Israel Considers Wider Military Operation in Gaza as Violence Enters Third Day

Building in Netivot, Israel damaged by rocket (Photo credit: IDF Spokesman)

A short overnight lull in violence was shattered Monday morning when a Grad rocket launched from Gaza and landed in the yard of a store in Netivot in southern Israel. The building was damaged, and some two dozen people were treated for shock, but there were no physical injuries reported, according to the Times of Israel.

Since Saturday night, according to the IDF (Israeli Defense Force), more than 100 rockets have been fired at southern Israeli communities by the various terrorist networks in Gaza.

In response to Sunday’s attacks, the IDF says its forces struck three Gaza targets overnight between Sunday and Monday including a terrorist smuggling tunnel, a weapons factory and a rocket launching site.

Despite earlier reports of an Egyptian-moderated truce, the continued shooting serves Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu with a dilemma just two months before he faces elections: should he launch a broad military operation to eliminate – or at least reduce – the terrorist threat in Gaza? It’s not only Hamas that poses the security challenge for Israel, it’s also Islamic Jihad, the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, the Popular Resistance Committees and Salafi terrorists who appear to be gunning for a military confrontation.

Netanyahu plans to meet Monday with foreign ambassadors serving in Israel in an effort to prepare international public opinion for the possibility Israel will launch a wide-ranging operation on Gaza.

Likud Member of Knesset Ophir Akunis tells Israel Radio he estimates a wide Israeli military operation to reduce the terrorist threat in Gaza is just a matter of time.

Labor Party Member of Knesset Binyamin Ben Eliezer tells Israel Radio that Israel must earn back its deterrent capability by carrying out a harsh response that will make clear to Hamas once and for all that Israel sees the Islamist group as the party responsible for reigning in the rocket fire. “Enough of the hudnas [in Arabic: temporary truces],” Ben Eliezer said.

Netanyahu said at his weekly cabinet meeting on Sunday:

…the IDF is operating, and will operate, aggressively against the terrorist organizations in the Gaza Strip, which are taking heavy blows from the IDF. The world needs to understand that Israel will not sit idly by in the face of attempts to attack us. We are prepared to intensify the response. At the same time we are closely monitoring what is happening on our border with Syria and there we are also ready for any development.

Defense Minister Ehud Barak also said Israel wouldn’t hesitate to reenter Gaza: “If we are forced to go back into Gaza in order to deal Hamas a [serious] blow and restore security for all of Israel’s citizens, then we will not hesitate to do so.”

Vice Prime Minister Moshe Ya’alon told Israel’s Army Radio he supports a resumption of targeted killing operations of terrorist leaders.

The Israeli newspaper Haaretz also believes assassinations of terrorist leaders will resume. In an analysis piece, its reporters Amos Harel and Avi Issacharoff suggest that Egypt under Muslim Brotherhood Mohammed Morsi and the reelection of Barack Obama as U.S. president limit Netanyahu’s options [Emphasis added]:

Gaza, however, remains the main problem for Netanyahu. The more intensely the southern residents protest what they see as the government’s abandonment of their security, the more seriously he will have to consider taking tougher measures, with a resumption of targeted killings the most likely possibility.

Netanyahu, who is preparing for January’s election, is already being attacked in the political arena for not responding more forcefully. But he knows that his range of options against Hamas is limited. Israel is at this stage trying to avoid a ground operation a la Cast Lead. One reason is that the diplomatic reality now is far different than it was when that offensive was launched in 2008: Israel fears a direct confrontation with the new regime in Egypt and it knows that neither the United States nor Europe will be as tolerant of a large-scale military operation this time around.

Internal Defense Minister Yitzhak Aharonovich told Army Radio whatever steps the IDF takes should be “painful,” but that he does not think Israel should re-occupy Gaza, from which it withdrew in 2005.

As for Israel’s northern border, Israeli security sources tell Israel Radio they believe stray Syrian ordnance will continue to fall south of the border in the Golan Heights and that Israel will continue to respond on a case-by-case basis. For the first time since Syria has been engaged in civil strife, Israel responded on Sunday to shells that landed in Israel by firing warning shots over the border toward a Syrian post. UN Secretary General Ban Ki Moon on Sunday urged restraint on both sides.