A total of 16 other Israelis were reported wounded in the barrage of about 35 terrorist rockets. They suffered from light shrapnel wounds, or from smoke inhalation due to the fires ignited when some of the missiles struck. The terrorists launched the missile barrage in retaliation for an earlier Israeli airstike which killed five members of the Islamic Jihad cell which was responsible for the unprovoked launching of a missile attack against Israel last Wednesday. Among the five terrorists killed was senior Islamic Jihad commander Ahmed Sheikh Khalil, who was responsible for overseeing Islamic Jihad’s missile production operation in Gaza.
The Israeli military released video footage taken from a reconnaissance drone that showed the members of that cell unloading rockets from a truck and preparing them for firing. Ironically, the terrorists chose the site of the former Israeli settlement of Atzmona in Gaza, which is now being used as a terrorist training camp, for the attempted missile launching. An Israeli drone fired two missiles at the terrorists shortly afterward. The military also released a statement declaring, “we will not tolerate any attempt to harm Israeli civilians.”
The other targets of Israeli counterstrikes later Saturday included a terrorist planning a rocket strike, two rocket launching sites in northern Gaza, and yet another terrorist in southern Gaza, near Rafiach, trying to launch a rocket attack on Saturday night. All together, the Israeli air strikes killed 9 Islamic terrorists that day.
That night, Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu phoned the mayors of the cities hit by the rockets to reassure them that the army had struck the terrorist rocket squads responsible, and that “the military’s response will be even tougher if needed.”
BREAKING THE CEASE-FIRE
The initial terrorist rocket launched last Wednesday landed in an empty area in Ashdod causing no casualties or damage. However, the attack caused air raid sirens to be sounded as far away as Rishon LeZion and Rechovot, causing some panic among local residents.
That firing broke weeks of relative calm along the Israel-Gaza border and was the most serious outbreak of violence in the area in months. Analysts suggested that the initial rocket attack last week was an effort by Islamic Jihad to call attention to itself in the wake of Hamas’ recent success in negotiating the prisoner swap for Gilad Shalit. They say that Islamic Jihad is now in open competition with Hamas for the support of Gaza residents. However, the Israel military’s position is unchanged. It continues to hold Hamas ultimately responsible for any attacks coming from Gaza, which is still firmly under Hamas’ military control.
IRON DOME BATTERY WAS OUT OF ACTION
After the first Israeli airstrike on Shabbos, Islamic Jihad fired the rocket barrage at cities throughout southern Israel. One of the missiles was shot down by the Iron Dome system that was guarding Be’er Sheva, but the other major Israeli cities near the Mediterranean coast were left undefended.
Originally, the army said that the Iron Dome system had failed to protect those cities due to an undisclosed technical failure. Only later was it revealed that the second Iron Dome system had been moved by the army to various other cities around the country to test the suitability of other sites for the future deployment of additional Iron Dome systems which have been ordered. The army made that announcement only after the second system had been returned to the south to protect Ashdod and Ashkelon. However, by that time, the damage had already been done.
ISLAMIC JIHAD DOING IRAN’S BIDDING
Islamic Jihad claimed responsibility for firing the rockets, and released photos of the rockets being launched from a multi-rocket launcher mounted on a truck and firing several rockets in quick succession. Obviously, the added mobility and firepower of such weapons makes them much more difficult for the Israeli army to find and destroy.
Islamic Jihad has boasted that its capabilities have been improved due to recent infusions of large numbers of new weapons and cash from Iran. It warned that the barrage of rockets last Shabbos was just an “initial response” to the Israeli strike on its rocket cell. Islamic Jihad’s Syrian-based leader, Ramadan Abdullah, recently said at a conference in Iran calling for Israel’s destruction that the ultimate goal of Iran’s Islamic supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamanei’s is “the liberation of the occupied territories,” meaning all of Israel.
HAMAS INCENTIVES TO PRESERVE THE CEASE-FIRE
Hamas has, for the most part, observed the fragile cease-fire that ended Israel’s three-week invasion of Gaza in January 2009. The smaller Gaza terrorist groups, like Islamic Jihad and the Popular Resistance Committees, have not. But Hamas apparently understands that if the violence along the border gets too much out of control, the Israeli army is still capable of ending its rule over Gaza, if Israel were willing to pay the price.
Hamas has kept calm along the Gaza-Israeli border since August, apparently out of a desire to please the interim rulers of Egypt. The Egyptians were embarrassed by the August 18 attack which was launched from the Sinai Desert on vehicles travelling on the road to Eilat, by terrorists who had infiltrated Egypt from Gaza.
