Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is scheduled to meet with foreign diplomats on Monday to update them on the Gaza situation and prepare world opinion for a possible extensive military operation in the Strip.
Southern Israel has come under heavy rocket and mortar fire from Gaza over the last two days, during which more than 140 projectiles were fired by terror groups, disrupting normal routines and closing schools throughout the region. Three people have been injured and several houses damaged in the barrage.
Defense Minister Ehud Barak made clear that Israel would not hesitate to reenter Gaza. “If we are forced to go back into Gaza in order to deal Hamas a [serious] blow and restore security for all of Israel’s citizens, then we will not hesitate to do so,” he said.
Education Minister Gideon Saar said during a visit to a school in Sderot Monday that the army was preparing for an extensive ground operation in Gaza.
“We have seen the escalations on the Gaza border increase in frequency over the past year and we need to put an end to them,” said Saar. “All the preparations for a wide-scale ground operation are being made. Unless the fire stops, such an operation will be launched.”
Internal Defense Minister Yitzhak Aharonovich said the IDF needed to respond forcefully to the Gaza rocket fire in order to bring an end to the “insufferable” situation in the south.
Speaking on Israel Radio Monday, Aharonovich said Hamas was responsible for the attacks from Gaza and that the results of any IDF action must be “painful.”
A Grad rocket landed in the yard of a house in the southern city of Netivot Monday morning. No one was injured, but the explosion caused damage to the building and its surroundings, leading to power outages in parts of the city. Twenty-six people were treated for shock.
Finance Minster Yuval Steinitz, in a speech at Bar-Ilan University on Monday, said Israel had not ruled out the possibility of a “decisive strategic military operation” in response to the fire, but did not spell out what such a move would entail.
Eshkol regional council head Haim Yalin said that even one rocket was too much and demanded that the government take action to end the violence. He said it wasn’t up to him to offer solutions, but noted that Israel had two options, either to carry out a strike decisive enough to convince the terrorists to put down their arms, or to reach a diplomatic solution with Gaza’s rulers.
Overnight, the Israeli Air Force struck three terror targets in the Gaza Strip. According to the IDF Spokesperson’s Unit, the IAF achieved direct hits on a terrorist tunnel and a weapons storage site in northern Gaza, as well as a rocket-launching site in the southern part of the Strip.
On Sunday evening, a Kassam rocket hit a house in the southern Israeli city of Sderot. The family inside the house had taken cover in a secure space and was unharmed, but the building itself was severely damaged.
Another rocket from the Strip hit a building in Shaar Hanegev.
Four Israelis were injured in the two-day barrage.
Activity along the border has begun to take on a worryingly south-Lebanon-type feel. It’s evident in the increasing toll on Israeli soldiers on patrol there — including the October 23 explosion in which Givati company commander Ziv Shilon was badly injured, and Saturday’s firing of an anti-tank missile at an IDF jeep 150 yards inside Israel, in which four soldiers were injured, one of them gravely.In response, Israeli security sources say, the IDF has carved out a slender corridor on the Gaza side of the fence — a 300-meter zone in which it acts to try to prevent cross-border attacks.
Hamas considers this an affront to its sovereignty. Israel wishes to present Hamas with an equation that says: either smother all terror from within your area, or face penalties that could ultimately result in a far greater loss of sovereignty — the toppling of your regime.
The IDF has at least two plans in the drawer: an invasion of Gaza that would cull the ranks of the terrorists and deplete them of much of their newly acquired ammunition; and a larger invasion, more along the lines of Operation Defensive Shield in 2002, that would aim to shake the foundations of Hamas’s hold on power.The first would draw international condemnation. As in the winter of 2008-9, during Operation Cast Lead, Israel would enter the Strip with force; the casualty rate would be high on the Gazan side.
Perhaps this time Hamas and the other terror factions in Gaza would also be able to draw more Israeli blood, as their stockpiles of weapons, especially anti-tank missiles, has increased, notably since the fall of Muammar Gaddafi in Libya.
The upside of this would be a re-establishment of Israel’s deterrence and a crucial period of calm for Israel’s southern residents, but one that would inevitably fade, and perhaps more rapidly than last time.
The second option, a large-scale operation, would deal Hamas a major blow but likely aid Iran in its bid to unravel Israel’s strategic peace with Egypt. A Muslim Brotherhood-led government could not easily sit idly by as Israel systematically stripped its sister organization of power.
Perhaps in such a scenario, Egypt, which is saddled with economic problems and not eager for a war on its border, could intervene diplomatically. Surely, though, it would not want to be seen as acting in Israel’s interests — and would take steps to prove that this was not the case.
A third option, which would be spearheaded by the Shin Bet, would be to reinstate the use of targeted killings. Former defense minister and IDF chief of General Staff Shaul Mofaz, now the leader of Kadima, seemed to be pushing for this on Sunday, charging that the current government is focusing too intensely on “protection, and not deterrence.”
For years the rocket barrages had become a sort of routine for Sderot resident Amir Ben-Abu, 38, until his three-year-old son started studying at a preschool at Kibbutz Kfar Aza.
“It all changed when we had our son. He won’t grow up here, it’s too hard for him. The second we have an opportunity we’ll leave Sderot,” Ben-Abu said on Sunday
Only a couple of hours earlier his wife had called him in shock, frozen in her car on the side of the road, moments after shrapnel from a Kassam rocket crashed into the car in front of her, moderately wounding the driver, Moshik Levy, and his wife, Ben-Abu said.“Things like this ruin your life. Every time my son hears a ‘Code Red’ [rocket siren] it takes years off my life,” he said.
When asked what he is demanding from the government or the military, he suggested that the government could compensate businesses suffering from the rocket strikes, then said the IDF should “deal them a blow so they won’t be able to attack us again,” before finally saying that there is no solution and that after 10 years of suffering, people are desperate.
Sderot did appear rather desperate on Sunday. In the center of town the market was closed following instructions from the IDF Home Front Command, and the streets were largely empty except for patrolling police cruisers and sherut minivan collective taxis, though the inclement weather surely played a role in keeping people off the streets.
Minutes away from the center of Sderot, a group of volunteers manned phones at the Sha’ar Hanegev Regional Council situation room, inside a bunker at the council’s headquarters. Home to some 6,000 residents, dozens of rockets have hit the region in the past few days, leading the council to cancel school and go onto a sort of war footing that is familiar to locals.
Sha’ar Hanegev resident Varda Goldstein described leaving her house for work in the morning when the Code Red alarm went off, and heading back in seconds before a rocket hit outside her neighbor’s home.
“I heard the Code Red and I went back into the safe room and heard the sound of the rocket going overhead and then heard windows exploding and felt the shockwave,” Goldstein said.
As with a similar direct hit on a house on a kibbutz in the Eshkol region during the last round of violence nearly two weeks ago, Goldstein said the rocket seemed much larger and powerful than a garden variety Kassam.
“We need to do two things: Either we launch another [military] operation and then there will be another year or two of quiet, or we create absolute separation from them. We open the [Gaza] Port, but we cut off the electricity and water coming from Israel. They want to be independent from us, then they’ll be independent altogether,” Goldstein said.
“Tell me, what country in the world would be willing to live like this, to let their grandchildren live like this, that their children are born into a reality of war, 12-year-old children who never lived in peacetime, who don’t know any other language?” she asked.