The Israel Defense Forces announced after midnight Monday that it has launched a major operation against Hamas in the Gaza Strip.
The operation has been given the code name "Operation Protective Edge."
IAF fighter planes and aircraft are currently flying sorties over Gaza seeking terror targets, Israel Radio reported.
Heavy rocket barrages slammed into southern Israel on Monday evening, triggering air raid sirens across wide areas, including the Hof Ashkelon Regional Council, Sderot, Rehovot and Beit Shemesh.
Seven long-range Palestinians rockets were intercepted over Ashdod, and five over Netivot.
Some 30 rockets were fired from Gaza in the Monday night barrage. A total of 80 rockets slammed into southern Israel throughout the day and evening.
The attacks came shortly after a senior military source said the IDF is taking “significant steps” to prepare itself for a stepped up campaign of attacks against Hamas in Gaza. He spoke as Palestinian projectile fire from the Strip continued unabated.
The Iron Dome defense system intercepted seven rockets over Ashdod on Monday night and five over Netivot after Gaza terrorists fired a barrage of projectiles at southern Israel. A man in Ashdod was injured from shrapnel.
Sixteen projectiles also landed in open areas near the southern city of Beersheba, according to the IDF Spokesperson's Unit.
Air raid sirens were heard on Monday in the outskirts of Jerusalem and Tel Aviv, but an Israeli police spokesman said they were false alarms.
The armed wing of Hamas Izz al-Din al-Qassam took responsible for the latest barrage of rocket fire on Israel on Monday night.
The Home Front Command has instructed the municipalities of Ashkelon, Ashdod, Beersheba, and Gaza border communities to open public bomb shelters in anticipation of long-range Hamas rocket attacks.
"We can't avoid dealing with Gaza because there is noise [security developments] in other arenas," the source said, referring to rioting by Arab Israelis and in Palestinian districts of east and north Jerusalem.
The IDF's steps to enhance preparedness on the Gaza border include the calling up of 1,500 reserves, and the setting up of infantry assault units on the Gaza border, in case "a decision is made" for an offensive in Gaza, the source said.
"We are ready for an escalation," the source said, adding that Hamas is not only failing to prevent other terror groups from firing projectiles at southern Israel, it is taking an active and dominant part in the recent attacks.
Most of the projectiles landing in southern Israel are mortar shells, and the rate of rocket fire is low, the source said, but all of the projectile fire has to stop, he added.
"We're taking steps now... ahead of the possibility that the escalation increases. We're preparing for a gradual increase in the use of force, and increasing our rate of attacks [on terror targets in Gaza]," he stated.
A majority of the reserves will be sent to unit headquarters and Home Front Command units, and some are Border Police who will replace conscripted forces currently on duty in the West Bank, freeing them up for deployment to Gaza.
"The message to Hamas is clear. A ceasefire without conditions," the source said. "Last Thursday, I said quiet would be met with quiet. Now, we see that this hasn't happened."
The Israel Air Force struck 18 targets across Gaza between Sunday night and Monday afternoon, and Palestinian sources said nine combatants - seven of them Hamas members - were killed in the Strip.
Two members of a Palestinian rocket launching crew were killed in central Gaza in an IAF strike. The IDF said the men were preparing to fire rockets into southern Israel.
A few hours later, the IAF launched two waves of air strikes, striking nine targets in the first wave, and five targets in the second. Most of the targets were underground rocket launchers and terrorist operations centers.
Throughout Monday, terrorists in Gaza fired rockets at southern regions near the Gazan border, and fired one long-range projectile at Be'ersheba in the morning as well. The latter rocket exploded in an open area outside of the city, triggering air raid sirens. There were no injuries or damages in that attack.
The armed wing of Hamas, Izz al-Din al-Qassam, took responsibility for a barrage of rocket fire on Israel on Monday night, claiming to have shot some 100 rockets within a few minutes at the South.
Heavy rocket barrages slammed into southern Israel on Monday evening, triggering air raid sirens across wide areas, including Rehovot and Beit Shemesh.
A total of 80 rockets slammed into southern Israel throughout the day and evening.
Hamas has vowed revenge for what it claims was Israel's deadliest attacks in which seven Palestinian militants died on Monday.
A senior military source said the seven Hamas members did not die as a result of an Israeli air strike. The source said they died as a result of explosives they planted in an underground assault tunnel aimed at an IDF target.
