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Gaza-Israel and the Bigger Middle East Picture

Assessment: Salvoes of Gaza rockets on Israeli civilians and the firing of antitank missile at IDF jeep patrolling inside Israeli territory left government with no option but to launch "Pillar of Cloud" operation.

On operational level: Israel's new rules on aggression from Gaza - after downgrading Palestinian rocket capability Israel will continue to meet any further attacks with a severe response.

 Regional implications: First, Israel will not allow Egypt's President Mohammed Morsi to hold Israeli peace treaty as ransom for Gaza rocketing of Israel. Second, after rise of Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt, Hamas felt it could cross Israel's red line with impunity. Analyst David Essing is of the view that Israel will also react with the necessary force, if Iran crosses Israel's nuclear red line this spring.

 Enough is enough from Gaza…

Anyone who thought Israel would let Hamas get away with it this time does not understand the Israeli government or people. By launching some 100 rockets at Israeli civilians within a twenty-four period and firing a deadly Kornet antitank missile at an Israeli jeep inside Israeli territory, Hamas had crossed an Israeli red line. Israel has finally taken off the gloves after repeated Palestinian provocations. First to be eliminated was Ahmed Jabari, the Hamas military 'chief of staff' who had been terrorizing Israeli civilians for years with salvoes of rockets, over 700 this year alone. Apparently Jabari got carried away with the wave of violence spawned by the Arab Spring and the rise to power of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt. Jabari not only intensified the rocketing but also ordered the firing of an antitank missile at an Israeli jeep patrolling inside Israeli territory. (In 2006, Jabari had also ordered the cross-border attack that killed two IDF soldiers and abducted Gilad Shalit. After holding Shalit for five years, in violation of all human rights, Jabari proudly paraded Shalit to his release in exchange for one thousand Palestinian prisoners).

Finish the job!

Already under intense domestic pressure to put a stop to the years of Palestinian rocketing, the antitank missile might have marked the tipping-point. It signaled that Hamas was bent on a further escalation. Miraculously, four IDF soldiers were not killed outright when their jeep traveling inside Israel was recently demolished by a Kornet antitank missile launched from Gaza. Bear in mind that the Russian made Kornet can destroy a tank. With over one million Israelis racing daily for their bomb shelters when the sirens wail, the public demanded action and Prime Minister Netanyahu, who had actually adopted a tit-for-tat policy toward Gaza, was forced to adopt a different course. The media and the opposition parties have backed him to the hilt although well aware that more Israeli civilians and soldiers will be killed and wounded in the current conflagration. But there comes a time when enough is enough. Israelis, first and foremost those in the bomb shelters are urging the government not to halt the operation until the IDF finishes the job.

Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu warned: "Hamas and the other terror organizations decided to escalate their rocketing of Israeli civilians, no country would put up with it, nor will we. If need be, the Israel Defense Forces are prepared to expand the operation". Appearing at Netanyahu's side, Defense Minister Ehud Barak defined the goals of Operation 'Pillar of Cloud':"To restore Israel's deterrence, to deal a severe blow to the rocketing capability of terrorists and to inflict painful damage on Hamas and the other terror organizations. We are at the start of the operation, not at the end". (Pillar of a cloud is derived from the Book of Exodus. ('And the Lord went before them by day in a pillar of a cloud).

Palestinian Osama Bin Laden…

Ahmed Jabari, a Palestinian Osama Bin Laden, planned and executed terrorist attacks that have killed and wounded scores of Israeli civilians. Number one on Israel's hit list and with good reason; his blood was on his head as is the case with the other Hamas leaders. As dusk was falling over Gaza, Ahmed Jabari was traveling by van in an uninhabited area. He was being tracked by an Israel Air Force aircraft. Just after his van passed a minibus, it was blown to smithereens by a missile launched by the aircraft. A short time earlier, the Shabak Security Service had detected Jabari's whereabouts and the aircraft was swiftly airborne to carry out the mission. Shortly after the targeted killing, more Israeli aircraft swooped in to destroy the Iranian supplied long range Fajr missiles capable of reaching Israel's metropolitan area of Tel Aviv, some forty miles to the north.

Three Israelis didn't make it…

After Hamas, Islamic Jihad and the other terror organizations recovered from their initial shock, they started launching salvoes of rockets into Israel. Towns as far off as Beer Sheva and Ashkelon were also targeted. However Israeli civilians had been alerted to enter their reinforced rooms at home while the Iron Dome missile system again did yeoman service in knocking out incoming missiles. School was canceled and people were instructed to stay near bomb shelters at all times. In the south, the streets of towns and cities were empty. Three civilians were the first to be killed by a rocket that crashed into their home in Kiryat Malachi; one of them was a young, pregnant woman which might explain why they didn't make it in time to their bomb shelter. Due to the intensity of the rocketing, more Israelis will likely be seriously injured. However Netanyahu and Barak made clear that although the Palestinians try to murder and maim as many Israeli civilians as possible, the IDF will try hard not to harm Palestinian civilians.

Egypt recalls ambassador…

One of the first political casualties is Egypt. The Muslim Brotherhood President Mohammed Morsi condemned Israel for reacting to the Palestinian rocketing. Cairo recalled the Egyptian ambassador from Israel. In another hostile move, the Muslim Brotherhood is demanding that Egypt sever diplomatic relations and abrogate the peace agreement. With the Israeli-Egyptian peace treaty at stake, Jerusalem is concerned about how far Morsi might go. However with her citizens under repeated attack, Israel was left with no choice but to quell the Palestinian aggression. How long will the operation take? The government approved the issuing of special call-up orders for reserve troops indicating that Israel is ready to launch a ground operation into Gaza, if the Palestinian rocketing continues. At present, the Israeli air raids have not only killed the top Hamas commander and some of his aides but also destroyed missiles, arms depots and terror bases in Gaza. Israel is trying to set new ground rules in the confrontation. It will no longer tolerate the rocketing of Israeli civilians or the launching of antitank Kornet rockets at IDF vehicles inside Israel.

International understanding for Israel…

International reaction: The all-important U.S. reaction was swift in coming. President Barack Obama said there was no justification for the Gaza rocketing of Israeli civilians and Israel was entitled to exercise its right of self-defense. Up to his ears in his own guerilla warfare in Afghanistan, Obama called on Israel to do all it could to prevent Palestinian civilian casualties. Britain also charged that Hamas bore main responsibility for the flare-up but Russia condemned the Israeli operation calling it non-proportional to the provocation (compared to what, Russia's military operations in Chechnya?) To date, Israel's surgical strikes, involving scores of sorties (an operational flight by one aircraft), have inflicted few Palestinian casualties. On the second day of the operation, Defense Minister Ehud Barak reiterated: "The operation will continue as long as required to eliminate the threat from Gaza". Gen. Gal Russo, the head of Southern Command, disclosed that the long range rocket capability of Hamas had been dealt a 'fatal blow'. On Day 2 – the Palestinians fired over 200 rockets at Israel but the Iron Dome missile defense system continued to intercept dozens which were headed for populated areas.

And a comment from state president Shimon Peres: "I do not know one state that would have shown so much restraint in light of the persistent provocations from Gaza. Israel is obligated to protect its civilians and will try not to injure innocent Palestinians".

David Essing

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