Monday, March 12, 2012

The Distractions From Gaza

Rocket Launch From Gaza

Benjamin Netanyahu
Benjamin Netanyahu says his military is prepared to "broaden operations" if Palestinians continue to fire rockets from Gaza.

As violence between Gaza militants and Israel continue for the fourth day, Israel's military "is ready to broaden its operations and will continue to act as necessary," Netanyahu said today, without elaborating.

The current violence erupted Friday, when Israel killed the leader of a Palestinian militant group in an airstrike. Gaza militants have since fired more than 200 rockets at cities in southern Israel, where 1 million Israelis live, disrupting life there.
Gen. Yoav Mordechai

Chief military spokesman Brig. Gen. Yoav Mordechai said Israel would halt its raids if the rocket fire stopped, but added that the Israeli military would continue to take pre-emptive action to foil militant attack plans.

Israel launched Friday's initial airstrike to stop a militant group's plan to infiltrate into Israel through Egypt's Sinai peninsula. In the past, similar flare-ups have died out by themselves or with informal cease-fires negotiated by third parties, often Egypt.

In this case too, Egypt has been trying to mediate an end to the clashes, and Hamas has also appealed to other Mideast countries to join the truce attempts. But by Monday afternoon, there was no sign of progress.

Israeli aircraft swooped down on Gaza 11 times by midday, striking what the military said were rocket-launching sites and a weapons storage facility. Two militants, a 16-year-old high school student, and a 65-year-old man and his 30-year-old daughter were killed in four separate raids, Gaza health official Adham Abu Salmia said.

One of the militants was killed while riding a motorcycle. The teenager died while walking to school, and the father and daughter were killed when a missile struck right outside their home, witnesses said.

A senior IDF intelligence officer said that Monday's rocket fire escalation is part of Islamic Jihad's attempt to end the current round of fighting with a success.
Mahmoud Zahar

Hamas leader Mahmoud Zahar said while a truce is likely soon, the timing depends on Israel.

"I expect matters will calm down," Zahar said in Cairo. "The statements coming from them (Israel) either in public or via mediators, especially Egypt, say that they do not want escalation."

Asked how long it would take, Zahar said he did not know but it would depend on Israel, which he blamed for setting off the latest round of violence by killing Palestinian leaders on Friday.

Zahar's comments came as representatives from Islamic Jihad and the Popular Resistance Committees (PRC) said that they oppose signing a ceasefire with Israel, "We will not agree on a ceasefire stipulated by Israel, neither do we accept a ceasefire while the lives of our people are taken without restraint, an Islamic jihad official was quoted as saying.

A senior IDF intelligence officer said that Islamic Jihad was currently focused on "saving face" and creating a "victory image" with which it will be able to claim that it defeated the IDF.

In reality though, the Islamic Jihad has suffered heavy losses throughout the four days of fighting including close to 20 dead operatives as well as extensive damage to its terrorist infrastructure.

According to the officer, Hamas was mostly "sitting on the sidelines" and was not actively participating in the rocket attacks against Israel. On the other hand, Hamas, the officer said, was also not working to prevent the rocket fire.
"It is possible for this round to end soon if Hamas and the Egyptians step up their involvement in influencing Islamic Jihad," the officer said.

According to the IDF, over 200 rockets have been fired into Israel since Friday including 50 with ranges of over 29 kilometers. On Monday, a rocket landed near Gedera, the farthest north a projectile was fired since the beginning of hostilities on Friday. The officer said that some of the rockets fired into Israel were manufactured domestically in the Gaza Strip.
Gen. Doron Gavish

The vast majority of the rockets shot at Israeli cities were intercepted," said Brig. Gen. Doron Gavish, commander of the defense unit that includes Iron Dome. "This is a new era in military history, there is an effective defense against rockets."

Although military officials are quick to note that Iron Dome will not offer hermetic protection, its success rate raised hopes the military has found a way to rob militants of their most potent weapon — primitive, short-range rockets that have made life miserable for hundreds of thousands of Israelis by eluding their high-tech military for years.

Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman warned Monday that the continued fire from Gaza "buries any chance of a territorial link between Gaza and the West Bank." The Palestinians want both areas, which lie on opposite sides of Israel, for a future state, along with Israeli-occupied east Jerusalem.

Gaza and the West Bank are today ruled by dueling governments. Hamas is internationally shunned because of its refusal to renounce violence against Israel, and Israel's peace talks with the West Bank government of Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas stalled years ago.
Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman

Although the current fighting shows no signs of subsiding soon, both Hamas and Israel seem eager to avoid the kind of all-out war they waged three years ago.

As it has done since that conflict, Hamas has stayed out of the current clashes for fear of provoking a harsh Israeli retaliation. But that has not stopped other, smaller Gaza factions from attacking Israel, and Israel continues to hold Hamas ultimately responsible for any violence emanating from Gaza.

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