Israel’s official spokesmen have long taken the line that the country should prepare itself for war with the Islamic State as a hypothetical threat still in the future. But that is not the case – either in the near neighborhood, especially in terrorist-ridden Egyptian Sinai, or elsewhere, even thousands of miles from Israel’s borders.
Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu made a suggestive remark Wednesday Aug. 17 during a visit to the Israeli Air Force Base at Tel Nof east of Tel Aviv, in the company of Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman, Dep. Chief of Staff, Maj. Gen. Yair Golan, and the Air Force chief Maj. Gen. Amir Eshel.
No obvious pressing reason was offered for the turnout of the entire national security elite at this air base at this time. debkafile’s military and intelligence sources are unfortunately constrained from elaborating on this. But one of Netanyahu’s comments offered a clue. He said that the Israeli Air Force had no rival anywhere and that, “It can go anywhere, at any time and perform any mission. That is true as we speak.”
This was a strong hint that the IAF was at that moment operating far from its Tel Nof Base and outside Israel’s borders, apparently on a broad mission involving several aircraft.
It may also be inferred, therefore, that the rocket from the Gaza Strip that, on Sunday, Aug. 21, exploded between two buildings in the southern Israeli town of Sderot – causing some damage but no casualties – was the first rejoinder to the mission that was the subject of the prime minister’s oblique reference.
And in fact, Ansar Bayt al-Maqdis – the Sinai Islamist terrorist group that merged into the Islamic State – took responsibility shortly after.
debkafile’s military sources report that the ISIS Sinai branch chose the afternoon to shoot its rocket as a demonstration of its ability tot strike at the heart of Israeli towns at any time of day when there were people on the streets. It was Sderot’s first direct rocket attack in two years.
Within minutes, the Israeli air force and tanks targeted Palestinian Hamas terrorist infrastructure in the northern and Gaza area of Bet Hanoun, following up with a second air strike supported by artillery fire.
All this was an excellent display of Israel’s rapid reactive capability, but it had little relevance to the action afoot in both the Gaza Strip and the adjacent Sinai Peninsula.
That the two air reprisals were boosted unusually by tanks and artillery may be explained by internal Israeli politics: Lieberman, facing his first challenge as defense minister, needed to make good on his known hawkish attitudes as an opposition figure.
However, say our military experts, mechanical strikes against Hamas in reprisal for ISIS-linked attacks have long been bankrupt as an effective tactic. Even though Hamas works hand in glove with the Islamic State in Sinai, Egypt and Libya, the Palestinian group has no role in ISIS decisions to attack Israel or any influence over its considerations. The global Islamists may therefore be expected to follow up on their rocket attack on Sderot undeterred by the IDF response.