was announced that lasted about 30 minutes, excuse me, “several hours.” Shortly after the “cease fire” was announced, at least three additional rockets were launched by Islamic Jihad. School children in the area were kept at home yesterday, and again today.
Today the word is that the Chief of Staff Gantz, with political approval, has given orders to prepare for an escalated response to the rocket fire. This would include pinpoint strikes at terrorist infrastructure. Talk of a cease fire is viewed dubiously in Israel at this point. A Grad missile hit south of Ashkelon, just a short while ago; no injuries or infrastructure damage were reported. By now some 40 projectiles have been launched.
At a Likud faction meeting this morning, before the beginning of the new winter session of the Knesset, Prime Minister Netanyahu said:
“There is no ceasefire, no negotiations and the IDF continues its operations. Anytime someone disrupts the peace in the south – our response will be severe, just as it was on Saturday, and I’m telling you – even more severe.”
And Defense Minister Ehud Barak, in an Army Radio interview, said that the IDF does not pay attention to empty calls for cease fires from various terrorist groups,. If they want a cease fire, they will have to actually stop their attacks.
Barak added that the IDF is not interested in returning to Gaza.
Whether there is intention to mount another operation in Gaza or not, I dearly wish he had not said this.
Someone who also wishes he hadn’t said it is Ashdod mayor, Dr. Eyehole Lasri, who gave a statement to Arutz Sheva:
“This cannot continue for much longer. We cannot manage such a reality for more months and years. The city’s residents are complaining: Why is the State not acting? Why are a quarter of a million citizens at the mercy of a few minor organizations that decide when to disrupt our daily routines?
“We’ve been living like this since Operation Cast Lead, almost three years. It’s unreasonable, it’s unacceptable, it hurts Israel’s sovereignty and we must reach a fundamental solution. The fundamental solution is quite obvious, I think. We need to form a good defense umbrella over the entire State of Israel…and go into Gaza and do what needs to be done. I don’t think there’s a clearer solution and it needs to be carried out within the next year.”
Former IDF Chief of Staff and current Kadima MK, Shaul Mofaz also gave a radio interview today. He said it’s time for the Netanyahu government to give the green light to “do what it knows how to do” so there will be deterrence.
As many of you are well aware, the decision to act is political, not military. Many factors affect that decision — in this instance our relationships with Egypt, with the PA, and with the US may all be relevant — and more as well. Unfortunately, the political prism seems to interfere with Israel’s necessary self-defense.
Uzi Dayan, former Chairman of Israel’s National Security Council, pulls no punches with regard to this situation in a piece today in Israel Hayom:
“We are not talking about an ‘escalation’ or ‘crossing a red line,’ but rather war: a terrorist rocket war…These rockets cannot quite threaten Israel’s existence, but they do kill, maim and disrupt the daily lives of Israeli civilians, and sow fear. (Emphasis added)
“The number of civilians affected by these rockets is increasing, and we cannot continue with these rounds of tit-for-tat fighting….Initially, the terrorist rockets threatened a few thousand. Now they can reach hundreds of thousands; next time, when their range can reach Gush Dan [central Israel including Tel Aviv], it will threaten millions of Israelis. Rocket terror is becoming a strategic weapon…
“Defense alone cannot win. Iron Dome technology is not enough; we also need an iron-fist policy when it comes to terrorism…We must understand that we are in an ongoing war against terror, and we have to lead by continually attacking government institutions and exacting a price from terrorist leaders in Gaza.
“There is no justification for the fact that parents in Ashkelon have to live in fear for their children’s lives while Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh simply lives. We must take control of areas in the Gaza Strip and establish security zones, to distance the rocket threats from Israel and facilitate better interception to protect cities and communities in the south. We do not need to reoccupy Gaza, but if the battle leads to a wider campaign, to Operation Cast Lead 2, we will need to ‘go all the way’ by toppling the Hamas regime. Hamas is not part of the solution – it is the problem.” (Emphasis added)
And I say Amen again.
When we talk about escalating the Israeli response to the rockets, there is one additional point I wish to make here, that I believe is of more than a little significance. The reported escalation in our response includes, as noted above, “pinpoint operations against infrastructure.” This means, as Dr. Aaron Lerner of IMRA frequently says, “hitting empty buildings.”
Doesn’t matter what those buildings were used for. The terrorists groups absorb these hits with relative equanimity. The way to make an impact is via hitting their people. And not the flunkies who run errands. The leaders. We have to have them cowering in fear for their own lives. This puts a major crimp in their ability and desire to organize attacks on Israel.
