Targeted killings safer option than another Cast Lead

November 13, 2012
Sarah Benton

The Hermes drone, in use with the Israeli Air Force

Israel will avoid Gaza war but may mull Hamas assassinations

Amos Harel and Avi Issacharoff explain the pressure on Netanyahu ahead of January’s election to respond more forcefully to rocket fire from Gaza, and Israel’s desire to avoid a ground operation a la Cast Lead.

By Amos Harel and Avi Issacharoff, Ha’aretz
November 12, 2012

Sunday was another grueling day for Negev residents as dozens of missiles and mortar shells rained down from the Gaza Strip, leaving three people with shrapnel wounds and forcing hundreds of thousands into their protected spaces.

The Israel Air Force killed two Islamic Jihad activists in a retaliatory strike, but the escalation in the south is increasing the pressure on Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to intensify Israel’s military response.

On top of this, tension on the border with Syria is growing: The IDF fired a warning missile into the Syrian-controlled area of the Golan Heights on Sunday, after several instances in which the fighting in Syria’s civil war had inadvertently spilled over into Israeli territory.

Gaza, however, remains the main problem for Netanyahu. The more intensely the southern residents protest what they see as the government’s abandonment of their security, the more seriously he will have to consider taking tougher measures, with a resumption of targeted killings the most likely possibility.

Netanyahu, who is preparing for January’s election, is already being attacked in the political arena for not responding more forcefully. But he knows that his range of options against Hamas is limited. Israel is at this stage trying to avoid a ground operation a la Cast Lead. One reason is that the diplomatic reality now is far different than it was when that offensive was launched in 2008: Israel fears a direct confrontation with the new regime in Egypt and it knows that neither the United States nor Europe will be as tolerant of a large-scale military operation this time around.

There was no evidence Sunday along the Gaza border that the IDF was making any special preparations for an operation. Assassinations don’t require very much preparation, though. All that’s needed is a decision, but that, too, is a gamble, because it’s hard to know how Hamas would react to such an initiative. Right now Hamas is looking pretty sure of itself. Its leaders didn’t hesitate to take responsibility for some of the attacks over this past week, in a way that Israel saw as particularly provocative.

Once again there were reports yesterday of Egyptian efforts to bring about a cease-fire. This has turned into a ritual, one that usual succeeds in bringing about a gradual and temporary lull. Even so, Hamas doesn’t seem to be particularly impressed by Israel’s threats. It hasn’t made an effort to rein in the other factions, and its own men are even taking an active part in launching missiles. Hamas’ justification is that, according to Palestinian sources, five of the seven most recent casualties of IDF fire in Gaza have been civilians, among them two children.

Palestinian analysts in Gaza estimated yesterday that this round would end shortly if there were no more deaths on either side. Gazans believe that Hamas’ major challenge in maintaining restraint is not the Islamic Jihad, but Salafist extremists who entered Gaza through the tunnels from Sinai. On this point Hamas has no one to blame but itself. Since it controls the smuggling tunnels and did not object to the entry of Sinai extremists, it shouldn’t be surprised if it has trouble controlling rocket fire against Israel.

The Palestinian factions are primarily targeting the IDF at the moment. The anti-tank missile fired at a Givati jeep on Saturday, that wounded four soldiers, was aimed at setting new “ground rules” along the border fence.

But when the IDF retaliates, the Palestinians target civilian communities. It’s almost an exact rerun of what prevailed along the Lebanese border in 2000, with one difference: In Gaza there is no Israeli security zone and our forces are in our own territory most of the time.

The damage to the Gaza border communities is intensifying because the terrorists are using a relatively new weapon, 107 mm Katyusha rockets. This isn’t a particularly innovative or sophisticated weapon, but it packs a much bigger wallop than Qassam rockets or mortars. While Ashkelon and Be’er Sheva enjoy the relative protection of the Iron Dome system, Sderot and the moshavim closer to Gaza have been taking hit after hit. As of last night, more than 110 rockets and mortars had been fired at the south since Saturday.

Sunday’s firing of a Tamuz rocket at Syrian President Bashar Assad’s forces on the Golan Heights, meanwhile, was a clear signal to Damascus that it had better start monitoring the movements of its forces. Israel has no interest in getting involved in the Syrian civil war. All it wants is to deter the Syrian army from coming too close to the border as it continues its efforts to massacre the rebels.

