Israel launched a shock and awe war against the Gaza Strip. As soon as it had succeeded in killing Ahmed al-Jabari in Gaza City, it immediately launched air raids on several Hamas and Islamic Jihad installations in the southern and northern parts of the Gaza Strip.
The initial strikes suggest that Israel is settling old scores with those who have humiliated it by capturing Gilad Shalit and holding him for years. On the other hand, the strikes were contrary to the belief that prevailed in the last two days, which held that Israel is hesitating about attacking Gaza for fear of falling into a trap.
Israel’s new aggression on Gaza had until yesterday evening caused the martyrdom of 10 Palestinians and the wounding of 60. Israel conducted air raids targeting a leading figure in the Izz al-Din al-Qassam Brigades Ahmed al-Jabari, who was martyred. The assassination was followed by continuous airstrikes and artillery shelling on targets across the strip. Jabari’s assassination came in the wake of Israeli media reports saying that Israel is about to resume assassinating the leaders of the Palestinian resistance in Gaza. Jabari is Hamas’s highest-ranking official to be assassinated since the last Israeli war on Gaza in 2008-2009.
It should be noted that Jabari was on Israel’s wanted list. Israel says he was responsible for several military operations, including the capture of Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit in 2006. Shalit was released five years later as part of a large prisoner exchange deal.
The Israeli bombing raids also killed nine Palestinians and injured more than 60. According to medical sources, among the nine martyrs were three resistance fighters and two children.
Some think that the reason why Israel targeted Jabari and others in Khan Younis and Rafah in the initial strikes was to send a message saying: Israel is ready to escalate, even to the point of war.
As they did at the start of the Second Lebanon War in 2006, Israeli media referred to the subsequent strikes as “preemptive strikes” on caches of long-range missiles. Apparently, Israel wants to send a message that the Palestinians will not be able to establish a status quo of mutual deterrence.
Haaretz’s military analyst said that the mere fact that the operation was given a name (Pillar of Defense) indicates that the Israeli escalation is not a limited operation, and that this is just the beginning.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Ehud Barak were doing what could be only described as a major propaganda campaign. They signaled that they wanted calm and that Israel will cease fire if the attacks from Gaza stop. After the Palestinian factions announced a truce, Netanyahu and Barak arrived at the headquarters of the northern front in Safed. This gave the impression that their attention was on the Golan Heights and Lebanon, not Gaza. Then suddenly, Israel started hitting Gaza. Netanyahu and Barak want to promote the idea that Jabari is Israel’s Osama bin Laden.
When the Palestinians reacted by firing rockets, the air and sea became filled with Israeli planes, vessels and gunboats, which started intensively shelling several areas in a clear show of force. Israel wants to intimidate its enemies to restore its deterrent capability, which it had lost in the last few months. That was the objective of the news conference by Netanyahu and Barak.
Israeli media said that the targeting of Jabari was a joint operation by the General Security Service (Shabak) and the Israeli army. Israeli media said that the assassination was the starting signal for a series of air raids across the Gaza Strip to destroy caches of long-range missiles.
Israeli media noted that the operation’s leader, Chief of Staff Gen. Benny Gantz, has called it “Pillar of Defense.” Israeli military leaders were quoted as saying that other senior Palestinian resistance leaders in Gaza are on the target list. The head of the Shin Bet, Yoram Cohen, is overseeing the intelligence side of the operation.
The security cabinet is scheduled to meet this morning to determine the next steps following the expected Palestinian response.
A spokesman for the Israeli army said that Israeli citizens should follow the instructions of the Home Front Command, pointing out that the situation “may last for days.” He said that the Israeli army is “ready for confrontation” and that “a ground operation is on the agenda.” Military circles reported that several Israeli army brigades have gathered around the Gaza Strip in preparation for a ground invasion. But such a move is not likely despite the military’s demands. One of the lessons learned from the Second Lebanon War and the Cast Lead operation in Gaza was that a ground invasion should be done quickly to shorten the duration of the war. And since the Israeli general elections are near, nobody in Israel wants the war to drag on.
The Israeli spokesman said that the initial airstrikes destroyed about 20 underground sites designed for launching medium-range missiles by Hamas and Islamic Jihad. The preoccupation now is about the Iranian Fajr rockets, which have a range of 75 kilometers and can thus reach Tel Aviv. The spokesman acknowledged that Israel does not yet know if it succeeded in eliminating that threat.
The Palestinian resistance pledged to respond to the Israeli aggression. The Izz al-Din al-Qassam Brigades, Hamas’s military wing, said in a statement, “The occupation has opened on itself the gates of hell,” and Islamic Jihad warned that “Israel has declared war on the Gaza Strip and will be held responsible for this escalation and its implications.”
Hamas declared a state of emergency in Gaza and evacuated all of its security centers. Islam Shahwan, the spokesman for the deposed government’s interior ministry, said, “We are working under fire to protect our people and support the resistance. … We have a full contingency plan, which we are applying.”
The Palestinian resistance factions in the Gaza Strip launched dozens of rockets toward Israeli towns bordering the Gaza Strip. The rockets, which were launched from throughout the Gaza Strip, caused a tremendous sound.
Illustrating the seriousness of the situation in Gaza, the Israeli shekel fell by more than 1% against the dollar, to its lowest level in two months. Normally, the Israeli market ignores Israeli-Palestinian violence. But traders said that investors fear that the Hamas rockets will have a greater range than before and will thus cause heavy damages in south Israel.
Media reports said that the Palestinian resistance targeted the towns of Beersheba, Ashkelon and Ashdod. There were also reports about the launching of two locally-made missiles toward Tel Aviv.
In Washington, a Pentagon spokesman said that the United States is “closely watching” the situation in the Gaza Strip. He added, “We support our Israeli partner’s right of self-defense against terrorism.”
Israeli President Shimon Peres briefed his US counterpart Barack Obama on the aggression against Gaza, especially the assassination of Jabari.
In Gaza, many are wondering the Egyptian reaction will be, especially after the rumor that Egypt warned Israel of the consequences of its aggression on Gaza and that it may lead to the expulsion of the Israeli ambassador.
Some Palestinian circles think that Egypt must respond, especially after the Palestinian factions cooperated with Egyptian mediation efforts and declared a truce.
In the first Egyptian reaction to the aggression, presidential spokesman Yasser Ali said that President Mohammad Morsi summoned the Israeli ambassador in Cairo. After Egypt withdrew its ambassador in Tel Aviv, there was information that the Israeli ambassador left Egypt along with the embassy’s staff. But Reuters quoted an Israeli diplomatic source saying that the Israeli ambassador in Cairo has not been recalled yet and that the embassy is functioning normally.
A state of emergency was declared in several Israeli departments and ministries.
Meanwhile, Assistant Secretary General of the Arab League Ahmed Ben Helli said that the Arab League will hold an emergency meeting at the foreign ministers’ level to discuss the developments in the Gaza Strip.
Commenting on the Israeli aggression on Gaza, Hezbollah demanded that the Arab League, the main Arab states, and the Organization of Islamic Cooperation “take responsibility for stopping the siege, the shelling, the killing, the destruction and the genocide against Gaza and its people.” Hezbollah condemned “the American position supporting the aggression.” Hezbollah’s Secretary-General Hassan Nasrallah is expected to address the developments in Gaza during his Ashoura speech today.
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