Commentary Magazine


Topic: Sderot

Israel Makes Preparations for War

Much of the attention about a potential conflict between Israel and Iran has focused on the decision-making process that could lead the Jewish state to act to forestall the creation of a nuclear weapon in the hands of Iran’s Islamist leadership. But while the debate continues about what Israel’s government will decide to do and when they will do it, inside the country, preparations are under way for the aftermath of that decision.

On a cold morning in late January, ambulances raced around Haifa, Israel’s largest port city. There had been an attack with a “dirty bomb,” armed with radioactive cesium 137. Doctors and paramedics cleaned up the survivors, while the authorities informed the public the “unthinkable” had happened in the heart of the Jewish State. It was just a drill, but the exercise code-named “Dark Cloud,” was part of the Israel Defense Force Home Front Command’s plan to prepare the country in case of war with Iran.

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Much of the attention about a potential conflict between Israel and Iran has focused on the decision-making process that could lead the Jewish state to act to forestall the creation of a nuclear weapon in the hands of Iran’s Islamist leadership. But while the debate continues about what Israel’s government will decide to do and when they will do it, inside the country, preparations are under way for the aftermath of that decision.

On a cold morning in late January, ambulances raced around Haifa, Israel’s largest port city. There had been an attack with a “dirty bomb,” armed with radioactive cesium 137. Doctors and paramedics cleaned up the survivors, while the authorities informed the public the “unthinkable” had happened in the heart of the Jewish State. It was just a drill, but the exercise code-named “Dark Cloud,” was part of the Israel Defense Force Home Front Command’s plan to prepare the country in case of war with Iran.

If Israel strikes Iranian nuclear facilities, Tehran has three major targets: the atomic reactor at Dimona, Haifa’s port and refineries, and the area of Zakariya, where Israel stored its missile arsenal. Eyal Eisenberg, head of the Home Front Command, recently declared, “Haifa will be flooded with 12.000 missiles.” Israel’s army estimates that Hamas and Hezbollah have 1,600 rockets capable of hitting targets with high precision. In the words of former Minister Matan Vilnai, in the event of such a war, Israel’s Defense Ministry building “will not remain standing.”

But Israel is no stranger to missile fire. Since 1948, the year of the founding of the state, more than 60,000 rockets have fallen on Israel. In 2006 during the second Lebanon war when Hezbollah rained missiles down on the north of the country, one million Israelis were forced to live in shelters for more than a month. There are estimated to be 200,000 missiles pointed at the country today. The situation is such that, according to a survey conducted by Tel Aviv University, 30 percent of those Israelis with a foreign passport are willing to leave the country. A few days ago, Yediot Ahronot, Israel’s largest circulation newspaper, published a list of “cities of refuge” where it is better to live “in case of emergency.”

Tel Aviv, where 60 percent of Israel’s population reside, is now facing Iran’s “judgment day.” Many security drills are termed “NBC:” nuclear, biological and chemical threats.

Syria is the “most advanced Arab country in the production of chemical weapons,” according to a report by the Center for Strategic Studies at Bar Ilan University. Though Syria’s government is preoccupied with the rebellion against the Assad regime, it is still an ally of Iran and might decide that joining in an attack on Israel would be a good way to divert public anger against the massacres of dissidents. Syria has produced hundreds of tons of chemical weapons and bombs filled with sarin and another lethal gas, VX. The idea is that botulinum, anthrax and other lethal pathogens can be used in conjunction with explosives. Just 100 grams of mustard gas would be enough to kill 500 Israelis.

With this sort of threat in view, Israel is preparing its bomb shelters. This week, the Foreign Ministry gave the embassies a list of bunkers available for the diplomats. Only Tel Aviv has as many as 240 bunkers. The Jerusalem railway station is able to accommodate 5,000 people. Even theaters, like Habima in Tel Aviv, will host thousands of people. In Safed, the first hospital-bunker for children is being prepared. Evacuation plans are ready for Ramat Gan, the populous suburb of Tel Aviv hit by Saddam Hussein’s rockets in 1991.

While many Israelis may take shelter in the Negev, up to half a million could take refuge in the Jewish settlements of Samaria. The commander of the Home Front, General Yair Golan, declared that “cities can be transformed into a battlefield” and that masses of people will be forced to flee to a “national refuge” in Samaria in the West Bank. The hospitals have emergency plans. The most important industries, such as the banks and the Bezeq phone company, are preparing alternative technologies in case of national collapse.