Hamas now has another reason to want to see calm restored along the Gaza border with Israel, at least in the short term. It doesn’t want anything to hold up the second stage of the prisoner swap deal for Gilad Shalit, in which Israel has promised to release 550 more Arab prisoners.
Hamas officials were apparently not surprised by Islamic Jihad’s renewal of attacks. Some believe the attacks were ordered by Islamic Jihad’s Iranian handlers. Some Israeli analysts believe that Hamas will now let Islamic Jihad retaliate for the killing of its leaders with more rockets, but only for a limited period of time, heeding the warning of Israeli leaders Netanyahu and Defense Minister Ehud Barak not to test their patience.
The terrorists in Gaza have yet to use their most dangerous weapons. The Grad rockets they have fired at southern Israeli cities so far have a maximum range of about 25 miles, enabling them to reach Be’er Sheva in the east and Gedera to the north. But Israeli analysts believe that there are also missiles hidden in Gaza with enough range to hit Tel Aviv and Herzliya. However, that might provoke a far stronger Israeli military response directed at Gaza than Hamas would be willing to absorb. Even using only their medium range Grad rockets, the terrorists in Gaza can now threaten about one million Israelis living in southern Israel.
Ashdod bore the brunt of the barrage of missile attacks on Shabbos. One of the longer range Grad missiles struck in the Gan Yavne area, causing light shrapnel wounds to the legs of a man who was caught out in the open while searching for his son. He then managed to return home under his own power, and was later taken to the hospital to treat his wounds.
The head of the Gan Yavneh local council, Dror Aharon, said that the injured man is the head of the parent’s committee at one of the community’s public schools. He added that, “we have been demanding protected areas for some time now. This kind of attack could easily repeat itself tomorrow.”
Another rocket slammed into a parking lot between two multi-story residential buildings in Ashdod, and injured one person. It set about a dozen vehicles on fire and left behind extensive wreckage. The flames were doused by Israel Fire and Rescue crews, who also broke into homes in nearby buildings to rescue residents.
Yigal Cooper, a resident of one of the Ashdod buildings, said that the whole city was in panic. “We knew there would be more explosions so we went into our protected spaces. The whole building shook and we panicked. We waited for several minutes before coming out, and then I saw that my car had burned.”
A school in Ashdod suffered massive damage from another missile strike, but nobody was hurt because the school was closed for Shabbos.
“Ashdod is under attack, without a doubt,” Mayor Yehiel Lari said.
In addition to the rocket which killed Ami Moshe, a second missile scored a direct hit on a home in Ashkelon, setting its gas canisters on fire.
As a precaution, local public school officials in Ashdod, Be’er Sheva, Gan Yavne and Kiryat Malachi cancelled classes for 200,000 children through Tuesday. Ben Gurion University in Be’er Sheva also called off classes. In addition, the army’s Home Front Command warned everyone living within 25 miles of Gaza not to stray too far from a bomb shelter in case of more rocket attacks. They have also issued a warning to members of the public not to become spectators at rocket impact zones, for fear that they could become victims of a follow-up terrorist attack at the same place. Civilians are urged to stay in their shelters for at least ten minutes after a rocket attack. Israeli police nationwide have also been put on the second highest level of alert.
After the violence peaked on Shabbos, Egypt entered the picture as a mediator to broker a new cease-fire. The first cease-fire announced Motzoei Shabbos failed when the terrorist tried to launch another missile at 3 pm Sunday, followed by the launching of short range Kassam rockets Sunday night. The Israeli army responded by striking one of the rocket launching cells reportedly belonging to the Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine, killing another terrorist Sunday evening.
Much the same thing happened on Monday, when the terrorists fired several missiles at Israel. The Iron Dome system intercepted one of two Grad rockets over Be’er Sheva, a rocket exploded in an empty area south of Ashkelon, while one landed in Sderot and another landed outside the city. No further Israeli casualties were reported.
A terrorist cell that was preparing a rocket for launch Monday was struck successfully by Israeli aircraft, thwarting the attack, killing one of the terrorists and seriously wounding another.
The Israeli army expects the rocket attacks to wind down, but if they do not, the army has drafted plans for an escalated campaign of retaliation against terrorist leaders and other more crucial terrorist targets than those which have been hit so far.
