Thursday, Sep 16, 2021

Southern Israel under Siege

Just before last Shabbos, minutes before 5:00 p.m. (Israel time), Israeli warplanes rocketed the car of two members of the Popular Resistance Committee (PRC) terror organization in the Gaza Strip. This same organization kidnapped Gilad Shalit in June 2006. The two targets were the head and political commander of the organization, Zuhair Al-Quaisi, and senior PRC member Ahmad Hanani. Al-Quaisi is the third consecutive PRC leader killed by the IDF in the past few years. Contrary to earlier reports, he was not one of the terrorists freed in the Gilad Shalit prisoner swap. The assassination was a pre-emptive strike to stop a terror attack planned in Sinai during the coming days. This is only one of numerous targeted air strikes Israel has conducted against top terrorist leaders of Hamas, Islamic Jihad, the PRC, and other Global Jihad affiliated terrorists in past years, which Israel's Supreme Court has ruled are a legitimate form of self-defense.

THE POPULAR RESISTANCE COMMITTEE

 

Born in 1963, Al-Quaisi, who, like many terrorists, looked more like a benevolent Moslem cleric than a bloodthirsty murderer, was among the leaders who planned, funded, and directed the combined terror attack  on Route 12 on August 2011. At the time, eight Israelis were murdered and 40 injured when four squads of terrorists ambushed a bus on its way to Eilat, bombed another bus, fired an anti-tank missile at a car, and killed two IDF personnel. In retaliation, Israel killed five members of the PRC, including its leader, leading to an escalation of 135 missile and mortar attacks that month. 

 

The IDF claims that the PRC was again planning a terror attack on the Route 12 highway that runs from southern Israel to Eilat. Part of its route passes close to the Egyptian border, making it vulnerable to cross border raids. Thus far, an Israel-Egypt barrier to protect traffic on the road is only ten percent completed.

 

Al-Quaisi was also involved in rocket fire at Israel, and in the attack on the Nachal Oz fuel terminal that supplies Gaza with most of its fuel in April 2008, when terrorists fired a salvo of mortars at the terminal and killed two Israelis.

 

Ever since its founding in September 2,000, the PRC has acted as a subcontractor for Iranian elements in Lebanon and the Hezbollah, carrying out terror attacks against Israelis in return for funds. The PRC also raises funds by running many of the smuggling tunnels at the Egyptian border. When Hamas talks peace out one side of its mouth, its proxies, such as the PRC, continue to kill Jews.

 

“The PRC is funded and supported directly by Hamas, the terror organization controlling Gaza,” the IDF says. “By allowing the PRC to operate as an ostensibly independent proxy, Hamas is able to carry out terror attacks against Israelis while maintaining an official stance of ‘restraint.'”

 

PRC spokesman, Abu Mujahid, admitted as much this week in a TV interview.

 

“What I can say is that the government in Gaza didn’t prevent us from doing a thing with regard to our resistance activity,” he said. “No one can prevent this activity. That’s one point. The other point is that the government in Gaza truly didn’t prevent us from responding to this aggression [of Israel’s assassinations].”

 

Now that Israel had taken action, the PRC swore to take vengeance for the death of their leader.

 

“We call on our fighters to respond to the Israeli aggression with all their might…,” the organization announced. “The elimination of our commanders and fighters will only strengthen us to continue fighting.”

 

ROCKET AND MORTAR ATTACKS

 

Gaza terrorists immediately intensified their tried and true weapon of aggression against Israel — rockets and mortars. Since the 2005 withdrawal, Israel has been pounded by over 4,000 of them. In pre-emptive air attacks, Israel struck two terror cells about to launch rockets into Israel.

 

“The IDF is not interested in escalation but is ready to defend Israeli citizens and to respond forcefully and decisively against any attempt to carry out terrorist activity,” an IDF spokesperson said. “Hamas, which takes advantage of the other terrorist organizations to perpetrate terrorist attacks against Israel, will be responsible for future action which the IDF chooses to take to remove the threat of terrorism and restore relative calm to the area.”

 

At first, families in the midst of their Shabbos seudos did not understand what was going on as missiles began raining down.

 

“We were surprised this past Shabbat by this entire incident,” Ephraim Weber of Ashdod told Arutz Sheva. “It happened in the middle of Shabbat dinner and nobody was updated. It’s an entire city, with lots of people, and we should at least be warned in advance that there could be a period of uncertainty. It was a real surprise that fell upon us on Shabbat. I don’t remember such a Shabbat.”

 

“Shabbos was difficult,” said Mrs. Sheindy G. of the Pittsburger Rebbe’s kehillah in Ashdod. “First of all, the attack came by surprise. We were told nothing in advance. Suddenly there was a siren just before Shabbos. But we’re already used to it from the past. The children know where to run and we know what to do. The children know that if they’re outside they have to go into a building and go up one floor to avoid shrapnel. On Shabbos morning people woke us up to daven as usual in shul. My husband told me they are already used to it. Everyone knows where to go if there are any alarms.”