Meanwhile, in southern Israel, where Gaza-based terrorists have rained down thousands of missiles in recent years, bulldozers are hard at work building new shelters for the expected next round of shelling. In Sderot, the town that has been hardest hit by Hamas missile fire, virtually every street is already dotted with concrete huts. The government has promised to put a missile-proof security room in every home. Five thousand shelters are planned for a place with just 20,000 inhabitants.

In addition to the shelters, a new alarm system, located in the Negev desert, can calculate the exact trajectory of a missile. The plan is to use this information to alert all the mobile phones in the area via SMS, audio alert and display lighting.

Given the level of preparation for these attacks, these days the State of Israel looks like a bunkered Western outpost threatened with destruction by Iran. The countdown for war may have already begun. But as Israelis start thinking about heading to shelters, the question in their minds is: once the assault on their nation begins, will the West come to their aid?

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Afternoon Commentary

A member of the Iranian Qods force, an elite branch of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard corps, was found to be moonlighting as a Taliban commander. As Stephen Hayes points out at the Weekly Standard, this development is further evidence that the doctrinal differences between Iranians and the Taliban don’t preclude them from working together.

From Scott Brown’s Senate win to Glenn Beck’s big rally, Politico counts down the top 10 political moments of 2010.

While national security experts remain concerned about the growing military capabilities of China’s navy, the Washington Post notes that the country is still struggling with some basic components of its air force technology.

Why do Israelis support a two state solution, but oppose a freeze on settlement construction? Jeremy Sharon argues that it’s because they have become discouraged about the possibility of a peace deal at this point in time: “Support for the notion of ‘two states for two peoples’ remains high at over 60 percent because Israelis acknowledge that ultimately, continued rule over the Palestinians is untenable. But there is no desire to rush into an irreversible agreement which could result not with the shelling of Sderot or Haifa, but of Tel Aviv.”

A member of the Iranian Qods force, an elite branch of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard corps, was found to be moonlighting as a Taliban commander. As Stephen Hayes points out at the Weekly Standard, this development is further evidence that the doctrinal differences between Iranians and the Taliban don’t preclude them from working together.

From Scott Brown’s Senate win to Glenn Beck’s big rally, Politico counts down the top 10 political moments of 2010.

While national security experts remain concerned about the growing military capabilities of China’s navy, the Washington Post notes that the country is still struggling with some basic components of its air force technology.

Why do Israelis support a two state solution, but oppose a freeze on settlement construction? Jeremy Sharon argues that it’s because they have become discouraged about the possibility of a peace deal at this point in time: “Support for the notion of ‘two states for two peoples’ remains high at over 60 percent because Israelis acknowledge that ultimately, continued rule over the Palestinians is untenable. But there is no desire to rush into an irreversible agreement which could result not with the shelling of Sderot or Haifa, but of Tel Aviv.”

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The Other Side of the “Peace” Process

While most of the world rattles on about how Israel’s impudent decision to build apartments for Jews in an existing Jewish neighborhood of Jerusalem will harm the peace process, the real obstacles to peace staged yet another demonstration of Middle East realities. In the last two days, Palestinian terrorists fired three rockets into southern Israel. Two landed near the town of Sderot in Southern Israel on Wednesday. One adult and a child suffered from shock from that blast. Then today, a rocket hit nearby Moshav Netiv Ha’asara, killing a worker from Thailand. Thirty such rockets have landed in southern Israel since the beginning of 2010.

Apologists for the Hamas terrorists, who run Gaza as a private fiefdom, were quick to blame the attacks on splinter groups beyond the control of the supposedly responsible thugs of Hamas. Two such groups claimed responsibility. One is an al-Qaeda offshoot, and the other is none other than the al-Asqsa Martyrs’ Brigade, the terrorist wing of the supposedly moderate and peace-loving Fatah Party that controls the West Bank.

The rockets were an appropriate welcome to the Dame Catherine Ashton, the European Union’s top foreign-policy official, who was in Gaza for a visit. Though Ashton won’t meet with Hamas officials, her trip to Gaza is seen as helping the ongoing campaign to lift the limited blockade of the terrorist-run enclave even though Israel allows food and medical supplies into the Strip, so there is no humanitarian crisis. Those who would like to see this Hamasistan freed from all constraints say that the “humanitarian” issues should take precedence over “politics.” But their humanitarianism takes no notice of Israelis who still live under the constant threat of terrorist missile attacks. Nor do they think Hamas should be forced to free kidnapped Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit in exchange for an end to the blockade.

