Escalating Palestinian missile-mortar fire on Israeli cities boosts tension
Palestinian missiles, rockets and mortar shells fired from the Gaza Strip have rained down on Israeli towns and villages relentlessly for the past ten days. The mayor of the Negev city of Beersheba ordered schools to remain closed Wednesday, March 23, after the second heavy (Iran-supplied) Grad rocket in a month hit a residential district, injuring five people and causing heavy damage. As he spoke, another Grad exploded in Beersheba. Overnight, two Grads were aimed at the port towns of Ashkelon and Ashdod. The villages abutting on Gaza were told to stay close to bomb shelters Tuesday night after taking some 56 mortar rounds in three days. Wednesday morning, another seven exploded in the Eshkol farm region, finding the IDF Home Front Command unready for the proliferating attacks..
The Palestinians said they were punishing Israel for hitting back at the sources of previous Palestinian attacks, some admitted by Hamas, others by the Iranian surrogate Jihad Islami. Tuesday, one of four Israeli tank shells hit a Palestinian building near the source of mortar fire and accidentally killed three civilians, including a youth and a boy, as well as one of the shooters. Israel apologized for civilian deaths, stressing they were inadvertent whereas the Palestinian terrorists of Gaza deliberately target Israeli civilians.
Following this exchange, the leaders of the targeted Israeli cities and villages called loudly for another Cast Lead operation as limited military, responsive action was clearly of no use. Some urged the new chief of staff Lt. Gen. Benny Gantz to lead a campaign to remove Hamas rule, saying it is at least as repressive, belligerent and dangerous to its neighbors as other Arab regimes currently targeted by Western armies.
However, the Netanyahu government has tied itself in knots.
Last Saturday, March 19, the Ramallah-based Palestinian Authority chairman Mahmoud Abbas said in an interview: "The Israelis should be negotiating peace with me." Brushing aside the fact that he only speaks for the West Bank segment of the Palestinian people – not the Gazans who overthrew his Fatah – he said: "Leave the Hamas to me."
Hamas responded to this claim by stepping up its attacks on Israel to underline its independence of PA chairman. Whereas Abbas' Fatah is seeking reconciliation with its rival in secret talks led by Nabil Shaat, Hamas much strengthened by the Muslim Brotherhood's successes in Egypt and its recognition is playing hard to get. Hamas leaders in Gaza and Damascus are more interested in throwing their weight around for all fellow-extremists to see and show them an example by attacking Israel. Click for debkafile's March 19 report of 50 mortars fired on one day.
In addressing Israeli complaints, it suits Hamas to pin the blame for shooting heavy rockets on Iran's Palestinian surrogate Jihad Islami. However, debkafile's military sources report that the Jihad only strikes with Hamas' blessing.
Much harder to understand is the Netanyahu government's failure to smack down the authors of this relentless punishment which has been going on for almost a decade, except for the single limited Cast Lead operation of 2008-9, which too was interrupted prematurely under international pressure drummed up by the Palestinians and their backers.
Israeli leaders continue to pretend that "neither side seeks escalation" – which no one believes.
They still don't appreciate that the military attack staged by Western nations on Muammar Qaddafi's regime has changed the rules for dealing with harmful rulers. Rather than going for the top of the Hamas pyramid, Israel has just marginally sharpened its counter-attacks against its troops, only to bring forth heavier Palestinian missiles smashing into its cities.
Tuesday, an Israeli tank shell killed two Palestinian boys aged 11 and 16 and a man of 50, following a string of Palestinian mortar and missile attacks on their Israeli neighbors. Earlier that day, an Israeli air strike hit four members of a Palestinian team about to shoot a missile. Other Palestinian teams responded swiftly with attacks further afield on Beersheba and Israeli coastal cities using Grad rockets which have a range of at least 40 kilometers.
The latest escalation in a long Palestinian campaign against Israel from Gaza, boosted by the successful popular uprising in Egypt, was prompted by Mahmoud Abbas' interview to Israeli television – a public gesture that was accompanied by his secret wooing of Hamas.