Running out of luck into Gaza

This week, Israel's luck began running out with a series of deadly rocket attacks and a dramatic increase in casualties.

For almost three years, since the disengagement from the Gaza Strip, senior defense officials and politicians have repeatedly threatened retaliation for the incessant rocket attacks on the western Negev. At the same time, the officials have acknowledged that a large-scale operation into Gaza would only happen after blood was spilled in Israel. This week, Israel's luck began running out with a series of deadly rocket attacks and a dramatic increase in casualties. On Friday, Jimmy Kedoshim was killed by a mortar shell that struck him as he worked his garden in Kfar Aza. On Sunday, 69-year-old Shuli Katz was killed by a Kassam while visiting a friend in Moshav Yesha. And on Wednesday, moments after US President George W. Bush wrapped up his first work meeting with Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, a Katyusha rocket scored a direct hit on a mall in Ashkelon, injuring 15 people, including four seriously. The rocket attack on Wednesday, in the middle of the Olmert-Bush meeting, is meant to send a number of messages to Israel. First, it aims to undermine and embarrass Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas and show the visiting US president that Hamas and Islamic Jihad are the ones in charge of the Palestinians' destiny. The second purpose, no less important, is to try and exact a heavy price from Israel in the coming weeks as Olmert and Defense Minister Ehud Barak debate accepting the Egyptian-brokered cease-fire deal in Gaza with Hamas. The idea is to show Israel what Hamas is really capable of and why it is crucial that the cease-fire deal be accepted. Opinions on the cease-fire in Israel are split. Following Egyptian intelligence chief Omar Suleiman's visit to Israel earlier this week, Barak and Olmert appeared to be leaning toward accepting the deal, which calls for a cessation in Hamas terror activity and Israeli military operations in Gaza over the next six months. While aware that the recent escalation in rocket fire is connected to Hamas attempts to pressure Israel into accepting the truce, IDF Chief of General Staff Lt.-Gen. Gabi Ashkenazi has recently changed his stance on the issue and, according to top officials, now believes that Israel and Hamas are on a collision course. Whether it happens in the next few weeks or several months down the line is a side question. Ashkenazi had been reluctant to endorse a broad ground offensive, fearing heavy Israeli casualties and unconvinced it would stop rocket and mortar fire against Gaza-belt communities. Two deadly attacks from Gaza in the past week and deadlocked negotiations for Cpl. Gilad Schalit's release have made him inclined to recommend a ground operation deep inside the territory, the officials said. Despite Ashkenazi's change of heart, Olmert and Barak are still inclined to accept the truce offer, which can potentially bring quiet to the western Negev - even if the quiet is used by Hamas to build up its military wing. Both Olmert and Barak are reluctant to invade Gaza, particularly due to the absence of an exit strategy and so as not to insult Suleiman and Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, who have put their reputations on the line to obtain the cease-fire. Olmert is scheduled to meet with Mubarak in Egypt in two weeks to close the deal. Before that time, many more rockets will fall, and Israel might run out of luck - straight into Gaza.