Such “humanitarianism” is also blind to why Israelis are leery of any further territorial concessions to the Palestinians – because they rightly fear that the ordeal of Sderot could easily be repeated in any part of Central Israel, as well as in Jerusalem, once Israel’s forces are forced to completely withdraw from the West Bank. Gaza is not just a symbol of the failures of Palestinian nationalism, as the welfare of over a million Arabs has been ignored as Hamas pursues its pathologically violent agenda of hostility to Israel. It is also a symbol of the failure of Ariel Sharon’s unilateral withdrawal policy, which Americans once hoped would allow the area to become a zone of peace and prosperity.

For all of the recent emphasis on Israel’s behavior, Gaza stands as both a lesson and a warning to those who heedlessly urge further concessions on Israel on behalf of a peace process in which the Palestinians have no real interest.

While most of the world rattles on about how Israel’s impudent decision to build apartments for Jews in an existing Jewish neighborhood of Jerusalem will harm the peace process, the real obstacles to peace staged yet another demonstration of Middle East realities. In the last two days, Palestinian terrorists fired three rockets into southern Israel. Two landed near the town of Sderot in Southern Israel on Wednesday. One adult and a child suffered from shock from that blast. Then today, a rocket hit nearby Moshav Netiv Ha’asara, killing a worker from Thailand. Thirty such rockets have landed in southern Israel since the beginning of 2010.

Apologists for the Hamas terrorists, who run Gaza as a private fiefdom, were quick to blame the attacks on splinter groups beyond the control of the supposedly responsible thugs of Hamas. Two such groups claimed responsibility. One is an al-Qaeda offshoot, and the other is none other than the al-Asqsa Martyrs’ Brigade, the terrorist wing of the supposedly moderate and peace-loving Fatah Party that controls the West Bank.

The rockets were an appropriate welcome to the Dame Catherine Ashton, the European Union’s top foreign-policy official, who was in Gaza for a visit. Though Ashton won’t meet with Hamas officials, her trip to Gaza is seen as helping the ongoing campaign to lift the limited blockade of the terrorist-run enclave even though Israel allows food and medical supplies into the Strip, so there is no humanitarian crisis. Those who would like to see this Hamasistan freed from all constraints say that the “humanitarian” issues should take precedence over “politics.” But their humanitarianism takes no notice of Israelis who still live under the constant threat of terrorist missile attacks. Nor do they think Hamas should be forced to free kidnapped Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit in exchange for an end to the blockade.

Such “humanitarianism” is also blind to why Israelis are leery of any further territorial concessions to the Palestinians – because they rightly fear that the ordeal of Sderot could easily be repeated in any part of Central Israel, as well as in Jerusalem, once Israel’s forces are forced to completely withdraw from the West Bank. Gaza is not just a symbol of the failures of Palestinian nationalism, as the welfare of over a million Arabs has been ignored as Hamas pursues its pathologically violent agenda of hostility to Israel. It is also a symbol of the failure of Ariel Sharon’s unilateral withdrawal policy, which Americans once hoped would allow the area to become a zone of peace and prosperity.

For all of the recent emphasis on Israel’s behavior, Gaza stands as both a lesson and a warning to those who heedlessly urge further concessions on Israel on behalf of a peace process in which the Palestinians have no real interest.

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Fuel Wars and Media Wars

Hamas has lost — often badly — in every military theater it has fought in. Its suicide bombings have been thwarted by fences and walls, its rocket attacks, while a serious problem, do not cause many casualties and whenever Katyushas have been employed Hamas has suffered a stinging response from the IDF. So Hamas is now concentrating its efforts on fighting in the only theater in which it still enjoys superiority over Israel — in the media. Almost everything the terror group does today is oriented toward winning media coverage that condemns Israel and apologizes for Hamas.

Check out Khaled Abu Toameh’s report in today’s Jerusalem Post if you had any doubts. Hamas is now fanatically trying to cause fuel shortages in the Gaza Strip, so that a litany of horrors can be blamed on Israel — hospital closures, blackouts, sewage overflows, pestilence, boils, locusts, everything.

Eyewitnesses in Gaza City said that at least on four occasions over the past few weeks, Hamas militiamen confiscated trucks loaded with fuel shortly as they were on their way from Nahal Oz to the city.

