Israel and Hamas sliding toward ground battle
Without much desire or a clear plan, Israel and Hamas are gradually sliding toward another conflict on the ground in the Gaza Strip.
Over the weekend there were alarms from Gedera to Be'er Sheva, nearly 100 rockets and mortars were fired, and hundreds of thousands of Israelis took shelter in secure areas. In the Strip, over two and a half days, at least 19 Palestinians were killed.
Meanwhile, according to the Iranian doctrine, the Palestinians are stepping up rocket attacks to test the Iron Dome and to hit other towns, because the two batteries essentially provide cover for Be'er Sheva and Ashkelon.
The incident on Thursday, in which a 16-year-old Israeli was critically wounded after Hamas militants fired an anti-tank missile at a school bus, points to a reprisal for the air force's killing of three men in the group's military wing on April 1. In the absence of an appropriate military target, the militants decided to target a school bus.
As far as Israel is concerned, the targeting of the bus means a red line has been crossed; this triggered a wide air assault on militant targets in the Strip.
120 Gaza rockets hit southern Israel
Palestinian terrorists operating out of the Gaza Strip fired no fewer than 120 rockets and mortar shells at communities in southern Israel over the weekend, forcing the regions tens of thousands of residents to spend the Sabbath hiding in bomb shelters.
The attacks continued on Sunday morning, when an anti-tank missile was fired at an Israeli tank along the Gaza security fence, and three mortar shells landed in the fields of a nearby farming community, damaging local power lines.
Israeli forces, in turn, pounded terrorist installations across the Gaza Strip throughout the weekend. Among the reported casualties was one of the terrorists behind the 2006 abduction of Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit.
Rocket Attacks Continue; Thousands Spend Shabbat in Shelters
Thousands of residents of southern Israel spent Shabbat in bomb shelters, as Hamas terrorists from Gaza continued firing rockets at Israeli targets in the Negev. Since Thursday, Arab terrorists have fired over 100 mortar shells and Kassam rockets at Israeli targets, with fifty fired since early Saturday.
The rockets hit not only areas near the border, but areas further inside Israel, including the Ashkelon area.
Four Grad-style Katyusha rockets hit areas near the city, but there were no injuries or damage reported. However, several people were hospitalized for shock, and as of Saturday night, three were still in the hospital.
Other cities further inside Israel were also hit, with Ofakim absorbing hits from three Grad rockets.
One rocket hit very close to a school, and city officials said that there would have been many injuries had the rocket hit when classes were in session.
Hamas capabilities catching up with intentions
It might have been easy to miss this detail in the report of the Hamas attack on an Israeli school bus on 7 April, in which a 13-year-old boy and the bus driver were injured (the boy severely). Hamas used a state-of-the-art Russian-design antitank missile, the 9M133 Kornet (NATO designation AT-14 SPRIGGAN), to attack the bus. Israeli officials confirmed that the hit on the school bus was achieved using laser guidance, and that the missile was launched from two miles away.
the ability to accurately target a bus from a distance of two miles, with an effective modern weapon, is a game-changer in the Hamas campaign to target civilians.
A flashpoint may be helped along by the convergence of other anti-Israel plans: an organized call for a “Third Intifada” this spring (see here and here for a sample of posts on the campaign to get the Facebook page taken down) and the next Gaza flotilla being organized by the Turkish terrorist group IHH. Both are intended to occur in May 2011; the “Third Intifada” is billed as being launched with a “march to Palestine” starting 15 May.
Finally, this analysis from Debka:
Hamas fires 24 Grads, 50 shells Saturday. A million Israelis still in shelters
Saturday, April 9, Hamas and its allies, acting now on Hizballah guidelines from Lebanon, fired 24 heavy Grad missiles and more than 50 mortars shells at seven southern Israeli towns in an expanding radius up to Palmahim in the north.
Despite bomb shelters and home guard measures, 20 Israelis were injured or suffered shock.
The Palestinian missile violence Saturday began before dawn with Grad missiles exploding north of Israel's second main port city of Ashdod, south of Kiryat Gat and outside Ofakim. Sirens warning of a missile attack were heard in Gedera and Gan Yavneh. As a million Israeli civilians spent another day in bomb shelters, four Grad missiles landed in Ashkelon Saturday afternoon.
We see even more escalation in this current round of violence:
The IDF's tactics for countering Hamas aggression remain unchanged, except in scale: In the last 48 hours, Israeli helicopters, mortars, tanks and naval units have been pounding the Gaza Strip while Hamas releases barrages of dozens of missile and mortar attacks on villages and towns - practically without pause. Israeli civilians were told to stay close to bomb shelters in the days to come. Schools, road traffic, public transport and businesses will function intermittently.
A possible Cast Lead II was in the air after Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu said Thursday during a visit to Prague: Attacks on children cross a red line. Those who carry out such attacks should know that their blood is on their heads."
On the other side of the ledger, the new rulers of Egypt are in the process of unraveling Hosni Mubarak's peace relations with Israel – as DEBKAfile has reported – and engaging in rapprochement with the Gaza and Damascus centers of the two radical Palestinian organizations.
Are we about to see the "next step" in this escalation?
DEBKAfile's military experts maintain that the tactics of massive firepower without ground operations have run their course. There is no way to wipe out the increasingly sophisticated heavy weapons arsenal Hamas has been allowed to amass from the air.
So the half a million Israeli civilians of the Western Negev and the southern coastal towns must continue to live under their shadow instead of having normal lives. Often, many cannot make it to work and schools, places of business and traffic can operate only intermittently.
For the first time in three years, Hamas appealed to Cairo to broker a ceasefire. Israeli did not bother to respond since the rulers of Gaza have violated every agreed ceasefire in the past. Hamas reached out to the new Egyptian regime following its moves towards a rapprochement and a Palestinian diplomatic initiative.
And what is Egypt's response?
Egyptian leaders are willing to help negotiate Hamas' reconciliation with Mahmoud Abbas' Fatah on the following basis: Hamas would accept the two-state solution of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict but Egypt would not press for the second part of the formula endorsed by Washington and Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu, namely that "the two states live alongside each other in peace and security."
This amended formula would leave Hamas and the other radical Palestinian organizations free to continue their violent campaign of "resistance" against Israel while making peace with the rival Fatah and gaining a Palestinian state on the West Bank.
These days, Hamas is sure it is on a win-win course and has little to fear from stepping up its war on Israel until it gets what it wants.
In other words, there is currently no motivation for the terrorists in Gaza to discontinue this round of violence - and that leads to the obvious question: What will stop the current round of violence?
Perhaps nothing. In which case, we are clearly headed directly towards the tipping point in the Middle East - that point in which the road to warfare continues unabated - the road that leads directly (and ultimately) into the war of Gog-MaGog.
It seems to be coming soon. Meanwhile, we watch, wait and pray. And we anticipate the coming of Christ Jesus for His Bride.