Nahariya, a small resort town 15 minutes drive from the Lebanese border, Sunday, July 13, had the unwanted distinction of being the northernmost Israeli town to be hit by a Hamas rocket from the Gaza Strip. The rocket traveled 172 km to land harmlessly outside the town – more than twice the distance from Gaza to Tel Aviv, which took its second round of Hamas rockets in two days. Mayor Jackie Sabag of Nahariya said he had fortunately not taken the advice of the Home Command to shut the city’s shelters after rockets were fired Friday and Saturday from Lebanon.
Nahariya, frequently blasted by Hizballah Katyushas in the past, can now “boast” it was targeted by Hamas as well.
Sunday, Day Six of Operation Defensive Edge, saw another first: an Israeli ground incursion of the Gaza Strip. An sea commando Shayetet 13 unit landed in the western Gaza Strip to raid a cluster of rocket launchers. It was forced to retreat under heavy fire after four commandos were lightly injured. The target was then hit by the unit’s air cover.
By sundown Sunday, 65 Palestinian rockets had been fired into Israel – 12 shot down by Iron Dome – and more were on the way. The last salvo covered a long swathe from Rishon Lezion, through Tel Aviv and its satellite towns, including the big port of Ashdod and Hadera, as well as Israeli locales bordering on Gaza.
An early rocket directed at Ben Gurion airport hit Modiin.
The only casualty was a 16-year old Israeli boy, who was seriously injured in Ashkelon by falling rocket shrapnel.
From Saturday night, the IDF conducted 130 air strikes. The Palestinian death toll continued to climb, reaching 170, despite IDF efforts to avoid civilian casualties when aiming at “terrorist” chiefs.
Several thousands of residents in northern Gaza have heeded IDF warnings by leaflets to evacuate their homes temporarily for their own safety, ahead of an imminent major Israeli operation against the rocket launchers and weapons stores maintained by Hamas in residential areas. The IDF calculates that 40 percent of all Hamas-Jihad Islami rockets were fired from northern Gaza.
UNWRA in the Gaza Strip opened 10 schools to accommodate the refugees, who continued to pour in, in the face of insistent Hamas calls not to leave their homes.
As the Israeli security cabinet conducted almost daily emergency sessions with army chiefs to determine their next steps, two controversies consumed the attention of Israeli media and the pundits: One revolves around the wisdom of sending ground troops into the Gaza Strip to finish the job of destroying Hamas-Jihad missile capabilities, or opting for half a cake, meaning a ceasefire – any ceasefire - if one becomes available. It is commonly agreed that a premature ceasefire would only hold up until Hamas decides to launch its next rocket blitz.
The last time it took eighteen months. The next one is predicted for six months time.
Estimates on the accessibility of a ceasefire are also constantly tossed back and forth.
debkafile’s Middle East sources, after examining the options, have concluded that, in the present situation, a truce is way out of reach. Israeli officials, when asked, said Sunday that no serious framework had developed.
In some Western diplomatic circles, there is talk of resuscitating the 2012 truce negotiated – or rather, dictated – by US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton – since retired; Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood President Mohamed Morsi - since ousted and jailed; Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan – rejected by both sides; and the emir of Qatar – deposed.
Not only have most of those figures come and gone or lost their clout, but the Middle East has undergone fundamental political, military and strategic change from end to end.
As things stand now, Qatar is no longer as rich as it was and, for Egypt and Saudi Arabia, the leading Sunni powers in the region, the Muslim Brotherhood is their archenemy, and neither would be eager to rescue MB’s offshoot Hamas from the cycle of turbulence in conjured up in the first place by kidnapping and murdering three Israeli teenagers last month.
Undeterred, US Secretary of State John Kerry was due to discuss ways to end the Gaza violence with UK, French and German foreign ministers in Vienna Sunday on the sidelines of the nuclear talks with Iran.
UK Foreign Secretary William Hague talked by phone to Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman Saturday.
Last week, Middle East Quartet Special Envoy Tony Blair met Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu in Jerusalem and President Abdel-Fattah El-Sisi in Cairo, and German Foreign Minister Frank Walter Steinmeier is expected Tuesday for talks with Netanyahu and Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas, who has been trying without much success to make himself relevant to the crisis.
All these well-intentioned emissaries will be told that Israel will stop bombing when Hamas stops shooting.
They will also find Hamas a very hard nut to crack.
Contrary to some reports that the Palestinian Islamist extremists are ready to crawl to bring Israel’s air assaults to an end, Hamas leaders are in fact far from dissatisfied with what they have achieved so far:
1) They have managed to keep more than 5 million Israelis caged in or near air raid shelters for the second week in a row.
2) They have not cracked under more than 1,340 air strikes in six days and their command structure and operatives remain fully functional.,
3) Although the conflict is asymmetrical, Hamas has made it a standoff with neither side able to claim the upper hand.
4) The Hamas kidnappers who murdered the three Israel boys are still at large.