They added that the fuel supplies were taken to Hamas-controlled security installations throughout the city.

“Hamas is taking the fuel for it the vehicles of is leaders and security forces,” the eyewitnesses said. “Because of Hamas’s actions, some hospitals have been forced to stop the work of ambulances and generators.”

PA officials in Ramallah said Hamas’s measures were aimed at creating a crisis in the Gaza Strip with the hope that the international community would intervene and force Israel to reopen the border crossings.

“As far as we know, there is enough fuel reaching the Gaza Strip,” the officials said. “But Hamas’s measures are aimed at creating a crisis. Hamas is either stealing or blocking most of the fuel supplies.”

Hamas has also been exerting pressure on the Gaza Petrol Station Owners Association to close down their businesses so as to aggravate the crisis. Some of the station owners and workers said they were afraid to return to work after receiving death threats from Hamas militiamen and ordinary residents desperate to purchase gas and diesel for their vehicles.

Over the winter, Hamas rode high on a crescendo of international sympathy for Gaza and outrage at Israel when it convinced the world that Israel had caused a blackout of the Strip. Its conduits for doing so were the international press corps and international human rights and aid organizations, all of which (to varying degrees) are deeply invested in advancing the narrative of Palestinian victimhood and Israeli cruelty.

Is there any doubt today that the most important battlefield in this conflict is not in Gaza or Sderot, but in newspaper articles and television broadcasts?

Hamas has lost — often badly — in every military theater it has fought in. Its suicide bombings have been thwarted by fences and walls, its rocket attacks, while a serious problem, do not cause many casualties and whenever Katyushas have been employed Hamas has suffered a stinging response from the IDF. So Hamas is now concentrating its efforts on fighting in the only theater in which it still enjoys superiority over Israel — in the media. Almost everything the terror group does today is oriented toward winning media coverage that condemns Israel and apologizes for Hamas.

Check out Khaled Abu Toameh’s report in today’s Jerusalem Post if you had any doubts. Hamas is now fanatically trying to cause fuel shortages in the Gaza Strip, so that a litany of horrors can be blamed on Israel — hospital closures, blackouts, sewage overflows, pestilence, boils, locusts, everything.

Eyewitnesses in Gaza City said that at least on four occasions over the past few weeks, Hamas militiamen confiscated trucks loaded with fuel shortly as they were on their way from Nahal Oz to the city.

They added that the fuel supplies were taken to Hamas-controlled security installations throughout the city.

“Hamas is taking the fuel for it the vehicles of is leaders and security forces,” the eyewitnesses said. “Because of Hamas’s actions, some hospitals have been forced to stop the work of ambulances and generators.”

PA officials in Ramallah said Hamas’s measures were aimed at creating a crisis in the Gaza Strip with the hope that the international community would intervene and force Israel to reopen the border crossings.

“As far as we know, there is enough fuel reaching the Gaza Strip,” the officials said. “But Hamas’s measures are aimed at creating a crisis. Hamas is either stealing or blocking most of the fuel supplies.”

Hamas has also been exerting pressure on the Gaza Petrol Station Owners Association to close down their businesses so as to aggravate the crisis. Some of the station owners and workers said they were afraid to return to work after receiving death threats from Hamas militiamen and ordinary residents desperate to purchase gas and diesel for their vehicles.

Over the winter, Hamas rode high on a crescendo of international sympathy for Gaza and outrage at Israel when it convinced the world that Israel had caused a blackout of the Strip. Its conduits for doing so were the international press corps and international human rights and aid organizations, all of which (to varying degrees) are deeply invested in advancing the narrative of Palestinian victimhood and Israeli cruelty.

Is there any doubt today that the most important battlefield in this conflict is not in Gaza or Sderot, but in newspaper articles and television broadcasts?

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Gaza and the Green Zone

Palestinian rockets have been falling on the Israeli town of Sderot since 2000. So far, fourteen Israelis have been killed. And the rockets keep coming, some of them reaching further into Israel, hitting the port city of Ashkelon. Neither the Israeli withdrawal from Gaza, nor its own air-strikes and limited incursions has managed to suppress the barrage. What should Israel do?

Worldwide pressure is growing on it to negotiate with Hamas. Jimmy Carter is leading the way. But whether it is wise to talk directly or indirectly with a terrorist organization sworn to one’s own destruction is an open question that Israelis will have to answer for themselves.

