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Palestinian Rocketing Impacts Israel Election

Israeli civilians again under rocket fire from Gaza, this time in Ashqelon

Angry Residents: 'Nothing Has Changed Since IDF Operation - Hamas Is Again Rocketing Us'

Continued Palestinian rocketing may convince many of Israel's undecided voters to support Netanyahu or Lieberman

Hamas terrorists firing rockets

Since the end of Operation Cast Lead, Palestinian terrorists have carried out sporadic attacks killing one IDF soldier and wounding several civilians. On February 3rd, for the first time they escalated those attacks by launching a GRAD missile at the town of Ashqelon on the Mediterranean Sea. Angry residents charged that Israel halted its recent military operation into Gaza too early and now they were again paying the price. IsraCast assessment: Today's rocketing on Ashqelon will impact on Israel's national election on February 10th. Many undecided voters may now cast their ballots for front runner Binyamin Netanyahu of the Likud or for Avigdor Lieberman's party on the far right.

Today's rocketing on Ashkelon will impact on Israel's national election on February 10th. Many undecided voters may now cast their ballots for front runner Binyamin Netanyahu of the Likud or for Avigdor Lieberman's party on the far right

Ashqelon: just after 7AM parents were preparing to send their children to school in the Israeli seaside town near the Gaza Strip. Suddenly, a GRAD missile crashes into a neighborhood, terrorizing the residents. It caused damage but fortunately missed an apartment building, three people were treated for shock.

One frantic mother later explained: "Nothing has changed, Hamas is still rocketing us!" Most angry parents refused to send their children to school for fear of more rocketing. Today, that is the reality in Israeli towns and villages within rocket range of Gaza some two weeks after the recent IDF operation. Defense Minister Ehud Barak had promised it would bring quiet but this is obviously not the case. Opposition leader, Binyamin Netanyahu immediately visited the site of the rocketing in Ashqelon declaring: "Barak didn't finish the job, I will wipe out Hamas and stop the rocketing!"

But even if the IDF now responds with greater force, it is likely to be perceived as "too little, too late " by Israeli voters. The conclusion for many of the 20% of undecided voters may be that Barak is fumbling the war against Hamas despite the impressive showing by the IDF

Barak had also spoken of a "new price tag" for Hamas aggression but Hamas has apparently not got the message. The GRAD strike came a day after Haled Masha, the Hamas political leader, flew from his Damascus headquarters to Tehran. There he embraced his Iranian sponsor, President Ahmadinejad. Israeli experts have little or no doubt that Iran's leader has been urging Hamas to continue the rocketing. But Barak and even IDF intelligence chief Gen. Amos Yadlin have said that previous sporadic rocketing and other attacks where carried out by smaller terror groups and not Hamas. Even so, the GRAD rocket is over 3 in length and only Hamas is known to be equipped with them.

Hamas terrorists firing rockets

One school of thought has contended that Israel's upcoming election should be postponed because it was still too early to determine the outcome of war. Barak and Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni of Kadima argued that operation Cast Lead clobbered Hamas and the terrorists would not dare rocket Israel again. Barak has played down the terrorist attacks calling them the "last convulsions of Hamas". The IDF has responded with limited air strikes and more may be on the way on those underground tunnels from Egypt into the Gaza Strip. Several of the attackers have also been killed with air to ground rockets. For their part Prime Minister Olmert and Livni have called for harsher reactions and after Ashqelon, Barak spoke of hitting back hard.

If all the polls had indicated that Israel has moved to the right and Netanyahu was the front runner, this recent rocketing will likely mean the Likud leader is now unstoppable

But even if the IDF now responds with greater force, it is likely to be perceived as "too little, too late " by Israeli voters. The conclusion for many of the 20% of undecided voters may be that Barak is fumbling the war against Hamas despite the impressive showing by the IDF. As for Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni she is considered to be Netanyahu's main rival in the election campaign. However, she is still not perceived as 'finishing her political apprenticeship'.

Meanwhile, Avigdor Lieberman of the far right has been gaining at Netanyahu's expense. The bottom line is that only a dramatic development such as the dramatic release of captured IDF soldier Gilad Shalit or the targeted killing of top Hamas leaders will alter the current election reality in Israel today. Even a last-minute announcement from Cairo that Hamas has accepted a truce is not likely to affect the election outcome. If all the polls had indicated that Israel has moved to the right and Netanyahu was the front runner, this recent rocketing will likely mean the Likud leader is now unstoppable.

David Essing

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