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Gaza - Meltdown or Cooling Down?

Escalation Of Palestinian Rocketing From Gaza Forces Israel To Prematurely Deploy 'Iron Dome' Anti-Missile System To Protect Israeli Civilians

IsraCast Assessment: Deployment of 'Iron Dome' Indicates Israeli Government's Attempt To Defuse Situation That Could Soar Out Of Control, If Palestinian Attacks Continue Or If Rocket Inflicts Severe Casualties

Hamas Terrorists in the Gaza Strip

For over a week now, Israeli civilians along the Gaza border have been racing for their bomb shelters as early warning sirens warn that more Palestinian rockets have been fired at them from Palestinian terrorists. They've had enough and are demanding that the government put an end to it one way or the other. To date, the IDF has reacted by carrying out pin point air raids and ground fire at terror targets mainly trying to intercept the actual rocker launchers who fire from inside Palestinian populated areas. But to no avail. Meanwhile, there has also been an upsurge in terror attacks on the West Bank where the Palestinian Authority operates actively suppresses terrorism against Israel, rather than encouraging it. Analyst David Essing writes that Israel is now considering several options to solve the dilemma of how to force the terrorists in Gaza to cease their attacks without launching a major military operation into Gaza.

Has the wave of rebellion and violence now sweeping the Arab world also sparked the current flareup of Palestinian terrorism from Gaza and the West Bank? It started on the Sabbath eve of March 13th with the slaughter of five members of the Fogel family in the settlement of Itamar on the West Bank. In Gaza, terrorists stepped up the launching of rockets and missiles; climaxing in a crescendo of fifty mortars a week later, terrorizing tens of thousands of Israeli civilians into racing for their bomb shelters. Israeli aircraft and IDF troops targeted the rocket launchers - in one case, an Israeli mortar went astray killing a Palestinian child, a youth and a civilian male for which Israeli leaders apologized immediately. The Palestinians have further escalated by launching sophisticated GRAD missiles at the cities of Beer Sheva, Ashdod and Ashkelon.

One hundred and fifty thousand children are not attending classes for fear the rockets will hit their schools causing mass casualties. And after nearly three years of quiet in Jerusalem, a suitcase bomb blew up at a bus stop killing a fifty-six year old woman and injuring over thirty others. Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Ehud Barak have been consulting with the new IDF Chief of Staff Gen. Benny Gantz on how to respond to the escalation. Then while Netanyahu was meeting with his Russian counter-part Vladmir Putin in Moscow, U.S.President Barack Obama telephoned the Israeli leader 'to convey his condolences over the terrorist attack in Jerusalem which killed one person and wounded many others and to express his concern about the recent rocket rocket and mortar attacks against Israel from Gaza. The United States reaffirmed the United States' unwavering commitment to Israel's security'. Sources close to Netanyahu also heard words of praise for his restraint from Obama, who was obviously well aware of the far more devastating American air strikes in Libya. Putin and Russian President Dmitri Medvedev, who have been contending with Chechnyan terrorism, also condemned the latest attacks on Israel in no uncertain terms.

Hamas terrorists firing rockets

Israel has adopted a zero tolerance policy towards terror from Gaza where the circle of violence has been spiraling. Will the terror attacks now surge out of control and force Israel launch another 'Cast Lead' operation into Gaza as it did at the end of 2007? After meeting with visiting U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates, Defense Minister Ehud Barak declared: 'There is a need to respond to the indiscriminate rocketing from Gaza!' Barak added that Hamas bears ultimate responsibility no matter which terror group actually fires the rockets and mortars. For his part, Gates said: 'No soverign state can tolerate having rockets fired at its people'. At present, both Israel and Hamas have indicated they do not wish to see a further escalation of the violence.

Hamas's primary interest is governing Gaza and apparently feels it's time to end the violence that could backfire, if Israel takes off the gloves. Gaza is also the first territory to be ruled by the Muslim Brotherhood and could give a bad name to the cause, particularly to its Muslim Brothers in Egypt, who are jockeying for greater political legitimacy. In fact, several Israeli government members such as Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman, Silvan Shalom and Eli Yishai have been calling for another 'Cast Lead Operation' into Gaza and toppling the Hamas regime once and for all. However, this is not in the cards, unless the situation turns utterly intolerable for Israel. Some politicians have also been talking about again targeting Hamas leaders.

The problem is that Islamic Jihad, the main rival of Hamas, has only one goal - to wage a relentless jihad against Israel, and let the chips fall where they will. This apparently has found favor in the eyes of Iran which has stepped up its arms supply to Islamic Jihad, which it reportedly views as is a more 'reliable' client than Hamas. If this assessment is true, the continued Israeli retaliation against Hamas could force Hamas, one terror organization to act against another, the Islamic Jihad. But despite the Palestinian rivalry about their tactics of terror, Israel holds Hamas which won the the Palestinian election, as responsible for all attacks from territory under its governance.

The escalation from Gaza is reaching the breaking point - an estimated 100 rockets and mortars have been fired from Gaza at Israeli towns and villages whose residents are being terrorized around the clock. They are fed up and demand that the government do what it takes to put a stop it. Returning from his brief visit to Moscow, Netanyahu declared: 'No country would agree to its civilians being repeated attacked, nor will Israel. We are prepared to use Israel's full force to put an end to it!' The terrorists in Gaza are known to have Iranian supplied missiles that can reach as far as Tel Aviv, Israel's major population center to the north. Actually, in the Tel Aviv suburb of Rishon LeZion, residents were scared briefly by a false alarm which warned a rocket from Gaza was on the way.

The anger and frustration of several hundred thousand Israeli civilians within rocket range of Gaza is getting to the government which is trying to defuse the flareup, believing that Hamas may now be ready to cool off the conflagration, although Islamic Jihad is not. What it boil down to is this: Islamic Jihad hopes that one of its rockets or mortars will score a direct hit on an Israeli school or kindergarten, whereas Hamas may be worried that it will bear the brunt of an Israeli retaliation. Possibly as a last resort, Netanyahu and Barak have decided to speed up the deployment of Israel's brand new 'Iron Dome' missile defense system to intercept rockets that are on target to land in Israeli populated areas. The Israel Air Force has not completed breaking in the system but the deteriorating situation has left no choice.

On Sunday 'Iron Dome', as is, will be deployed opposite the Gaza Strip. However there are only two batteries which cannot protect all the towns and villages on the Israeli side along the border. So the dilemma will be where to set up the missile defense system. A credibility risk is involved in the premature deploying of 'Iron Dome'; it may not be as 'fine tuned' as wished and if it fails to meet expectations, it would be a blow to public morale. Apparently, the gravity of the situation has justified the risk and final adjustments can be made after the system has gone operational. 'Iron Dome' is a state of the art missile defense system - it can immediately determine whether an incoming rocket will actually hit an Israeli populated area and only then is it fired to intercept. It can be said that although the deployment of 'Iron Dome' is to protect Israeli citizens it may also prevent harm to innocent Palestinian civilians. For example, if one of those Palestinian rockets scores a bull's eye on an Israeli kindergarten, school or shopping center, Israel will have no alternative but to respond with its massive fire power. In such a scenario, this would pose a far greater danger to Palestinian civilians, who are frequently used as human shields by the terrorists. The same also holds true for the targeted killing of Hamas and other terror leaders. So the next few days will determine whether the Gaza flareup soars out of control or whether the Palestinians in Gaza, be they Hamas, Islamic Jihad or whoever, agree to cool down the violence - until the next time. 

David Essing

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