While thinking about that, they might look at the U.S.-Iraqi experience protecting the Green Zone in Baghdad. Like Sderot, the Green Zone is adjacent to a densely populated slum much like Gaza, controlled by radical Arabs — Sadr City, the territory of the anti-American cleric Moqtada al-Sadr. Some 697 rockets and mortar rounds have been fired on the Green Zone from this area since March 23 alone. Only 114 hit the Green Zone, but U.S. coalition forces were struck by 291 of them.

Coalition forces have now managed to suppress the fire. “Attacks On Green Zone Drop Sharply, U.S. Says” is the headline of a story in today’s Washington Post.

U.S. officials said Wednesday that a military campaign in the stronghold of anti-American cleric Moqtada al-Sadr has succeeded in nearly eliminating the deadly rocket and mortar attacks launched from the area.

U.S. and Iraqi forces have been battling for weeks in the capital’s Sadr City neighborhood against Shiite fighters tied to Sadr’s Mahdi Army militia. The U.S. military said at least 142 suspected fighters have been killed, including at least 15 Tuesday night.

“We accomplished what we were trying to do, which was to stop the indirect fire,” said Col. Allen Batschelet, chief of staff for Multinational Division-Baghdad. “The manifestation of the violence that you’re talking about has pretty much stopped.”

Are their lessons here for Israel?

Palestinian rockets have been falling on the Israeli town of Sderot since 2000. So far, fourteen Israelis have been killed. And the rockets keep coming, some of them reaching further into Israel, hitting the port city of Ashkelon. Neither the Israeli withdrawal from Gaza, nor its own air-strikes and limited incursions has managed to suppress the barrage. What should Israel do?

Worldwide pressure is growing on it to negotiate with Hamas. Jimmy Carter is leading the way. But whether it is wise to talk directly or indirectly with a terrorist organization sworn to one’s own destruction is an open question that Israelis will have to answer for themselves.

While thinking about that, they might look at the U.S.-Iraqi experience protecting the Green Zone in Baghdad. Like Sderot, the Green Zone is adjacent to a densely populated slum much like Gaza, controlled by radical Arabs — Sadr City, the territory of the anti-American cleric Moqtada al-Sadr. Some 697 rockets and mortar rounds have been fired on the Green Zone from this area since March 23 alone. Only 114 hit the Green Zone, but U.S. coalition forces were struck by 291 of them.

Coalition forces have now managed to suppress the fire. “Attacks On Green Zone Drop Sharply, U.S. Says” is the headline of a story in today’s Washington Post.

U.S. officials said Wednesday that a military campaign in the stronghold of anti-American cleric Moqtada al-Sadr has succeeded in nearly eliminating the deadly rocket and mortar attacks launched from the area.

U.S. and Iraqi forces have been battling for weeks in the capital’s Sadr City neighborhood against Shiite fighters tied to Sadr’s Mahdi Army militia. The U.S. military said at least 142 suspected fighters have been killed, including at least 15 Tuesday night.

“We accomplished what we were trying to do, which was to stop the indirect fire,” said Col. Allen Batschelet, chief of staff for Multinational Division-Baghdad. “The manifestation of the violence that you’re talking about has pretty much stopped.”

Are their lessons here for Israel?

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Cheaper by the Dozen

Dan Murphy, a Christian Science Monitor reporter, files a piece from Gaza City improbably titled “Fertilizer, frustration fuel Gaza’s rockets.” One can’t come down too harshly on Murphy himself for the brazen stupidity of the title of his piece, as it was likely written by his (brazenly stupid) editor. But one can have a laugh at something Murphy writes in the piece itself, about the rocket fire from Gaza:

it has killed few Israelis but has traumatized communities near the border, particularly the town of Sderot, which has been hit dozens of times in recent years.

Actually, as anyone who even occasionally stumbles upon the news from Israel knows, Sderot has been hit thousands of times in recent years (by the New York Timesconservative estimate, 2,000 hits in the past four years; most tallies I’ve seen are much higher). It is impossible to believe that Murphy, who covers Gaza for the CSM, doesn’t know this. Sderot is sometimes the recipient of dozens of rockets on a single day–like today, for example. As I write this, at around 9:30 AM in Israel, Sderot and its environs have already been hit by close to 30 rockets.