 

Israel retaliated by targeting weapon storage and production sites, and rocketing terrorists about to launch rocket attacks. Despite the IAF’s efforts, by Motzoei Shabbos, seven Israelis were lightly or moderately wounded, and one foreign worker was seriously injured. By Sunday, Hamas was calling for an Egypt mediated ceasefire even as terrorist missiles continued to rain down upon Israel.

 

The rav of Be’ersheva, Rav Yehuda Deri, said that many people had asked him if they should leave the town.

 

“I tell them that whoever wants can leave,” he said. “But to explicitly tell people to leave I won’t do. People can stay in town and obey the instructions of the civil defense. If Hashem guards not the town, in vain does the guard awake.

 

Rav Chaim Kanievski instructed people who asked him that anyone not present in the shelled areas should not return to them in the meantime. Rav Aharon Leib Steinman also told an avreich from Ofakim not to return home from Bnei Berak saying, “The attack is dangerous and you should remain until the danger passes.” In the Gerer beis midrash in Yerushalayim, it was announced that bochurim from yeshivos in Arad, Rishon Letzion, and Ashdod who had come in for Purim, should remain with relatives in Yerushalayim until the situation improved. Belzer talmidim also remained in Yerushalayim.

 

On the other hand, in the middle of Havdollah after reciting the words, Hinei Keil yeshu’osi, the Slonimer Rebber paused and announced, “All our people from Ashdod, and in general, all the Charedim from Ashdod, should go home to Ashdod in peace and should not be afraid at all.” Needless, to say, everyone returned.  

 

By Monday, 76 hours since the battle started, terrorists had fired 190 rockets from the Gaza Strip, aiming for major cities of southern Israel including Ashdod (population 206,000), Beer Sheva (population 194,000), and Ashkelon (population 113,000). Over a million Israelis were under siege. Israel’s Iron Dome protective system intercepted 52 rockets heading for densely populated areas. On Motzo’ei Shabbos, the police had placed the force on Level 3 alert, only one notch below the top level reserved from national emergencies. School was called off in southern towns and gatherings of over five hundred people were forbidden.

 

For a while, learning in yeshivos continued.

 

“Every time there is a slack in learning Torah, the security situation worsens and missiles fall,” said Rav Dov Karlinstein, Rosh Yeshiva of Grodno Yeshiva in Ashdod. “This happened during Chanuka, during bein hazemanim, and also now after Purim. Yeshiva bochurim must persevere and learn with hasmoda, and through this the decree will be annulled.”

 

U.S. Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton, condemned the terrorist rocket fire and said that Israel has the right to defend itself, while the European Union remained firmly on the fence, supporting neither side.

 

“The EU is following with concern the recent escalation of violence in Gaza and in the south of Israel,” Catherine Ashton, the High Representative of the European Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy said. “I very much deplore the loss of civilian life. It is essential to avoid further escalation and I urge all sides to reestablish calm.”

 

Israel’s Deputy Ambassador to the United Nations, Chaim Waxman, sent a formal complaint on Sunday to UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon and the Security Council, demanding their condemnation of Gaza’s rocket attacks.

 

“The constant firing dramatically affects the daily lives of more than one million Israeli citizens,” he wrote. “Many people have suffered from shock and tens of thousands of children remained at home so we can ensure their safety. Israel’s citizens are living under threat and danger.”

 

But no one was holding their breath for a reply. At the end of February, Israel’s ambassador to the UN, Ron Proser, already sent a similar letter after a spate of rocket attacks that was laconic in its despair: ““How long will you continue to be silent? Ten days, ten rockets, and not one condemnation.”

 

At the same time, the Palestinian Authority was calling on the UN to condemn Israel for its “violence, terror… [and] crimes against the Palestinian people.” 

 

THE IRON DOME SYSTEM

 

A new development in this latest Israel-Gaza conflict was the extreme effectiveness of Israel’s $210 million Iron Dome defensive system developed to intercept rockets fired from distances of three to forty miles. This was deemed essential after the Second Lebanon War of 2006 when 44 Israelis died from massive rocket barrages, 250,000 people fled to other parts of Israel, and a million were confined in or near shelters. In addition, something was needed to protect the nearly one million Israelis living within rocket range of Gaza. The Iron Dome system was declared operational in March 2011 and it proved its worth in this week’s missile war.

 

The Iron Dome system works by detecting terrorist projectiles with radar and downing them with Tamir missiles, each one carrying a price tag of about 200,000 shekels (a little over $50,000), leading critics to charge that this is too high a cost to down Qassam rockets that cost as little as $800 apiece. Israel plans to deploy a fourth battery of Iron Dome missiles in coming weeks, and defense officials say it will require at least thirteen to provide effective protection from the Gaza Strip and Lebanon.

