Editorial: Facing Hamas

Unfortunately, sooner or later our leaders will be forced to confront Hamas.

March 11, 2012 23:07
3 minute read.
Israeli child in a bomb shelter

Bomb shelter 390. (photo credit: REUTERS/Amir Cohen)

The latest round of rocket and mortar attacks from Gaza is part of a pattern. Every few months, Islamist terror organizations loosely linked or opposed to Hamas launch attacks against Israel in an attempt to undermine Israeli military deterrence.

Hamas plays the game of claiming that it is not directly connected to the attacks while doing little to prevent them. In this way, Hamas hopes not to provoke Israel while at the same time avoiding a direct confrontation with hard-line Islamist terrorists attempting to continue their armed struggle against Israel.

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The trigger for the latest conflagration was the targeted killing of Zuhair Qaisi, the leader of the Popular Resistance Committees in the Gaza Strip. The IDF says Qaisi was behind the August 2011 gun and bomb attacks near Eilat that left eight Israelis dead. He was apparently planning a repeat performance, also to be launched from Sinai, a lawless no-man’s land nominally under Egyptian rule and home to Islamist terrorists and Beduin drugs and arms smugglers. But the IDF took the initiative, bombing a car carrying Qaisi and another top terrorist in the organization released in the Gilad Schalit prisoner exchange.

In October 2011, there was another flare-up after Islamic Jihad fired a Grad rocket at Rehovot to mark the October 1995 assassination in Malta of Islamic Jihad leader Fathi Shkaki. Israel retaliated, killing five terrorists, including Ahmed Sheikh Khalil, the head of the Islamic Jihad’s rocket production facilities.

But even when there is no official “escalation,” the various terrorist organizations operating in the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip and the anarchic Sinai have kept up a steady stream of fire directed at about a million civilians – men, women and children – living within range of Kassam rockets, mortar shells and Grad missiles.

Over the course of 2011, Hamas, Islamic Jihad, the PRC and other terrorist organizations fired 680 deadly projectiles of various types from the Gaza Strip at surrounding towns, kibbutzim and moshavim, a significant rise from the 365 fired during 2010. Sixteen-year-old Daniel Viflic was killed by Hamas terrorists who fired a Kornet anti-tank missile at the school bus he was riding in on April 7, 2011.

Israel significantly restored its deterrence after launching Operation Cast Lead – the 22-day military incursion in the Gaza Strip that began in December 2008 and ended in January 2009. But in the months since, there has been a steady deterioration of the security situation. Thousands of families now live under the constant threat of mortar, rocket and missile fire. Many lack proper bomb shelters.

True, the Iron Dome system has been a game-changer. Its three rocket-defense batteries – in Beersheba, Ashdod and Ashkelon – have significantly improved Israel’s defense capabilities. Dozens of rockets and missiles that might have hurt or injured Israelis were shot from the air. This has given our leaders the breathing room to plan for the future. Israel would have no choice but to react on a much wider scale if one of the more-than-100 recent mortar shells, rockets and missiles caused series injuries or deaths.

Meanwhile, the air force has succeeded in accurately pinpointing about 20 terrorists, many of them caught in the act of firing mortar shells, rockets and missiles at Israel. Civilian deaths on the Palestinian side have been kept to a minimum.

However, as Chief of Staff Lt.-Gen. Benny Gantz noted in November and reiterated in December on the third anniversary of Operation Cast Lead, a military offensive in Gaza will be launched “sooner or later.”

Hamas cannot be allowed to continue to play the game of claiming it is not directly connected to the attacks while doing little to prevent them.

We are living in an untenable situation in which every few months, there is an “escalation,” and between these “escalations,” Gaza’s various terrorist groups maintain a steady stream of mortar shells, rockets and missiles. Over a million of our citizens live in constant danger and our children are regularly kept home from school.

Unfortunately, sooner or later our leaders will be forced to confront Hamas. The Iron Dome system provides them with important breathing time. But that time is limited.

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