Government officials decided Monday to increase strikes against Hamas in Gaza and call up additional troops, as southern Israel braced for expanded rocket fire following the deaths of several terror operatives in Gaza overnight.
On Monday evening, Hamas fired more than 60 rockets into Israel between 8 and 9 p.m., to a range of some 40 kilometers — including Ashdod, Ashkelon, Gan Yavneh, and the outskirts of Beit Shemesh. Seven people were treated for shock, initial reports said, but there were no reports of serious injury. What were described as false alarms sounded in the Jerusalem and Etzion Bloc areas.
IDF spokesman Lt. Col. Peter Lerner said the military had called up 1,500 reserves troops, mostly from the Home Front Command and Iron Dome air defense crews, and deployed two additional conscripted infantry brigades, Paratroops and Givati, to the border with the Palestinian enclave Monday. The army, Lerner said, was still in a defensive position but has shifted its readiness in order to address an escalation in the ongoing conflict with the Gaza Strip.
Though ministers did not decide on a ground incursion or large scale operation, they warned one could be in the offing if rocket fire did not cease, Israeli media reported.
The move to bolster troops outside Gaza and increase Israeli operations against the Strip came after several days of intense Palestinian rocket fire. The military said Monday afternoon that some 50 projectiles had been launched at Israel in the course of the day, adding to dozens shot the day before. The major barrage of 60 rockets, deeper into Israel, came later in the evening.
Hit by 100 rockets in 24 hours, Israel is being goaded into a major Gaza offensive. Some ministers want the Strip reconquered; other voices urge more ‘modest and attainable’ objectives
Hamas has goaded Israel into action – whether because of unpaid salaries; or hopes of fanning the flames of the unrest in Israel and the West Bank; or a need to stave off its rivals Palestinian Islamic Jihad and the assorted Salafi organizations; or in-house disagreements between its political and military wings, or as an expression of its alienation from Egypt and Iran (and those are just a few of the current theories).
There could still be surprises. Egyptian mediation could produce an agreement. It stands to reason, too, that Israel has learnt the lessons of the 2006 Second Lebanon War. It will likely, as in November 2012, first call up the reserves en masse before launching a major operation, giving the troops time to train and signaling to the other side that a major blow may soon fall.
But if Hamas is not to be deterred, then Israel, terribly, as a sovereign state, will be left with no choice but to respond to Hamas’s attacks and defend its citizens through military action. Blood will be shed. Innocents on both sides will pay a price.
The question, then, is not so much if Israel will respond to the barrage of rockets, but what shape that response will take; what sort of ambitions the government will have if it is forced into an operation in Gaza.
Foreign Minister Avigdor Liberman has called for the sort of operation that would enable reassertion of Israeli control over the Gaza Strip. Economics Minister Naftali Bennett on Monday refused to state his position over the air waves but likely advocates for a similar move. This, Brig. Gen. (res) Udi Dekel and Dr. Kobi Michael of the INSS wrote recently, would require a massive reserves call-up, unlike the one issued thus far for 1,500 soldiers total; a lengthy operation in the Gaza Strip, including ground troops; and a prolonged toll on the Israeli civilian population, which would be under fire for weeks if not months. The researchers put the economic toll of such an action at 15 billion shekels ($4.4 billion).
It would also leave Israel in charge of 1.5 million Palestinians.
Maj. Gen. (ret) Amos Yadlin, the head of the INSS and former commander of Israel’s military intelligence directorate, called the notion of a re-occupation “a strategic mistake.”
Writing on his Facebook page on Sunday he advocated instead for an offensive that targets the military wing of Hamas, the organization’s leaders, its firepower, and its weapons-production capabilities.
Such an operation, Yadlin wrote, which would combine aerial fire power and limited ground actions in order to secure strategic locations, “might include damage to the fabric of life in Israel, the Israeli economy, and even fatalities. But it is necessary."
Ideally, if forced into a limited war, the army will begin with a coordinated strike, probably against Hamas’s long-range rockets, which are less mobile than its leaders, who have probably gone underground. From there it will attempt to score maximum gains in minimum time.
But as former Mossad head Efraim Halevy said during a recent phone interview, one knows where a war starts, but never where it ends. “The fortunes of war,” he said in his native English, “are not pre-destined.”
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