(Says Lerner: “As long as Israel hits empty buildings and other empty targets each rocket incident is limit to one round. According to the Palestinians, any Israeli action that results in the death of Gazans – including action against Gazans who are in the middle of launching rockets – justifies a massive response.”)
Islamic Jihad leaders, for their part, are threatening escalated actions deeper into Israel, as well. Said a spokesman, “Our response [to an Israeli escalation] will be a clear message. We will widen the circle of fire and include new settlements and cities deep in Israel.” Islamic Jihad, backed by Iran, is heavily equipped with rockets.
A very brief video showing a multiple rocket launching by Islamic Jihad can be seen here:
Amazing how different is the impact of seeing it, rather than reading about it. What Uzi Dayan is addressing, as evidence both by the video and the Islamic Jihad threat, is very real and very serious.
The Israeli position is that Hamas is to be held responsible for what goes on in Gaza, as Hamas controls Gaza. But that situation may be shifting, Khaled Abu Toameh tells us:
A few years ago, Hamas was the second largest force in Gaza, after the PA. Ultimately, with the backing of Iran and Syria, it became strong enough to control Gaza. But now Hamas finds itself in the same position that the PA once was.
Today the Islamic Jihad organization is the second- largest armed group in the Gaza.
“…it poses a serious challenge to the Hamas government.
“With the help of Iran and Syria, Islamic Jihad has become a major player in the Palestinian arena. The organization’s leaders now visit Cairo and other Arab capitals, where they are received as VIPs.
“…In the past 48 hours, top Egyptian security officials have been talking to Islamic Jihad leaders and representatives, over the heads of Hamas officials, about a cease-fire with Israel.
“…When Hamas had an interest in preserving the unofficial cease-fire with Israel, it was prepared to clash with any other group that dared to violate the calm.
“Hamas has long boasted that, unlike the PA, its men have succeeded in the past four years in creating a strong regime in the Gaza Strip. Indeed, Hamas has since shown zero tolerance toward any group that posed a challenge to its rule.
“However, in the past two days Hamas chose to sit on the fence while Islamic Jihad militiamen fired rockets and missiles at Israel.
“Instead of trying to stop the attacks as it did in the past, Hamas let the Egyptians mediate a cease-fire between Islamic Jihad and Israel.
“Some Palestinians in the Gaza Strip said on Sunday that Hamas is probably afraid of a violent confrontation with Islamic Jihad, whose members have managed to smuggle into the Gaza Strip new weapons stolen from Libya.
“Besides, Hamas can’t afford to be seen as playing the role of ‘border guard’ for Israel. Until today, Hamas maintains it’s the PA that is playing this role in the West Bank, the Palestinians said.
“In the words of a Palestinian journalist in Gaza City, ‘Islamic Jihad is trying to spoil the party for Hamas, and the best way to do so is by initiating a new confrontation with Israel.’
“Islamic Jihad is acting on instructions from Tehran and Damascus, whose leaders are also reported to be at loggerheads with Hamas.
“According to informed Palestinian sources, relations between Hamas and the Iranians and Syrians have deteriorated because of the movement’s refusal to publicly support the embattled regime of President Bashar Assad.
“Those who are hoping that the downfall of the Hamas regime would bring a more moderate group to power are living in an illusion.
“It’s almost certain by now that Islamic Jihad – which is viewed by some as being more radical than Hamas – will one day rise to power in the Gaza Strip.” (Emphasis added)
We hear about the miracles from time to time, the instances in which attacks on Israel should have caused calamities that were somehow averted. Here is such a story, about a congregation that had met in the same place for 40 years, every Shabbat without fail, but had not met on the very Shabbat that a missile landed in its courtyard, in the very spot where people would have been gathered.
It is my understanding that the situation in Gaza is not making news in a great many quarters in the US, and so I am eager to get this out, and so will mention a couple of other items just briefly here:
UNESCO, The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization, today voted “Palestine” full membership. This is a gambit the PA took as a way to get its foot in the door of the UN as a state, when approval in the Security Council is expected to fail. This is not a surprise.
The ramifications will be several — not the least of which is the likelihood of the US cutting funding to UNESCO and Israel curtailing cooperation with the organization.
Republican Study Committee Chairman Congressman Jim Jordan (R-OH 4th) has released the following statement on this issue:
“According to federal laws, UNESCO is now ineligible for funding from American taxpayers. UNESCO members knew this decision would cut off $80 million provided by American taxpayers, but they made it anyway. Now they must live with the consequences. It is President Obama’s duty to prevent any further taxpayer money from going to this organization.”