Sirens wailed across southern Israel as Hamas gunmen fired barrages of dozens of rockets from Gaza. One Israeli woman was injured when a long-range Grad rocket slammed into a store in the southern Israeli city of Beersheba. Another slammed into a car, and there were reports of damage to several buildings.
The rockets came after an Israeli airstrike killed Hamas military chief Ahmed Jabari, and at least 20 other Palestinians. Israeli launched a series of airstrikes aimed to limit Hamas’s military capability to strike back at Israel, and Israel’s Iron Dome anti-missile system intercepted many of the rockets aimed at Israeli populated areas.
Jabari was known in Israel as the man who masterminded the capture of Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit in 2006, and personally delivered him to Israel in October 2011 in exchange for more than 1000 Palestinian prisoners. Jabari had just returned from the haj, the pilgrimage to Mecca, one week ago.
Noam Shalit, Gilad’s father, said he had told his son the news of Jabari’s killing, but he did not react, saying “he is mainly looking ahead not thinking about the past.” Noam Shalit said Jabari is “a man with a lot of blood on his hands.”
In a sign that the Israeli operation may be prolonged, the Israeli security cabinet authorized a call-up of the army reserves and to expand the Gaza operation if necessary.
Hamas threatened to avenge the Israeli killing of Jabari.
“Our blessed hands will reach your leaders and soldiers wherever they are,” tweeted a member of the al-Qassem brigades of Hamas. “You opened Hell Gates (sic) on yourselves.”
Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak said army operations wiped out most of Hamas’s long-range Fajr rockets, which can reach the center of the country and Tel Aviv. Some one million residents of the south braced for more rocket attacks – school was cancelled and residents were told to stay within 15 seconds of a reinforced room.
Israelis living close to Gaza say they often do not even have 15 seconds to get to safe areas.
“They say you have 15 seconds to get to the safe room, but we’re so close to Gaza that we really have less than that,” Adele Raemer, a resident of Kibbutz Nirim just a mile from Gaza told The Media Line. “I think we need to hit them hard to stop the rocket fire.”
An Israeli army spokesman said over 12,000 rockets have hit Israel in the past 12 years, 768 of them in 2012.
Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood government, which is close to Hamas, which is an offshoot of the Muslim Brotherhood, reacted sharply. Egypt called its ambassador home for consultations as a way to protest Israel’s actions. Egyptian officials also called Israeli officials, asking them to stop the rocket fire on Gaza. Israeli analysts said that the Egyptian reaction was expected.
“The Egyptian government is now headed by people who are associated with Hamas, but they won’t do anything to endanger their relationship with Israel or the United States,” Shmuel Bar, a security expert and former senior Israeli intelligence official.
Bar also said the killing of Jabari is a serious blow to Hamas.
“When you kill someone like Jabari, the main effect is that the person coming after him will be worried and therefore be less effective.”
Other analysts said the move was meant to reassert Israel’s deterrence vis-à-vis Hamas. The latest round of violence began when Hamas gunmen from Gaza fired an anti-tank missile at an Israeli jeep on the Israeli side of the border. Military officials said the use of an anti-tank missile and the fact that it was fired while the troops were well inside Israel, showed that Hamas was not afraid of an Israeli response.
“The deterrence against Hamas had deteriorated and Israel needed to reestablish it,’ Mark Heller of the INSS think tank told The Media Line. “Israel’s failure to respond to rocket fire from Gaza led Hamas to think it could act with impunity.”
Israeli officials are warning that the operation could continue for several days, or even weeks.
“It won’t happen at once, but we will achieve the goals of this operation,” Defense Minister Ehud Barak said. “We are at the start of the incident and not at the end. In the long term, the operation will contribute to the strengthening of our deterrence.”
Prime Minister Netanyahu said he is convinced the operation will strengthen Israel’s security.
“Today, we hit Hamas strategic targets precisely. We have significantly debilitated their ability to launch rockets from Gaza to the center of Israel, and we are now working to disable their ability to launch rockets towards the south,” he said in a statement. ”The terrorist organizations – Hamas, Islamic Jihad and others – are deliberately harming our citizens, while intentionally hiding behind their citizens. On the other hand, we avoid harming civilians as much as possible and that is one fundamental difference between us. It also indicates the big difference between our objectives, and not only in our methods. They want to obliterate us from the face of the earth and they have no qualms about hurting civilians and innocents.
Today, we sent an unequivocal message to Hamas and the other terror organizations, and if need be the IDF is prepared to expand the operation. We will continue to do everything necessary to defend our citizens."