Israel-Hamas tensions build as rockets target Tel-Aviv
As I started to write this week’s post, tensions were rising to a boiling point between Israel and Hamas. Hamas broke a de facto cease fire by increasing the number of rockets into southern Israel. Israel responded with targeted strikes at Hamas leadership, with the usual claims of collateral damage by Hamas. Then came the finding of the bodies of the three Israeli teenagers (including one from the United States). Israel laid the blame at the feet of Hamas and struck again with twelve reportedly killed. Tensions were very high in the border areas as the nation mourned the finding of the bodies of three apparently innocent religious students who had been kidnapped while taking a walk. Then one Arab youth was killed and another apparently beaten, while being taken into custody-also an American. Hamas increased the number of rockets fired at Israel and Israel called-up a few hundred reservists out of an announced fifteen hundred. Then today Hamas crossed a long standing red line and targeted Tel Aviv with the rockets. Israel announced that they intercepted the rockets but attacking their major population center is something Israel knows they have to prevent. BBC today reported that some rockets targeted Jerusalem but this has not been confirmed as of this writing. There is no way to overstate the effect of these new targetings. While calling for calmer heads, the United States affirmed Israel’s right to defend itself “against these vicious attacks.” Israel immediately authorized the calling up of forty thousand reservists and massed tanks near the Gaza border. An invasion of Gaza is not out of the question. Meanwhile this past week Avigdor Lieberman, Foreign Minster of Yisrael Beiteinu party threatened to withdraw from the coalition government because of what they felt was an insufficient response to Gaza. This was followed by the call-up of the first fifteen hundred reservists. I doubt that the two events were unrelated. And events since have only added to the pressure on Netanyahu to take firm action.
There is little doubt as to Israel’s military superiority over Hamas and readers should remember: 1) that Israel occupied Gaza previously in responses to the intifada and withdrew under pressure from the world community, and 2) that the right-wing in Israel argued against withdrawal, claiming that to do so would merely give Hamas terrorists an increased opportunity to strike again at Israel, and launching points closer to Israel for their then short-range rockets. Hamas gave them fuel for their arguments by confirming their fears. Most of the rockets had fallen on unpopulated areas, and Israel showed restraint in responding with targeted and limited retaliation. As time went on, the sophistication of the rockets, supplied by Iran, increased the possible targeting area, though they were still unreliable as to hitting their targets. Hamas, in one of their earlier escalations targeted Beersheba, a highly populated city in the Negev and Israel’s response was immediate and strong. Sending rockets to Tel Aviv is a quantum leap in the escalatory ladder. And the call-up of so many reserves makes an invasion of Gaza possible, if not likely.
A fallout of the present tensions is the further delaying of the planned elections by the Palestinians, considered by many to be a necessary precursor to additional peace talks, at least meaningful ones. Which side between the Palestinian Authority and Hamas will benefit from an escalation in warfare and its consequences will be widely debated. A “rally around the flag” phenomenon seems the most likely depending on how much damage to Gaza and Hamas occurs. At least in the short-run.