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2012 story of the year: Operation Pillar of Defense
By BEN HARTMAN
01/02/2013
'Post' readers choose IDF operation in Gaza, TA bus bombing as biggest Israeli story of 2012.
 
Jerusalem Post readers picked Operation Pillar of Defense and the Tel Aviv bus bombing on November 21st as the biggest Israeli story of 2012, something that should leave few people surprised.

Since the Second Lebanon War in 2006, Israel has had a large-scale military confrontation every three years, almost like clockwork. Operation Pillar of Defense came at the tail end of a year that saw talk of a potential war with Iran reach a fever pitch, and Israel gear up for its first election in four years. As is the case every time Israel goes to war, everything else in the public debate all but disappeared as the country went on a war footing and reporters from outlets across the globe began parachuting into Israel and Gaza in droves.

Though its clear that Pillar of Defense ended with the ceasefire on November 21st, it's hard to tell exactly when it began. The operation officially began on November 14th, when an Israeli airstrike killed Ahmed Jabari, the commander of the Hamas armed wing, but the buildup had been there for weeks, if not months.

In the first weeks of October and early in November there were repeated rounds of tit-for-tat fire between Israel and Hamas, with rocket fire bringing Israeli life in the south to a halt and Israeli strikes on the Gaza Strip killing both militants and civilians.

One day in particular that sticks out was October 24, when 80 rockets and mortars were fired into Israel, and three members of a Palestinian rocket team were killed by Israeli fire. Something was happening but it wasn't until November 10th that things really began going over the brink.

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On the morning of November 10, gunmen in the Gaza Strip fired an RPG at an IDF jeep patrolling inside Israel along the Gaza border, wounding four soldiers, including one seriously. In response, the IDF fired on the Gaza Strip killing four civilians. The next morning, a driving rain storm broke out across central Israel, as a barrage of rockets hammered the towns of southern Israel and school was cancelled in towns across southern Israel. The next day brought more rockets, followed by more on Tuesday. On Wednesday night Ahmed Jabari was killed, rockets and mortars rained into Israel, and within hours the operation had a name, typically the sign that things are serious.

In the following days the mini-war saw 75,000 reservists mobilized, the biggest such call up since the Yom Kippur War, as Israel prepared for a ground operation that never came to be. When it was all said and done there were 6 deaths on the Israeli side including four civilians killed in a rocket strike on an apartment complex in Kiryat Malachi on the first full day of the operation. In Gaza over 150 Palestinians were killed, around 50 of them civilians according to Israeli figures.

The Israeli homefront came under fire during the war to an extent not seen since the Second Lebanon War, and Israelis were sent running for shelter in Tel Aviv and Jerusalem, something that hadn't happened since the Gulf War, more than 20 years earlier.

The operation will also be remembered for the Iron Dome missile defense system, which attained near folk-status, a non-sentient national hero that gave Israel a game changer in Operation Pillar of Defense and potentially in any future escalation where the Israeli homefront is targeted by long range rockets.

The morning after the ceasefire there was a general feeling that the IDF had won a tactical victory and suffered a strategic defeat. Though the IDF was able to take out Jabari, several other top Hamas officers, and scores of fighters, with very few casualties on the Israeli side, Hamas was able to show to the world that they could fire at Tel Aviv and Jerusalem, and wake up the next morning still standing.

Before the first air raid siren sounded in Tel Aviv on November 15th, the first full day of the war, the idea that Hamas would fire a long-range rocket at Tel Aviv wasn't quite fantasy, but had for years seemed a red line that they would not dare cross lest they risk a full-blown IDF ground operation. The feeling was downright surreal in central Tel Aviv at noon on November 21st, after a bomb exploded on city bus, bringing the terror of the Second Intifada back to the city in a way that was all too familiar to Israelis. The explosion came less than 24 hours after the previous game changer; a long range rocket attack that devastated three floors of a seven story Rishon Lezion apartment complex in the first successful rocket strike on Gush Dan. Hours later, while news teams were still doing live broadcasts from the parking lot of Ichilov Hospital in Tel Aviv, news came out that a ceasefire was being finalized, and just like that, Pillar of Defense was ove,r seemingly as quickly as it had begun.

On the Israeli side, opponents of Netanyahu on the Right were able to use the ceasefire as reason to bash the prime minister as having caved in, agreeing to a ceasefire instead of sending in the troops for a ground operation that would shake Hamas to its knees. With an election less than two months away, the fact that Netanyahu had again negotiated with Hamas, (like during the 2011 Schalit deal) even after they had struck at the very heart of Israel, had added resonance with broad swaths of the Israeli public.

Finally, the operation was a reminder to Israelis that while in this asymmetrical conflict with Hamas Israel's far superior military means the outcome is never in doubt, those who will pay the heaviest price on the Israeli side are often those civilians far from the front lines, left defenseless in an apartment in Kiryat Malachi or a city bus in central Tel Aviv.
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