UPDATE: Soccer Dad points us to a blogger, Elder of Zion, who maintains a very useful Qassam calendar, for all your missile-tracking needs.

Dan Murphy, a Christian Science Monitor reporter, files a piece from Gaza City improbably titled “Fertilizer, frustration fuel Gaza’s rockets.” One can’t come down too harshly on Murphy himself for the brazen stupidity of the title of his piece, as it was likely written by his (brazenly stupid) editor. But one can have a laugh at something Murphy writes in the piece itself, about the rocket fire from Gaza:

it has killed few Israelis but has traumatized communities near the border, particularly the town of Sderot, which has been hit dozens of times in recent years.

Actually, as anyone who even occasionally stumbles upon the news from Israel knows, Sderot has been hit thousands of times in recent years (by the New York Timesconservative estimate, 2,000 hits in the past four years; most tallies I’ve seen are much higher). It is impossible to believe that Murphy, who covers Gaza for the CSM, doesn’t know this. Sderot is sometimes the recipient of dozens of rockets on a single day–like today, for example. As I write this, at around 9:30 AM in Israel, Sderot and its environs have already been hit by close to 30 rockets.

UPDATE: Soccer Dad points us to a blogger, Elder of Zion, who maintains a very useful Qassam calendar, for all your missile-tracking needs.

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Gaza Heats Up

It’s been a bad couple of days for Islamic Jihad and Hamas. In response to increased rocket fire from IJ and mortar fire from Hamas, the IDF has conducted air and ground operations in Gaza that demonstrate an impressive combination of precision firepower and deadly accurate intelligence.

Ten Islamic Jihad terrorists were killed in two airstrikes Monday night and early this morning, including Majed Harazin, a high-value target, the head of IJ’s kassam rocket squads. You can watch infrared UAV video of his car getting blown up here (and note that the secondary explosions are larger than the explosion caused by the air strike—no doubt about what was in the trunk). Good riddance.

Meanwhile, four members of an IJ rocket crew were killed by IDF ground forces, and another high-value target, IJ’s Jenin commander, was killed in the West Bank. As a contributor to the Israellycool blog points out, the IDF has accomplished all of this without causing a single Palestinian civilian casualty. What other military in the world takes such pains to operate like this?

Islamic Jihad has of course threatened a terrible response:

“We have a long arm. You will soon [experience] strikes similar to those we carried out in Tel Aviv, Netanya, and Eilat,” Abu Hamza said in a message to residents of the towns broadcast on Hamas television, warning that his organization would step up Kassam attacks on Sderot, Ashkelon, Yad Mordechai, and Netivot.

Earlier, in an e-mail sent to reporters, Islamic Jihad said it would retaliate for its losses with suicide attacks inside Israel, threatening “a wave of martyrdom operations.”

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It’s been a bad couple of days for Islamic Jihad and Hamas. In response to increased rocket fire from IJ and mortar fire from Hamas, the IDF has conducted air and ground operations in Gaza that demonstrate an impressive combination of precision firepower and deadly accurate intelligence.

Ten Islamic Jihad terrorists were killed in two airstrikes Monday night and early this morning, including Majed Harazin, a high-value target, the head of IJ’s kassam rocket squads. You can watch infrared UAV video of his car getting blown up here (and note that the secondary explosions are larger than the explosion caused by the air strike—no doubt about what was in the trunk). Good riddance.

Meanwhile, four members of an IJ rocket crew were killed by IDF ground forces, and another high-value target, IJ’s Jenin commander, was killed in the West Bank. As a contributor to the Israellycool blog points out, the IDF has accomplished all of this without causing a single Palestinian civilian casualty. What other military in the world takes such pains to operate like this?

Islamic Jihad has of course threatened a terrible response:

“We have a long arm. You will soon [experience] strikes similar to those we carried out in Tel Aviv, Netanya, and Eilat,” Abu Hamza said in a message to residents of the towns broadcast on Hamas television, warning that his organization would step up Kassam attacks on Sderot, Ashkelon, Yad Mordechai, and Netivot.

Earlier, in an e-mail sent to reporters, Islamic Jihad said it would retaliate for its losses with suicide attacks inside Israel, threatening “a wave of martyrdom operations.”

