With more than 200 rockets launched at Israel since Friday, the IDF on Monday warned they would be willing to intensify their response to the attacks if necessary. CNN reported early Tuesday that an Egyptian official claimed a ceasefire had been reached, although neither Israel nor the attacking Palestinians had confirmed the reports as of early Tuesday morning in the region. Egypt has been trying to mediate a truce.
In the past, ceasefires have often started and stopped prior to an actual calm taking hold. As of Monday evening Israel time, the IDF had already struck from the air at 30 different terror-linked targets in response to Gaza terror, but has been holding back from their full capacity.
“We are ready to go into a larger extent if needed,” IDF spokeswoman Lt. Col. Avital Leibovich told The Mideast Update by phone.
“The one thing we see in front of us is the Israelis’ right to be defended. This is our number-one concern… We’re not seeking for further escalation, but if the Israeli homefront—one million Israelis—will still be under fire, then we will have to act in a more harsh manner.” She did not specify or explicitly deny if a ground operation was an option.
Israel launched a significant ground incursion in late 2008, known as Operation Cast Lead, which led to a dramatic reduction in Gaza rocket attacks. However, this weekend’s onslaught has shattered the quasi-calm, far exceeding the 56 launchings for all of 2012 prior to the escalation and roughly one-third of the attacks for all of 2011.
Contrasting the number of launchings in the past three days versus the previous two-and-a-half months, Leibovich said of the weekend’s attacks, “It’s a very large number.”
In addition to the escalation in numbers, rockets have also been fired relatively deep into Israel’s south, even reaching 40 kilometers towards the coastal city of Gadera. That’s around two-thirds of the distance from Gaza to the Israeli mega-city of Tel Aviv and marks an increase in both deadliness-potential and the number of civilians at-risk.
Leibovich said one rocket on Tuesday wounded an elderly woman in Ashdod, while the IDF Blog said three Israelis were wounded on the day overall.
However, the Iron Dome missile defense system has also been very active, intercepting more than 50 rockets since Friday. Leibovich said it has a 90 percent success rate. She noted the Iron Dome only activates to target rockets estimated to “hit populated areas.”
In addition to the missile defense system, Israel also has closed down schools in the south due to the rocket attacks. Leibovich noted that Tuesday will be the third consecutive day for the schools to be closed.
The Islamic Jihad terror group has been behind most of the rocket fire, according to Leibovich, although the Popular Resistance Committee has also been involved some. The head of the PRC was killed in an Israeli airstrike on Friday in a preemptive move seeking to foil an upcoming terror attack via the Israel-Egypt border.
That jumpstarted the latest increase in violence, although Leibovich challenged the notion that Israel started the escalation, saying that characterization is “not completely accurate.” She pointed out the more than 600 rockets fired in 2011 and the dozens this year prior to Friday, saying, “The attacks from Gaza are ongoing for the past year-and-a-half, and this is why it’s not an isolated action that we are taking here in Gaza.”
On Monday, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was quoted by his office as accusing Iran of backing and financing terror in Gaza. “These terrorist attacks, by Islamic Jihad for example, underscore the magnitude of the danger that would be created if—Heaven forbid—a nuclear Iran would stand behind them,” he said.
While Islamic Jihad and the PRC have been some of the most visible antagonists towards Israel, Leibovich said they still hold the Gaza-ruling Hamas faction responsible. “We still hold Hamas accountable for any kind of fire towards Israel from Gaza.”
The IDF Blog said Hamas has allowed the PRC to act, virtually making them a terror-proxy. The IDF posted a Youtube link of a PRC member telling Hamas’ Al-Aqsa TV in a broadcast aired on Saturday that Hamas doesn’t prevent them from striking at Israel.
(By Joshua Spurlock, www.themideastupdate.com, March 12, 2012)