Monday, February 19, 2018

Israel Strikes Gaza After Rocket Fire, IDF General Warns About Chances Of War In 2018

Israel strikes Gaza tunnel after renewed rocket fire

The Israeli military struck the Gaza Strip early Monday, hours after a rocket was shot into southern Israel as intense cross-border fighting persisted for a third straight day.
The army said it attacked “underground infrastructure” in the southern Gaza Strip, likely referring to a tunnel dug by the Hamas terror group and others in the Palestinian enclave.
The military did not say if the strikes were from tank shelling or airstrikes.
The Palestinian Safa news site reported that heavy damage was caused by 10 airstrikes, but no injuries were reported.
Palestinians in the Strip reported hearing explosions near agricultural areas outside Rafah in the south of the Strip on social media.
The IDF said the attack was in response to a projectile fired at Israel earlier. The rocket, fired late Sunday, reportedly landed in an open area in the Sha’ar Hanegev region bordering the Strip.
There was no immediate claim of responsibility for the rocket, but Israel maintains a policy of holding Hamas, which rules Gaza, responsible.
“Hamas is responsible for anything that happens in the Strip and whatever comes out of it, both over and underground,” the army said in a statement
Fighting with Gaza ramped up over the weekend after four soldiers were injured by an explosive device attached to a flag on the border. Later Saturday, a house in the community of Sha’ar Hanegev sustained damage from a rocket fired from Gaza. No injuries were reported.
Israel responded by targeting 18 sites in Gaza, including Hamas posts and one target that the army said was managed by the Palestinian Islamic Jihad group, thought behind the IED.
The targets included observation posts, an attack tunnel and Hamas weapons factories, the army said.
Two Palestinians were killed, according to the Hamas-run Gazan health ministry.

A senior IDF general on Monday warned that the chances of war were higher than ever for 2018 in light of the battlefield victories in the Syrian civil war by the country’s dictator, Bashar Assad, and his allies Iran and Hezbollah.
“The year 2018 has the potential for escalation [of military conflict], not necessarily because either side wants to initiate it, but because of a gradual deterioration. This has led us to raise the level of preparedness,” Maj. Gen. Nitzan Alon, head of IDF Operations, told Army Radio in a rare interview.
Assad is close to snuffing out the last pockets of rebel resistance in Idlib and, eventually, in the country’s southwest, along the Israeli and Jordanian borders, which Alon said will provide the Syrian regime’s allies an opportunity to turn their attention to Israel.
“In the northern arena, there is a change coming due to the strategic developments in the Syrian internal fighting. The Iranians and Hezbollah, who are backing [Assad], are getting freed up to start building their power,” he said.
“We are not allowing these things to happen without our involvement. We are acting and will continue to act,” he continued, apparently referring to reported Israeli airstrikes in Syria against Hezbollah and Iranian targets.

Though it has long opposed Iranian entrenchment in the country, Israel has taken an increasingly bellicose tone over the Islamic Republic’s actions there and across the Middle East in recent weeks, especially following a round of aerial clashes earlier this month.

On the morning of February 10, an Iranian drone penetrated Israeli airspace only to be shot down by an Israeli Air Force attack helicopter. Israeli jets conducted a series of airstrikes in Syria, including one against the mobile command center from which an Iranian operator was piloting the drone, according to the Israel Defense Forces.

During the reprisal raid, an IAF F-16 was shot down over northern Israel, prompting the military to launch a second round of strikes, taking out between a third and a half of Syria’s air defenses, the military said.

On Sunday, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu displayed a piece of the Iranian drone during a speech at the Munich Security Conference, in which he called for the world to recognize and take action against Iranian aggression in the region.

Alon warned that if war were to break out, Iran would likely encourage its proxies to fight Israel from Lebanon, Syria and, potentially, the Gaza Strip.
“War with Hezbollah could bring in other actors, whom we’d need to fight,” he said.

Alon said that the Palestinian groups may also be called upon by Tehran to take part in the fighting of a future war.

For a second week in a row, Israel has seen severe security incidents on its borders which, with one small miscalculation, could have very easily somersaulted into another devastating conflict in the region.

Last week an Israeli F-16 was downed after Syrian air defenses launched some 20 missiles towards Israeli jets carrying out retaliatory strikes deep inside the war-torn country after an Iranian drone infiltrated Israeli airspace.

This week, four Israeli soldiers were wounded - two seriously - after an improvised explosive device which was hidden inside a flag, planted on the Gaza-Israel border, detonated as troops examined it. 

Both these incidents were the most serious attacks on either front in years.

In the north, it was the first overt confrontation between arch enemies Iran and Israel, which lost the first jet in a combat situation in some 30 years, while the incident in the south was the most serious incident on the Gaza front since Operation Protective Edge in 2014.

The IDF is currently investigating both events, studying whether overconfidence on the part of the pilots and soldiers played a role or whether the other side took advantage of a weak spot in IDF procedures.

However, there is a dilemma facing Israeli officials.

The country has fought several wars with Hamas in recent years and it is understood that the Gaza-based terror group has no will to go up against the IDF.  In the almost four years since conflict erupted in the south, both sides have learned from their mistakes and have increased their offensive and defensive capabilities.

However, the worsening humanitarian situation in the Gaza Strip has led IDF Chief of Staff Lt.-Gen. Gadi Eisenkot to warn that a war with Hamas could take place this year if the situation is not ameliorated.  

The growing humanitarian crisis - which Israel’s Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman prefers to call “a tough situation”- coupled with the increased brazen acts by rogue Salafi-Jihadi groups (who are believed to be responsible for the rockets launched at Israel in recent months) might push Israel into a corner.

While the Gaza Strip is a tinderbox waiting to explode, the growing Iranian entrenchment in Syria and Lebanon poses the biggest risk for Israel. Unlike Hamas in Gaza, the Iranian war machine can wreak immeasurable damage on the Jewish State. 

Their Lebanese Shia proxy group Hezbollah has grown both in terms of military strength, knowledge and even respect. Thousands of other Shia militants belonging to Iranian-backed militias in Iraq have pledged to fight with Hezbollah in the next conflict with Israel and several senior Shia militia leaders have been seen taking “border tours” on the Israel-Lebanon.

Meanwhile the influence of Israel’s main ally, the United States, in the Middle East has waned, replaced by Russia.

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