P. DAVID HORNIK: REPORT FROM THE ROCKET ZONE
By Thursday night Israel was well into its second war against the Gaza terror statelet since Israel’s ill-considered “disengagement” from Gaza in 2005, a move widely hailed at the time as ushering in a new era of peace.
The year leading up to the first Gaza war, 2008, saw over a thousand rocket attacks on Israel from Gaza. In 2009 and 2010, the years after that war, the attacks declined steeply; then they began to rise again and this year, 2012, had reached about 800 before Israel, on Wednesday, finally started to fight back again.
Israel launched the campaign on Wednesday afternoon with two major, successful hits: a lethal aerial strike on Ahmad Jabari, head of Hamas’s military wing and the most senior Hamas figure in the Strip, known especially to Israelis for masterminding the kidnapping of Gilad Shalit; and a series of strikes against Hamas’s Iranian-made long-range Fajr missiles, considered strategic because of their ability to hit the Tel Aviv area in central Israel.
Since then southern Israel has been enveloped in rocket firings from Gaza. On Thursday morning three people were killed in the town of Kiryat Malachi, 18 miles from Gaza, when a rocket made a direct hit on a building there. In my city, Beersheva, 25 miles from Gaza, the attacks have been so frequent that this article is literally being written in intervals between air-raid sirens. So far the city’s Iron Dome battery has intercepted most of the rockets and no serious injuries have been reported.
Israel was further stunned on Thursday night when, for the first time ever, rockets from Gaza hit the greater Tel Aviv area, indicating that the air force had not managed to destroy all the Fajrs and signaling a strategic escalation on Hamas’s part. Israel, for its part, had hit over 200 targets in Gaza including terror hubs and arms caches.
On Thursday morning the Israeli air force dropped leaflets on Gaza warning civilians to stay out of the line of fire. That meant the war’s moral asymmetry was absolute, with one side doing its utmost to avoid civilian casualties and the other, Hamas and other Gaza terror groups like Islamic Jihad, launching hundreds of projectiles meant to kill, injure, and terrorize as many civilians as possible.
That did not, however, prevent Mohammed Kamel Amr—foreign minister of Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood regime, in power since July—from asking U.S. secretary of state Hillary Clinton for “immediate U.S. intervention to stop the Israeli aggression.” And the spokesman for Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood president, Mohamed Morsi, had still stronger words, saying Morsi had been “follow[ing] the Israeli brutal assault.”
As opposed to words, Egypt’s actions so far have been relatively mild. On Wednesday, immediately after the hostilities began, Egypt’s ambassador to Israel was recalled. On Thursday it was announced that Egypt’s prime minister Hesham Kandil—far less significant than Morsi—would be paying Gaza a solidarity visit on Friday.
In other words, despite the Muslim Brotherhood regime’s radical hostility to Israel, it is probably in no shape at this point to make more than symbolic gestures in Hamas’s defense, with Egypt not far from economic collapse and desperately dependent on U.S. aid. In other regards, too, the regional situation gives Israel a window for action, with both Syria and its Lebanon-based ally, Hizballah, enmeshed in trying to put down the Syrian rebellion.
After a day of aerial and tank fire at the Strip, it was reported by Thursday evening that Israel was calling up 30,000 reserve soldiers, making a ground invasion of the Strip likely. Israel’s goals probably do not include toppling Hamas, since Israel does not want to either reoccupy Gaza or install the Palestinian Authority there, but certainly do include regaining its deterrence by hitting Hamas hard, and restoring normal life to the people of southern Israel.
Although reactions from Washington and London have so far been supportive, it is hard to be optimistic that the West will keep backing Israel when Palestinian casualties start flashing across TV screens. It will be a shame, since one cannot imagine a more just war than one between, on the one hand, a country simply seeking to live in peace, and on the other, savage terror organizations trying to destroy it.
It’s to be hoped that, however much flak is flying Israel’s way, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Ehud Barak will stay the course.
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