 

Defense Minister Ehud Barak said that the effectiveness of the Iron Dome in this week’s hostilities proved it should be a national emergency project.

 

“We must ensure that the system will be deployed in the shortest time period possible in order to provide all of the state’s citizens worthy protection against the threat of rockets and missiles, in the North as well as in the South,” he said on Sunday. “The great success of the Iron Dome in intercepting rockets fired at Israeli cities in the last two days contributes to the security of Israel’s citizens and to the freedom of the leadership to act to create deterrence.”

 

In addition to Iron Dome, the IDF is also laying the groundwork for the Magic Wand system intended to intercept missiles aimed at central Israel. Each of these two stage rockets with targeting and guidance systems in their nose tips will cost up to a million dollars. A third system, Arrow 3, will be designed to intercept nuclear missiles coming in from outer space. This third tier of Israel’s anti-missile defense is expected to be completed by 2014.

 

By the end of this week’s fighting, the Iron Dome system intercepted and destroyed ninety percent of missiles headed for densely populated areas.  

 

“We have been staying here for the past few days, trying to keep you safe day and night,” soldiers operating one of batteries said in a widely publicized video. “We have worked intensively this past weekend, but we did it out of loyalty and responsibility…
We will do anything possible to keep southern citizens safe and our country safe from this attack.”

 

However, like millions of others, Minister of Justice, Yaakov Neeman acknowledged that help came from another source.

 

“It is not called Iron Dome (Kipat Barzel) for nothing,” he said. “I told the Defense Minister it is a kipah serugah. It is our kipah. Hashem protects us when we are united and help each other.”  

 

Even the Iron Dome was not foolproof. On Sunday afternoon, two Grad rockets slammed into Beer Sheva. One of them hit a Chareidi school, which was empty thanks to all its students staying home. Another wrecked a parked car in a residential neighborhood,as rocket explosions and ball bearings shot out for hundreds of yards causing extensive damage. Yet another rocket hit a chicken coop in the Carmia settlement near Ashkelon causing extensive damage.

 

“Unfortunately, the incident in Be’er Sheva happened because of a technical failure in one of the system’s components,” Col. Tzvika Haimovich, head of the IDF’s active aerial defense system told the Haaretz newspaper. “It happened exactly when a rocket was in the air. We are doing everything to make sure there are no failures… but it would be irresponsible and unprofessional of me to say there is a hundred percent protection.”

 

“We saw the hand of Hashem,” Rav Yehuda Deri, said regarding the school explosion. “There was uncertainty whether learning would take place and this is a result of Hashem’s guidance. I don’t want to imagine what would have happened if there had been classes. We felt the hand of Hashem that guided those who had to make the decisions.”

 

On Monday, two rockets fell near Gedera, only twenty-five miles from Tel Aviv, and on that same afternoon, a Grad rocket not intercepted by the Iron Dome system plunged into the Reva Dalet neighborhood of Ashdod damaging several homes. Two people were injured from flying shards of glass. One of them, an elderly woman was evacuated to the Kaplan Medical Center in Rechovot. Eight other people were treated for shock.

 

Shattered windows, damaged building facades, and a wrecked, distorted car, made it obvious that the absence of greater human casualties was an absolute miracle.

 

A LONG-SUFFERING POPULACE

 

The main suffering undergone by Israel’s populace was psychological. Citizens needed to rush for shelter whenever alarms sounded. The IDF issued an order that all schools located between 4.2 and 24 miles from the Gaza border should remain closed. This applied to the towns of Ashkelon, Ashdod, Beer Sheva, Netivot, Sderot, Kiryat Malachi, Gedera, Rahat, Yavne, Lakiya and to the Gan Yavne Regional Council. Ironically, schools within 4.2 miles remained open because they were fortified during earlier times when terrorists concentrated on towns near the border. Nowadays the terrorist arsenal includes mortars that reach 6 miles into Israel, Qassam rockets (11 miles), Katushya Grad rockets (12.6 miles), and the upgraded Grad rocket that can reach 30 miles into Israel carrying a warhead of 100 pounds. In March last year, one of these rockets hit the southern tip of Rishon Letziyon, one of the satellite towns of Tel Aviv. 

 

By Monday, people were frustrated and anxious.

 

“It’s been a very difficult week,” Ronen Fahima, the owner of a sushi bar in Ashdod told Arutz Sheva.