On the diplomatic front, Israel is doing something shrewd in response to the ongoing Gaza terror offensive—it is bringing hard evidence of Egyptian complicity in weapons smuggling to the U.S. Congress:

The video footage—which allegedly shows Egyptian security forces assisting Hamas terrorists cross illegally into Gaza—is being transferred to Congress through diplomatic channels and is intended for senior congressmen and senators who can have an effect on the House foreign aid appropriations process. Israel believes this can be an effective way of pressuring Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak into clamping down on Hamas smuggling activities.

The House and Senate agreed late Sunday on a 2008 foreign aid bill that would hold back $100 million in military aid for Egypt, out of a $1.3 billion allocation, unless US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice certifies that concerns about smuggling weapons into Gaza and human rights abuses have been addressed. It is the first time that Egyptian military aid, supplied since the Camp David Accords, would potentially be restricted.

Israel is trying desperately to delay having to undertake a large-scale ground invasion of Gaza, given the current diplomatic circumstances. President Bush is expected to arrive in the region on January 8 to prod Israeli and Palestinian leaders further down the Annapolis rabbit hole, and an Operation Defensive Shield-type incursion into Gaza would be most unwelcome and disruptive to such efforts.

I suspect that Israeli strategists are pursuing a rather clever policy of eliminating Hamas and Islamic Jihad terror leaders in order simultaneously to suppress rocket and mortar fire, and to pressure the terrorists to engage in face-saving, but ineffective, retaliations. The Israelis do not want to deal such a devastating blow that Hamas seeks a cease-fire, which Israel would be pressured to grant, and which would only be used as a hudna, or quiet period, for re-arming and re-organizing. Hamas and IJ will want to mount serious attacks in the weeks preceding Bush’s visit so as to discredit the peace process and steal media and diplomatic attention from the Bush-Olmert-Abbas love-in. We’ll know soon enough if the terrorists’ strategy will work, or whether the IDF will be able to keep Gaza, working externally, at bay.

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No Good Options

How should Israel respond to the relentless missile fire emanating from Gaza? At first glance, there appears to be an array of good options, from targeted killings to air strikes to a cutoff in fuel, water, and electricity to a ground incursion. (And certainly there is no question that Hamas and Islamic Jihad deserve any and all of these punishments, and then some.)

But a problem arises when one considers the current political and diplomatic environment, specifically, the American and Israeli project to prevent the West Bank, a more populous and less containable territory than Gaza, from being turned into Hamas’s next battleground. Setting aside the question of whether this project is a good idea, the pursuit of it remains a powerful delimiting force for Israeli action, and it is thus that the array of options for Gaza suddenly shrinks.

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How should Israel respond to the relentless missile fire emanating from Gaza? At first glance, there appears to be an array of good options, from targeted killings to air strikes to a cutoff in fuel, water, and electricity to a ground incursion. (And certainly there is no question that Hamas and Islamic Jihad deserve any and all of these punishments, and then some.)

But a problem arises when one considers the current political and diplomatic environment, specifically, the American and Israeli project to prevent the West Bank, a more populous and less containable territory than Gaza, from being turned into Hamas’s next battleground. Setting aside the question of whether this project is a good idea, the pursuit of it remains a powerful delimiting force for Israeli action, and it is thus that the array of options for Gaza suddenly shrinks.

In this context, it is not the least bit unrealistic to imagine the fallout from a strong Israeli military campaign or aid cutoff in Gaza: Mahmoud Abbas, who is involved in delicate negotiations with Israeli and American officials, would almost certainly be compelled to denounce Israel; the schizophrenic Palestinian “street” in the West Bank would be galvanized in support of Hamas; and Fatah’s security forces (which have been penetrated thoroughly by Hamas supporters) would have their incompetence exposed, and might become complicit in terrorist attacks against Israel—attacks ordered by the Hamas leadership in Damascus. In other words, the entire project of bolstering Fatah in the West Bank as both a counterexample to Gaza and a competent vehicle for curtailing Islamist influence seriously would be debilitated and possibly even scuttled.

In setting themselves this course, America and Israel preemptively have denied themselves the ability to strike at Hamas in Gaza in any meaningful way. The only option left is the one Israel appears to be following: limited strikes on Qassam missiles, launchers, and factories; a few targeted killings; and idle threats of water and electricity cutoffs. This, though, is too much of a bad deal for Israel, and an intolerable one for the residents of the border town of Sderot. A renewed Fatah kleptocracy in the West Bank is not a sufficient benefit given the cost entailed—namely, that of a Gaza Strip that can terrorize Israel with impunity.

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