Thursday, May 31, 2018

Israel At Closest Point To War Since 2014

Despite relative calm returning to southern Israel after over 100 mortars and rockets were fired towards Israeli communities from the Gaza Strip, Israel is at its closest point to war since Operation Protective Edge four years ago, a senior IDF officer in the Southern Command said Thursday.

According to the senior officer, the Iranian-funded Islamic Jihad did not show all of its strength and, under the guidance of Tehran, might still be able to act against Israel from the Hamas-run Gaza Strip. 

"This week, Islamic Jihad operated with Iranian consent and Iran has an interest in escalating the situation in Gaza in light of what is happening in Syria and other areas,” he told reporters.

The Southern Command, he said, operated with a “very clear” directive on Tuesday to make sure the latest round of violence didn’t escalate into a full-blown war so that Israel “could focus” on confronting larger threats like Iran and Syria.

The senior officer said that the Israeli army had anticipated an attack by Islamic Jihad and while the military was not certain when the attack by the Gaza terror group would happen, the IDF spoke to regional council heads and deployed Iron Dome batteries. The warning system was also improved for residents within seven kilometers of the Gaza Strip, giving them 23 seconds to run for shelter up from 15, he said.

According to the senior officer, Israel struck dozens of high-value Hamas and Islamic Jihad targets in the Hamas-run coastal enclave but admitted that the IDF did not succeed in targeting the cells who had fired the projectiles.

"We were instructed to locate and attack the cells who carried out the launches, but the enemy has improved and learnt lessons since the last round of fighting, and much of the shooting was carried out with timers and from underground,” he said.

The officer nevertheless stressed that “the terrorist organizations limited themselves in the range of rocket fire this week,” but “if it continued, we were ready for something a lot broader and meaningful and Hamas knew it. It could have ended very differently.”

The senior officer stated that the 65 targets struck by the IDF “were targets that have been on our ‘waiting list,’” adding that Hamas planned to use the sites in the next war with Israel.

Among the high value targets was a offensive tunnel built in the last year that infiltrated both into Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula as well as into Israeli territory. The officer stated that the intelligence on the tunnel was shared with Egypt, who neutralized it in their territory as well.

On Wednesday, UN Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process Nickolay Mladenov told the UN Security Council that the escalation was a “warning to all of us of how close we are to the brink of war every day.”

According to the senior officer, Israel should allow for additional measures in order to stabilize the humanitarian situation, "otherwise, we will be in a slippery slope,” pointing out that even the Palestinian Authority has disengaged itself from the Strip.

Hamas, the senior officer said, is trying to save itself from collapse and has no solution.

“No one wants the problem of Gaza, not even us,” he said. “Small steps can be taken that will give a year and a half of quiet, and allow for a long arrangement to be reached. We do not need to help Hamas, nor lift it up, but as large as Hamas' concessions will be, so will be the size of the arrangement,” he said.

Beyond the ongoing operations of the Erez and Kerem Shalom Crossings, as well as the limited opening of the Rafiah Crossing with Egypt, additional “arrangements” are being examined the senior officer said.

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