Israel threatened an aggressive response Thursday to the firing of a Katyusha rocket at Eilat from the Sinai Peninsula after midnight Wednesday, although the IDF is expected to refrain from a large-scale response to prevent an escalation of violence over Passover.
IDF Chief of Staff Lt.-Gen. Benny Gantz warned that Israel had the ability to reach every person involved in the recent spate of bombing plots against Israeli targets overseas.
“We know what the source of these attacks is, and the planners of these hateful and terrorist attacks should know that whether they are in Gaza, Lebanon or anywhere else, Israel’s long arm can reach anyone who tries to harm Israeli citizens and the Jewish people,” Gantz said at a ceremony honoring outstanding officers.
Turning to the rocket fire on Eilat, Gantz said that Israel viewed the attack gravely and that it was the work of terrorist organizations operating in the peninsula.
“Anyone who tests us from near or far will find itself facing a strong and smart military prepared to defend Israel and defeat our enemies,” he said.
Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu addressed the Eilat attack during a ceremony marking 40 years since he and 15 other General Staff Reconnaissance Unit commandos, led by Defense Minister Ehud Barak, had stormed and rescued a hijacked Sabena airliner parked at what was then called Lod Airport.
The Sinai Peninsula, he said, “has become a terrorism zone.
We are dealing with this. We are building an impressive security fence, but it does not stop missiles. But we will find a solution for this as well.”
Netanyahu said that Israel – in this case and in others – would “strike at those who come to attack us, as well as those who send them.”
Head of Military Intelligence Maj.-Gen. Aviv Kochavi revealed on Thursday that the IDF had thwarted 10 different terrorist plots to attack the country from Sinai in the past two months.
Speaking at a graduation ceremony for new Military Intelligence officers, Kochavi said that the firing of the Katyusha rocket was a demonstration of the changes sweeping through the Middle East.
“It could be that the change will bring new opportunities, but in the short term, the risks are increasing,” he said.
The rocket strike on Eilat did not come as surprise for the IDF, which has been closely tracking Palestinian terrorist activity in Sinai since an attack along the Egyptian border in August left eight Israelis dead. IDF assessments are that the perpetrators of Wednesday night’s attack were either a Palestinian rocket cell from Gaza – affiliated with either Hamas or Islamic Jihad – or Beduin freelancers working for the Gaza-based organizations.
The prime minister said it must always be understood that there could be no immunity for terrorism, nor could it be allowed to succeed.
“We must fight it. This is something that necessitates, as much as possible, an international coalition, and that, too, we are doing and trying to do,” he said.
“In the final analysis, no one will stand by our side if we don’t defend ourselves,” he continued.
“It is that simple: No one will defend the Jews if the Jews do not defend themselves.”
Netanyahu said that terrorism had “developed and changed” considerably since the Sabena hijacking, when he and the other commandos, disguised as airline technicians wearing white overalls, took control of the plane in a matter of minutes.
But just as terrorism has evolved, so has the capacity for counter-action, he said.
“Today, terrorism is going in the direction of suicide terrorists, missiles and cyber warfare,” the prime minister said, adding that since the Sabena hijacking many other anti-terrorist operations had been approved, while many others had not been.
“We have always been guided by the perspective that we must fight terrorism. It will not stop if we do not fight it; the danger will not disappear if we do not take care of it,” he said. “Decisions about the cost of action, or of inaction, are the true decisions that leaders must make.”
Eilat police chief Asst.-Cmdr. Ron Gertner said the city was on high alert as part of Passover preparations. He added that his forces had received a boost from backup officers sent from other parts of the country.
Eilat Mayor Meir Yitzhak-Halevy said his city would function as usual despite the attack.
“We have no intention of changing our daily routine,” he told Army Radio. “I call on all Israeli citizens to come enjoy the warm weather in our city this Passover.”