ISRAELI POLITICAL REACTION
Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman said that the latest flurry of rocket attacks from Gaza justifies Israel’s demand that its security needs must be met in any final-status agreement with the Palestinians. “Just today we have seen why this is necessary. We are not seeking to fight with the Palestinians and we do not want to ‘heat up’ the situation, but we won’t continue to suffer one rocket barrage after another without a suitable response,” he said.
Opposition leader Kadima party chairman Tzipi Livni paid a visit to Gan Yavne and declared, “I will support any action the government chooses in order to stop the attacks. Residents of the South bravely deal with constant attacks, and we will all try to support them.” She said that the best way for Israel to weaken the terrorists was by reopening peace negotiations with Palestinian moderates.
Likud MK Tzipi Hotovely said that in the wake of the Shalit prisoner swap deal, Israel needs to restore its deterrence and “make the residents of the towns surrounding Gaza, and all of Israel’s citizens, feel safe again.”
MK Arye Eldad (National Union) said that it was now time to target the heads of the terrorist organizations because, “the excuse that Schalit will be hurt can no longer disguise the disgrace of our capitulation. Now Israel must stop reacting and start preventing.”
ABBAS CRITICIZED FOR HIS SILENCE
Meanwhile, Ron Prosor, Israel’s ambassador to the UN, blasted PA Chairman Mahmous Abbas for failing to condemn the latest rocket attacks from Gaza. He closely echoed a statement made by Foreign Minister Lieberman last week that Abbas is an “obstacle that should be removed immediately. If he were to return the keys and resign, it would not be a threat, but a blessing.”
In his letter to the UN Secretary General and the Security Council, he wrote, “With the roar of rockets echoing from Gaza, silence from the Palestinian Authority is unacceptable. Israel is still waiting to hear President Abbas clearly condemn Hamas for the terror that continues to flow from Gaza.
“The rockets that continue to fly out of the area illustrate a basic truth: the Palestinian Authority has absolutely zero authority in the Gaza Strip. While President Abbas continues his unilateral march for state recognition at the United Nations, the Palestinians are far from meeting the basic criteria for statehood, particularly the test of effective control [over their territory],” Prosor pointed out.
He also noted that “the terrorist rockets in Gaza are traveling further — and their warheads are getting larger [as] a direct result of the continuous smuggling of advanced weapons from Iran and others into Gaza.”
He added that while Israel has accepted the Quartet proposal to restart peace negotiations immediately, without preconditions, it is still “waiting for the Palestinians to do the same.”
Meanwhile, the Palestinian effort to win recognition by applying to the Security Council for membership in the UN appears to have failed. Its latest move, gaining entry to UNESCO, is likely to backfire diplomatically when the international community realizes that it will cost UNESCO its current US funding for its humanitarian programs.
This summer’s worries about a diplomatic catastrophe for Israel at the UN have largely evaporated. The hardball Palestinian tactics at the UN have squandered much of the diplomatic good will that it has worked so hard to build up.
ISRAEL WARNS THAT TIME IS RUNNING OUT TO STOP IRAN
Assuming that the missile attacks from Gaza will soon wind down, the next major issue facing Israel’s leaders will be another evaluation of the growing threat from Iran.
Reportedly, the US is afraid that if the latest report of UN monitors on the Iranian nuclear program is published, it will give Israel new reason to launch an immediate pre-emptive strike to prevent it from achieving nuclear weapons capability. On Monday, Netanyahu told the Knesset once again that a nuclear armed Iran would be a serious threat to the entire world, and not just Israel.
At the same time, Israeli diplomats in Western countries have been issuing warnings that the window of opportunity for stopping the Iranian nuclear program using sanctions is fast closing, meaning that a military strike will soon be the only option available.
In order to deter Israel from that course of action, the US is pressing Russia and China to agree to harsher Security Council sanctions against Iran, while warning that Israel may now have the military capability to carry out such an attack.
ISRAEL BUILDING ITS NUCLEAR ARSENAL
According to a report published in the British Guardian, the Israeli military has been working to improve the capabilities of its nuclear arsenal by extending the range of its Jericho 3 ballistic missiles and its submarine launched cruise missiles. Israel has 3 missile launching submarines and two more under construction in Germany. The submarines give Israel what is called a “second strike option,” meaning that Israel can always launch a devastating retaliation against an enemy, even after it has been attacked first, no matter how damaging that attack may have been.
However, the Iranians seem determined to maintain a course of action which would soon make a military confrontation with Israel unavoidable.