Although Hamas had taken control of the Gaza Strip three-and-a-half years before the Arab Spring broke out, one can see the threats Israel must contend with on the Golan and in the Gaza Strip as symptoms of the same phenomenon.

Syria is a failed state, which has a hard time controlling its armed forces and has abandoned large areas to the opposition. This is a situation that could pose a risk to Israel as well.

Hamas, in Gaza, is a sort of half-state, but it, too, is looking and acting like a failed state, which can’t impose its authority on all the armed factions operating in its territory.

Israel launches Gaza offensive, kills Hamas commander

Jaabari killing is first of many Gaza strikes: Israel official
Hamas military chief killed in Israeli airstrike

By Nidal al-Mughrabi, Reuters
November 14, 2012

GAZA- Israel launched a major offensive against Palestinian militants in Gaza on Wednesday, killing the military commander of Hamas in an air strike and threatening an invasion of the enclave that the Islamist group vowed would “open the gates of hell”.

gaza strike.14.11.12
Palestinian man carries woman to safety after air strikes, Gaza city, November 14, 2012. Photo Reuters/Ahmed Zakot

The onslaught shattered hopes that a truce mediated on Tuesday by Egypt could pull the two sides back from the brink of war after five days of escalating Palestinian rocket attacks and Israeli strikes at militant targets.

Operation “Pillar of Defense” began with a surgical strike on a car carrying the commander of the military wing of Hamas, the Islamist movement which controls Gaza and dominates a score of smaller armed groups.

Within minutes of the death of Ahmed Al-Jaabari, big explosions were rocking Gaza, as the Israeli air force struck at selected targets just before sundown, blasting plumes of smoke and debris high above the crowded city.

Panicking civilians ran for cover and the death toll mounted quickly. Seven people including two girls under the age of five were killed, the health ministry said.

A second Gaza war has loomed on the horizon for months as waves of Palestinian rocket attacks and Israeli strikes grew increasingly more intense and frequent.

Israel’s Operation Cast Lead in 2008-2009 began with a week of air attacks and shelling, followed by a land invasion of the blockaded coastal strip, sealed off at sea by the Israeli navy. Some 1,400 Palestinians were killed and 13 Israelis died.

Hamas said Jaabari, who ran the organization’s armed wing, Izz el-Deen Al-Qassam, died along with an unnamed associate when their car was blown apart by an Israeli missile.

The charred and mangled wreckage of a car could be seen belching flames, as emergency crews picked up what appeared to be body parts.

Gates of hell
Israel confirmed it had carried out the attack and announced there was more to come. Reuters witnesses saw Hamas security compounds and police stations blasted apart.

“This is an operation against terror targets of different organizations in Gaza,” Israeli army spokeswoman Colonel Avital Leibovitch told reporters.

Jaabari had “a lot of blood on his hands”, she said. Other militant groups including Islamic Jihad were on the target list.

Immediate calls for revenge were broadcast over Hamas radio.

“The occupation has opened the gates of hell,” Hamas’s armed wing said. Smaller groups also vowed to strike back.

“Israel has declared war on Gaza and they will bear the responsibility for the consequences,” Islamic Jihad said.

Southern Israeli communities within rocket range of Gaza were on full alert, and schools were ordered closed for Thursday. About one million Israelis live in range of Gaza’s relatively primitive but lethal rockets, supplemented in recent months by longer-range, more accurate systems.

“The days we face in the south will, in my estimation, prove protracted,” Brigadier-General Yoav Mordechai, Israel’s chief military spokesman, told Channel 2 TV.

“The home front must brace itself resiliently.”

Mordechai said Israel was both responding to a surge in Palestinian rocket salvoes earlier this week and trying to prevent Hamas and other Palestinian factions from building up their arsenals further.

Among the targets of Wednesday’s air strikes were underground caches of longer-range Hamas rockets, he said.

Asked if Israel might send in ground forces, Mordechai said: “There are preparations, and if we are required to, the option of an entry by ground is available.”

Hamas emboldened
Israel’s intelligence agency Shin Bet said Jaabari was responsible for Hamas’ takeover of the Gaza Strip in 2007, when the militant Islamist group ousted fighters of the Fatah movement of its great rival, the Western-backed Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas.

It said Jaabari instigated the attack that led to the capture of Israeli Corporal Gilad Shalit in a kidnap raid from Gaza in 2006. Jaabari was also the man who handed Shalit over to Israel in a prisoner exchange five years after his capture.

