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Hamas Claims The Right To Rocket Israeli Civilians From Gaza

Prime Minister Ehud Olmert Returns Home To Face Mounting Demands For IDF Invasion Into Gaza To Halt Rocketing

Palestinian terrorists launching rockets

'The Palestinian rocketing of Ashqelon from the Gaza Strip marks a new dimension in the confrontation and one which cannot be tolerated by Israel' - that's the reaction of Israeli officials to the Palestinian barrage of Ashqelon this week. Within forty-eight hours, Palestinian terrorists launched some 100 rockets at Israeli population centers. In escalating counter-terror operations, the IDF killed 18 Palestinians most of them terrorists. IsraCast is of the view that if there is no let-up in the Palestinian rocketing, Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and his government will not be able to hold off from launching a long awaited ground offensive into northern Gaza to drive out the rocket squads.

Is the latest escalation in the low intensity conflict between Israel and the Gaza Strip about to boil over into total war? Israeli officials say the Hamas regime in Gaza has crossed a red line by firing 10 Grad Katyusha rockets deeper into Israel hitting the town of Ashqelon. Although, the Palestinians have fired one or two Grads at Ashqelon in the past, they have never launched such a barrage that has terrorized the town's 120,000 residents. Until now the Palestinians have fired nearly all of their less lethal Qassam rockets at the frontier town of Sderot where 11 people have been killed during the past seven years. In light of the escalation, defense officials have ordered the early waring 'Color Red' system to be sounded in Ashqelon as well. The situation has become intolerable and Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, back home from Japan, is under intense pressure to order the IDF to launch a long awaited ground operation into Gaza. It comes from both in and out of his government coalition.


Former Prime Minister Ariel Sharon ordered a unilateral Israel evacuation of the Gaza Strip over two years ago. At the time, Sharon warned that if the Palestinians exploited the evacuated territory to launch new attacks against Israel, he would hit back hard. But then the U.S. pressured both Israel and the more moderate Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas into letting radical Hamas run the Palestinian parliamentary election of January 2006. Hamas won and proceeded to launch a bloody clash kicking Abbas out of Gaza last June. Since then, the Palestinians have stepped up both the smuggling of weapons and explosives from Egypt and also escalated its rocket attacks on Sderot.

Hamas, financed and trained by Iran, contends that although Israel has evacuated the Gaza Strip it is still entitled to attack the Jewish state which it also vows to wipe off the map. Israel has responded by stepping up up its air strikes mainly by helicopter gunships on the terrorists who fire the rockets from within populated areas using Palestinian civilians as cover. In fact, the latest flareup was sparked when an Israeli helicopter hit a vehicle carrying five terrorists on a rocketing mission and who had reportedly just returned from training in Iran.

Qassam rocket in Sderot

In blaming Israel for the escalation, a Hamas spokesman very candidly expressed surprise that Israel had hit the terrorist team saying: 'The Israelis are too blame for the escalation because we have actually been firing less rockets lately'. In other words, the Palestinians have the right to rocket Israeli civilians as they deem fit and Israel should not respond. (Bizarre as this may seem this is sometimes the main message of some foreign news reports about the latest confrontation.)

So the Hamas regime in Gaza, that was actually elected by the Palestinians, has conducted a policy of attacking Israel at will and by all means possible. First it was by cross border attacks and suicide bombers. When Israel built an effective security fence, they tried tunneling underneath and then launching rockets over it. When the IDF and the Shabak Security Service improved their tactics for eliminating the terrorists and their chiefs, Hamas went on the warpath launching the Grads at Ashqelon and nearly 100 rockets at Sderot which killed a university student and traumatizing tens of thousands of children, women and men.

Although this is an intolerable situation, it is actually the pattern of the confrontation. The Israel Defense Forces are awaiting the green light from the political leadership which will not be given until Prime Minister Ehud Olmert holds consultations after his return from Japan.

There are weighty and wide-ranging implications to sending Israeli tanks and troops back into the densely populated Gaza Strip where there is no way of anticipating the casualties on both sides. Until now the Prime Minister, Defense Minister Barak, Foreign Minister Livni, IDF Chief Of Staff Ashkenazi and Shabak Security Chief Diskin have indicated they are not eager to re-invade Gaza. The Israeli approach has been to wear down the terrorists ability to contain it until the new 'Iron Dome' rocket defense system is in place. However, that will take another several years and meanwhile the escalating Hamas attacks have added what Israeli officials call 'a new dimension'. Although, the Israeli government has not launched a major ground operation to silence the shelling of Sderot, it cannot tolerate a second town, five times as large, to also be traumatized.

There are political considerations. Israel is now engaged in peace contacts with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas who governs the second Palestinian entity on the West Bank. U.S. President George Bush has thrown his weight behind the new Annapolis process to achieve an Israeli-Palestinian peace deal while Hamas in Gaza would be isolated and pay the price. In Japan, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice apparently called on Olmert to hold off in Gaza for the sake of progress on the West Bank. However, there is a limit to how long the Israeli government can do so in light of Israeli civilians being rocketed day and night from Gaza.

David Essing

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