 

“It’s been a week in which people are suffering from anxiety in Ashdod and barely leave their homes,” he said. “Our business has been hurt pretty badly. I hope that the government will compensate us for all the aggravation and what has been caused to our business. On a regular day, the place is lovely. It’s right across from the beach. On a nice day like today, people usually sit in the coffeehouses, they go out of their homes, they have fun. Our Purim holiday was cut short… I call on the prime minister to turn to the government to compensate all the businesses that are being hurt because of this security issue. They’re not taking care of us properly.”

 

In the course of describing everyday life under the missile barrage, Mrs. Sheindy G. of the Pittsburger Rebbe’s kehilla in Ashdod said that difficult as the situation was, it was much better than the most recent Israel-Gaza conflict last August.

 

Boruch Hashem, I live on the first floor which is much easier,” she said. “I only need to run some place in the apartment without windows or outer walls; we go into the passage and close all the doors leading into it. People on the fourth floor need to take all their children down to the second floor, which is an absolute misery. Many people have special security rooms with thick concrete walls and roof. This costs about 70,000 shekels (about $18,000). Right next to us, we have a neighbor putting one up.”

 

“There are about seven sirens a day,” she added. “The main disturbance is to routine; there’s no schedule at all. The shops aren’t functioning, the banks and post office are shut, all the kids are at home the whole day. They go a bit crazy; it’s not easy. Yesterday I took them out for a short while close to the building. Then there was a siren and we ran back inside. The streets are empty, basically, I’m not going out. Yesterday, my husband went to one of the shopping centers, he kept close to buildings so that if there was a siren he could get inside. It’s a bit frightening to go outside; it’s much easier to stay at home.

 

“There’s nothing, not even yeshiva. Today they told the yeshiva to come back but in the end, they told everyone to go home. Kollelim continue as usual. Whenever there’s a siren the avreichim run to shelter from the third floor and then back up again; they’re getting plenty of exercise. 

 

“All the children are home. If parents are under stress, children are also stressed. We’ve told ourselves to keep calm. We don’t run to where we take shelter. We walk. There is time. If we’re calm I see much more cooperation than in previous times when the kids were in trauma and couldn’t function afterwards. One child in particular couldn’t get back to himself. We try to make jokes, like klopping Haman in the middle. Now it’s much easier.”

 

Mrs. Sheindy G. described the difference between this attack and the previous missile attacks in August.

 

“Because of the Iron Dome it’s less frightening than the earlier time in Tishrei (August),” she said. “At that time, most missiles fell very near us. Now even though there are many missiles, they almost never fall down. Last time there would be a siren, an explosion, and ambulances immediately afterwards. Now when you hear a siren, you hear the Iron Dome missile in the sky sounding like a jet plane zooming above, and then you hear the [aerial] explosion.”

 

CEASE FIRE

 

Ironically, as all this went on, Israel continued to allow supplies to enter Gaza even when its delivery vehicles were being attacked. On Monday morning, Palestinian terrorists fired three mortars on the Palestinian side of the Kerem Shalom crossing, striking a truck and a van on their way to deliver goods to Gaza. Activity at the crossing stopped for only a few minutes. On Sunday, as Israel was being pounded by terrorist fire, over 180 truckloads of goods were transported from Israel to Gaza.

 

“The IDF will continue to act in order to prevent terrorist attacks from the Gaza Strip,” an IDF spokesman said. “At the same time, the Israel Defense Forces will continue to distinguish between the terrorist organizations and the civilian population.”

 

The IDF vowed that if the escalation reached a critical peak, Israel was ready for a ground incursion into Gaza.

 

“The IDF is prepared for any development, including a situation where we are forced to launch a ground operation,” an army spokesman said. “We have everything we need and are ready to step it up if needed. There are many measures that we haven’t employed yet.”

 

But  Monday night, Israel and Hamas reached a cease-fire agreement set to begin at 1:00 a.m. local time. The periodic flare-ups between Israel and Gaza generally last less than a week and this was no exception. The Islamic Jihad falsely boasted that Israel agreed to cease its pre-emptive assassinations. This was denied by Israeli Chief of Staff, Benny Gantz, who said on Tuesday morning that there will be “quiet for quiet and fire against fire,” and warned that the IDF will take swift action against the threat of any terrorist attacks.

 

The four day round of violence claimed eight injured Israelis. Gaza’s 1.7 million population suffered twenty-seven Palestinian dead, including three civilians, and at least 80 wounded.

 

Despite the agreement, terrorists fired a mortar shell and Qassam rocket into southern Israel on Tuesday morning, followed by another mortar at noon. In Ashdod, Rav Dov Tzvi Karlinstein, was interrupted by a siren in the middle of delivering a mussar shmuess and he and his talmidim were forced to flee a secure area.

 

Nonetheless, the cease-fire has held. Neither Israel nor Hamas is enthusiastic for a repeat of Israel’s 2008-2009 Cast Lead attack on Gaza that led to the death of 13 Israelis and 1,400 Palestinians.

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