The Palestinian Jihad Islami escalated its attacks on a dozen Israel towns and villages Saturday, firing up to 100 rockets on the second day of their revenge for Israel’s targeted killing of Zuheir al-Qaisi, head of the Popular Resistance Committees in Gaza, before he could carry out his second terrorist attack from Sinai. The volleys Saturday, March 10, included Grad multiple rocket launchers mounted on vehicles and SA-7 anti-air rockets, the Russian version of the American Stinger, smuggled from Libya.
Israel’s military kept its operations for suppressing those attacks low key although Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Benny Gantz had vowed to hit back hard. Both Gantz and Defense Minister Ehud Barak who toured the afflicted locations warned that the current round of missile fire from Gaza was not over. Barak added that the threat of another attack from Sinai was not over either.
In expectation of further escalation, an Iron Dome anti-missile battery was posted in Ashdod Saturday night. The two batteries in Beersheba and Ashdod were estimated to have intercepted 25-30 incoming Palestinian rockets. Police commissioner Yohanan Danino raised the terror alert nationwide to one level short of the highest, while southern Israel remained at top preparedness for the missile barrages to continue.
Schools in Beersheba (Israel’s seventh largest city of 200,000), Ashkelon, Ashdod, Gan Yavneh, Netivot, Kiryat Gat and Ofakim are closed Sunday until further notice, keeping hundreds of thousands of schoolchildren at home and close to bomb shelters.
Citizens were given a Homeland Command number to call in emergencies: 1207.
Israeli air strikes killed 15 Palestinian combatants in two days – all of them combatants. Twelve were members of Jihad Islami missile teams; the rest Resistance Committees operatives. The last of eight air force attacks hit a missile launcher and crew in the northern Gaza town of Beit Hanun Saturday night.
So far, although 18 civilians were injured, there have been no fatalities or direct hits to Israeli homes or buildings.
However the terrorists are constantly widening the radius of locations within range by procuring increasingly sophisticated weaponry.
At the same time, debkafile’s military sources report, Israeli leaders are this time holding the IDF back from an all-out offensive to relieve a million civilians living under on-and-off harassment for more than a decade out of three considerations:
1. Washington is engaged in secret diplomacy through the Egyptian military junta to get a ceasefire in place before the violence escalates any further – and Israel is obliged to employ more effective measures to stop it. Egypt on the quiet is trying to force the Palestinian Jihad Islami to stop shooting missiles, without much result. This is not surprising given that this Palestinian group was created by Iran which funds and arms it.
2. The IDF command was taken by surprise by the extreme reprisal triggered by the death of the Committees’ chief Zuheir al-Qaisi, one of the planners of the terrorist ambush of August 2011 on Highway 12 to Eilat which killed 8 Israelis close to the Israeli border with Egyptian Sinai.
The day before he was taken out, two mortars were fired from Gaza and, before that ,missiles kept coming at a slow trickle all the time.
3. The Israeli Air Force is forced to be a lot more cautious since various Palestinian groups, including Hamas, obtained from Libya large quantities of shoulder-launched SA-7 anti-air missiles (Man Portable Air Defense Systems or MANPADS) which are the Russian version of the American Stinger. Israeli jets must first demolish these rockets before they regain a free hand for counter-terror operations in the Hamas-ruled enclave.
Last week, because of the new menace, Israeli commercial airlines were told to stop flying ageing ATR 72 and ATR 42 turboprop planes, because the “C Music” counter-missile devices equipped with high-tech sensors and computers are designed for jets – not these old workhorses.
The advanced weaponry flowing into the Gaza Strip from Libya in the past six months (first reported by debkafile on Nov. 11, 2011) is becoming increasingly important in the terrorist war Palestinian terrorists are waging against Israel from the Gaza Strip. Furthermore, Tehran has supplied the Gaza extremists under its auspices with its own Fajr rockets which can reach Tel Aviv.