JERUSALEM — Three consecutive days in which 150 rockets fell into southern Israel from the Gaza Strip has top Israeli officials warning of fierce retribution and analysts speculating that an operation against the Palestinian enclave may be in the very near future.
“Israel will not sit by idly in the face of the attempts to attack us from the south, and it is prepared to step up its reaction,” Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told his cabinet during their weekly Sunday meeting.
International reporters received a rare invitation today to accompany Netanyahu to the southern city of Ashkelon, where many of the rockets from Gaza land.
“I don’t know of any of your governments who could accept such a thing,” Netanyahu told the assembled reporters, along with foreign ambassadors, an apparent effort to garner international support. “I don’t know of any of the citizens of your cities, who could find that acceptable and something that could proceed on a normal basis.”
On Saturday, the Islamic Jihad militant group fired a laser-guided Russian-made Kornet and hit a military jeep on Saturday, injuring four. The Israeli Air Force responded with strikes that killed six Palestinians, including at least four civilians.
“[This] operation is part of the repelling operations against the occupation assaults on Gaza Strip and West Bank, and as a response for the ongoing aggression against Palestinian people,” Hamas’ military arm, the Al-Qassam Brigades, said in a statement.
The scores of rockets have been fired by Hamas, which controls Gaza, as well as Islamic Jihad and other militant groups. Israel holds Hamas responsible for all violence emanating from Gaza.
“If I were a wise resident of Gaza, I wouldn’t send the children to school in the coming days,” wrote military analyst Alex Fishman in a column in the Yedioth Ahronoth newspaper. “If possible, I would move with the family to the beach, until things blow over.”
“The dilemma of the political echelon and the [Israel Defense Forces] is how to create a limited military operation” with a long-term ceasefire, he continued. ‘And this can be achieved if the targets that are chosen take into account minimal harm to the civilian population.”
The memory of Israel’s Operation Cast Lead at the end of 2008 is still fresh, which left around 1,400 Palestinians and 13 Israelis dead.
“Had the missile fire at the IDF jeep on Saturday led to victims and not “just” to four injured; or had one of the dozens of rockets fired at southern Israel in the last few days led to people being killed, then the way to some sort of operation would have been much shorter,” wrote Ma’ariv’s military analyst Amir Rapaport.
As with previous rounds, Egypt is trying to broker a ceasefire. One had been reported Sunday night but was broken with overnight rocket launches.
This comes as Israel fired into Syria today for the second day in a row, a response to Syrian mortars landing in the occupied Golan Heights. It was the first time since 1973 that Israel fired into Syria and the Israeli military believes the mortars were not intentional, rather a part of Syria’s civil war. But it responded today with tank shells and reported “direct hits” on Syrian artillery.