Israel holds a general election on January 22 and conservative Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has pledged to retaliate harshly against Hamas.

Hamas has been emboldened by the rise to power in neighboring Egypt of its spiritual mentors in the Muslim Brotherhood, viewing them as a “safety net” that will not permit a second Israeli thrashing of Gaza, home to 1.7 million Palestinians.

Egypt condemned Israel’s strikes on Gaza and urged it to end the attacks at once.

Hamas has historically been supported by Iran, which Israel regards as a rising threat to its own existence due to its nuclear program.

In the flare-up that was prelude to Wednesday’s offensive, more than 115 missiles were fired into southern Israel from Gaza and Israeli planes launched numerous strikes.

Seven Palestinians, three of them gunmen, were killed. Eight Israeli civilians were hurt by rocket fire and four soldiers wounded by an anti-tank missile.

Helped by Iran and the flourishing contraband trade through tunnels from Egypt, Gaza militias have smuggled in better weapons since the war of 2008-09.

But Gaza’s estimated 35,000 Palestinian fighters are still no match for Israel’s F-16 fighter-bombers, Apache helicopter gunships, Merkava tanks and other modern weapons systems in the hands of a conscript force of 175,000, with 450,000 in reserve.

Israel’s shekel fell nearly one percent to a two-month low against the dollar on Wednesday after news of the Israeli air strikes broke.

Additional reporting by Dan Williams, Crispian Balmer and Ori Lewis in Jerusalem

a href=””>Israelis Launch Major Assault on Gaza, Killing Hamas Commander

By Fares Akram and Isabel Kersher, NY Times
November 14, 2012

GAZA — Israel on Wednesday launched one of the most ferocious assaults on Gaza since its invasion four years ago, hitting at least 20 targets in aerial attacks that killed the top military commander of Hamas, drew strong condemnation from Egypt and escalated the risks of a new war in the Middle East.

“Israel left Gaza and uprooted the settlements and got thousands of indiscriminate rockets in return.”

The Israelis coupled the intensity of the airstrikes with warnings to all Hamas leaders in Gaza to stay out of sight or risk the same fate as the Hamas military commander, Ahmed al-Jabari, who was killed in a pinpoint airstrike as he was traveling by car down a Gaza street. “We recommend that no Hamas operatives, whether low level or senior leaders, show their faces above ground in the days ahead,” the Israel Defense Forces said in a Twitter message.

The ferocity of the airstrikes, in response to what Israel called repeated rocket attacks by Gaza-based Palestinian militants, provoked rage in Gaza, where Hamas said the airstrikes amounted to war and promised a harsh response. Civil-defense authorities in Israel raised alert levels and told residents to take precautions for rocket retaliation from Gaza.

The abrupt escalation in hostilities between Israel and Hamas, the militant organization regarded by Israel as a terrorist group sworn to Israel’s destruction, came amid rising tensions between Israel and all of its Arab neighbors. Israel has faced growing lawlessness on its border with the Sinai, including cross-border terror attacks. It recently fired twice into Syria, which is caught in a civil war, after munitions fell in the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights, and it has absorbed rocket fire from Gaza, which has damaged homes and frightened the population.

Israeli officials had promised a robust response to the rocket fire, but for the moment, at least, opted against a ground invasion and instead chose airstrikes and targeted killings.

The Israeli attacks especially threatened to further complicate Israel’s fragile relations with Egypt, where the Islamist-led government of President Mohamed Morsi, reversing a policy of ousted predecessor Hosni Mubarak, had established closer ties with Hamas and had been acting as a mediator to restore calm between Israel and Gaza-based militant groups.

In a sign of rising anti-Israel hostility in Egypt, Mr. Morsi’s Freedom and Justice Party, which was founded by the Muslim Brotherhood, issued a statement saying:

“The wanton aggression against Gaza proves that Israel has yet to realize that Egypt has changed and that the Egyptian people who revolted against oppression/ injustice will not accept assaulting Gaza.”

A spokesman for Hamas, Fawzi Barhoum, said the Israelis had “committed a dangerous crime and broke all redlines,” and that “the Israeli occupation will regret and pay a high price.”

Military officials in Israel, which announced responsibility for the death of Mr. Jabari, later said in a statement that their forces had carried out additional airstrikes in Gaza targeting what they described as “a significant number of long-range rocket sites” owned by Hamas that had stored rockets capable of reaching 25 miles into Israel. The statement said the airstrikes had dealt a “significant blow to the terror organization’s underground rocket-launching capabilities.”

