The house destroyed by rocket fire, March 25th, 2019.
(photo credit: AVSHALOM SASSONI/MAARIV)
A few months ago, in October, general wisdom in Israel had it that the country was saved from going to war with Hamas in Gaza because of the quick thinking and speedy reactions of a mother in Beersheba. As soon as the air-raid siren sounded, she woke up and gathered her three children into the rocket-proof safe room. When they emerged, there was very little left of their home. Had they suffered serious injuries, or worse, the country would have had no choice but to respond harshly, despite the inevitable escalation that would have followed.
Instead, the government ordered a minor response on certain Hamas targets in Gaza and the policy of restraint ruled. Hamas declared that the rockets had been accidentally launched as a result of a stroke of lightning.
On Thursday, March 14, two rockets were launched from Gaza to the greater Tel Aviv area – the financial capital of the country. The next day, the IDF adopted the Hamas statement that the projectiles were fired “by mistake.” Nobody suffered physical injury (although the trauma should not be underestimated) and this enabled the government again to apply a minor, measured response.
Early Monday morning this week, another long-range rocket was launched from Gaza, scoring a direct hit on a home in pastoral Moshav Mishmeret, in central Israel. Again, the quick reaction saved the family, which managed to reach a “safe area.” Seven people were taken to hospital with injuries ranging from moderate to light. Four pet dogs were killed, no doubt adding to the emotional pain of the family and their neighbors.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu wisely decided to cut short his stay in Washington and return after his meeting with President Donald Trump, without addressing the AIPAC conference in person as planned.
Sadly, the rocket on Moshav Mishmeret was far from the only security incident emanating from Gaza. Residents of the Western Negev, close to the border with the Gaza Strip, have suffered night after night of attacks, including explosive-laden balloons. IDF soldiers serving along the border have also been longstanding targets for daily attacks from across the fence.
Also, on Sunday, Hamas prisoners stabbed and wounded two Prison Service officers using makeshift weapons. It is hard to see the latest attacks as anything other than a deliberate escalation by Hamas, and particularly its leader in Gaza, Yahya Sinwar.
Israel cannot afford to remain quiet. The policy of restraint with the “kite terrorism” last year led to ever more bold attacks which now include IEDs attached to clusters of balloons. Thousands of hectares of land, including fields, nature reserves and forests, were burned. It was deliberate economic and environmental terrorism.
Allowing attacks to simmer on a daily basis in the Gaza Envelope has emboldened Hamas (and Islamic Jihad). The mass rallies on the border – in which thousands of Palestinians have lobbed burning objects over the fence and provided a literal smokescreen, to enable the fence to be cut and prepare the way for infiltrations – have been a weekly occurrence for a year. Under the slogan “The Great March of Return,” the Palestinians in Gaza have whittled away on a weekly basis at Israeli sovereignty. The actions are expected to increase leading up to “Land Day” on March 31.
The prime minister – particularly just two weeks before the elections – does not want to risk taking the country to another war in Gaza. But clearly, strong action is required. One cannot rely on miracles in the center of the country and the stoic resilience of residents of the South.
Israel has seen that if those residents are not able to work and sleep in safety, the residents of the rest of the country are not far behind.
The international community must back Israel in its response. Instead of calling for Israeli restraint, it should be stressing that Hamas attacks from Gaza – from the low-tech explosive balloons to the long-range rockets – are unacceptable. The time has come to stop making excuses for Hamas and to stop the attacks. Deterrence doesn’t come just from strong words, but also from strong action.
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