Yisrael Katz, a minister from Israel’s governing Likud Party, issued a statement saying that the operation had sent a message to the Hamas political leaders in Gaza “that the head of the snake must be smashed. Israel will continue to kill and target anyone who is involved in the rocket attacks.”Hamas and medical officials in Gaza said both Mr. Jabari and a companion were killed by the airstrike on his car in Gaza City. Israeli news media said the companion was Mr. Jabari’s son, but there was no immediate confirmation.

The Israel Defense Forces said in a statement that Mr. Jabari had been targeted because he “served in the upper echelon of the Hamas command and was directly responsible for executing terror attacks against the state of Israel in the past number of years.”

The statement said the purpose of the attack was to “severely impair the command and control chain of the Hamas leadership as well as its terrorist infrastructure.”

The statement did not specify how the Israelis knew Mr. Jabari was in the car but said the operation had been “implemented on the basis of concrete intelligence and using advanced capabilities.”

A video released by the Israeli Defense Forces and posted on YouTube showed an aerial view of the attack on what it identified as Mr. Jabari’s car on a Gaza street as it was targeted and instantly blown up in a pinpoint bombing. News photographs of the aftermath showed the car’s blackened hulk surrounded by a large crowd.

The statement did not specify how the Israelis knew Mr. Jabari was in the car but said the operation had been “implemented on the basis of concrete intelligence and using advanced capabilities.”

A video released by the Israeli Defense Forces and posted on YouTube showed an aerial view of the attack on what it identified as Mr. Jabari’s car on a Gaza street as it was targeted and instantly blown up in a pinpoint bombing. News photographs of the aftermath showed the car’s blackened hulk surrounded by a large crowd.

Hamas has controlled Gaza since 2007, a year after the Israelis withdrew from the territory captured in the 1967 Arab-Israeli war. But Israeli forces went back into Gaza in the winter of 2008-09 in response to what they called a terrorist campaign by Palestinian militants there to launch rockets into Israel. The three-week military campaign killed as many as 1,400 Palestinians, including hundreds of civilians, and was widely condemned internationally.

Since then Hamas has mostly adhered to an informal, if shaky, cease-fire and at times tried to enforce the smaller militant groups to stick to it. But in recent months, under pressure from some of the Gaza population for not avenging deadly Israeli airstrikes, it has claimed responsibility for participating in the firing of rockets. Last week, it also claimed credit for detonating a tunnel packed with explosives along the Israel-Gaza border while Israeli soldiers were working nearby.

Israel has mainly responded to rocket attacks in recent years by attacking the rocket-launching squads, empty training sites or weapons manufacturing plants. Israel also had not attempted any high-profile assassinations, although it has killed some local leaders of small, radical Islamic organizations that it said were involved in planning attacks on Israelis.

Israel has long said it would hold Hamas responsible for attacks launched from Gaza on its forces and population, regardless of which group was behind them. Like the United States and Europe, Israel defines Hamas as a terrorist organization. Hamas refuses to recognize Israel’s right to exist.

Mr. Jabari became the acting leader of the Hamas military wing after Israel had severely wounded Muhammad Deif, the top commander, in an assassination attempt in 2003. Mr. Jabari had survived several previous Israeli raids. In 2004, Israeli planes attacked his house killing one of his sons and three other relatives.

Shin Bet, the Israeli security agency, considered Mr. Jabari responsible for what it called “all anti-Israeli terror activity” emanating from Gaza.

He was also known for having played a major role in negotiations that led to the release of Gilad Shalit, an Israeli soldier captured by Gaza militants in a cross-border raid in 2006. Mr. Jabari personally escorted Mr. Shalit during a handover to Egyptian intermediaries last year as part of a prisoner exchange for hundreds of Palestinians held in Israeli jails. Video of the handoff to Egypt showed Mr. Jabari standing near Mr. Shalit.

Lt. Col. Avital Leibovich, a spokeswoman for the Israeli military, acknowledged Mr. Jabari’s role in that prisoner exchange during a conference call with journalists on Wednesday announcing the airstrike on Mr. Jabari’s car. She also said Mr. Jabari had “a lot of blood on his hands.”

Fares Akram reported from Gaza, and Isabel Kershner from Jerusalem. Rick Gladstone contributed reporting from New York, and Mayy El Sheikh from Cairo.

© Copyright JFJFP 2017