As I write these lines, the country is yet again under attack – both physically and metaphorically. Although the rocket attacks this week began on Wednesday, they were part of a long chain of events stretching back decades. As for recent events, in April Israel came under rocket attack from Gaza, Lebanon and Syria. Last week, Islamic Jihad launched some 100 rockets on the South following the death in an Israeli prison of Khader Adnan, one of its senior members who chose to die through a hunger strike.
Israel did not immediately respond to that barrage, but waited for the right time and place. In the early hours of Tuesday, May 9, in an operation displaying excellent intelligence and operational abilities, Israel knocked out three senior Islamic Jihad members in three different locations within minutes. Don’t cry for them.
The three were Khalil Bahitini, the commander of the al-Quds Brigades in the northern Gaza Strip; Tareq Izz al-Din, who was reportedly trying to establish rocket launching sites in the West Bank (Judea and Samaria), and Jihad al-Ghannam. Ghannam will be remembered, among other things, for being behind a particularly heinous attack in 2004 in which 34-year-old Tali Hatuel and her four daughters, aged between two and 11, were shot to death in their car at point blank range, near Kissufim Junction in Gaza. Tali, a social worker, was pregnant with her fifth child when she was murdered and the baby died with her.
This week, her parents and widower recalled how they struggled – and still struggle – to understand that nobody survived the attack. Not even the unborn child could be saved, among the youngest victims of Palestinian terrorism.
When Lucy Dee and two of her daughters – Rina and Maia – were killed in a drive-by shooting last month, for those of us of a certain age, it brought to mind the murderous attack on Tali, Hila, Hadar, Roni and Merav Hatuel. The terrorists responsible for the Dee family’s murders were killed in a complex operation in Nablus on May 4. There is some consolation in knowing that the murderers are no longer alive to perpetrate more attacks.
Sometimes the terrorists are knocked out swiftly, on other occasions it takes longer to deliver justice to them: a chance to check out what a jihadist’s paradise is really like.
Operation Shield and Arrow: Israel strikes back against Gaza
When Operation Shield and Arrow – presumably named with the traditional Lag Ba’omer arrow in mind – was launched on Tuesday, it was the latest in a long line of operations with similarly poetic-sounding names aimed at restoring deterrence and some form of calm, particularly in the South.
This week’s strikes targeted the terrorists in their specific apartments with every effort made to avoid damaging the rest of the building and adjacent areas. Nonetheless, alongside the three senior terrorist commanders, at least 10 non-combatant Palestinians were killed, according to Palestinian sources, reportedly including four women and four children and a well-known local dentist who also held Russian citizenship.
As Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu declared, Israel regrets the deaths of innocent bystanders; every effort is made to avoid harming them. When the terrorists fire rockets or carry out shooting or ramming attacks, on the other hand, the aim is to indiscriminately kill and harm as many Israelis as possible. Every rocket fired from Gaza is a war crime.
The term “collateral damage” is ugly, but innocent casualties in war – and this is a war – are very hard to avoid completely, as the US and its NATO partners are well aware. The difference lies between those countries, headed by Israel, that make every effort to protect civilians, and those countries and terrorist organizations which deliberately seek to strike at civilians – to strike terror in their hearts.
And this is where the hypocrisy and double standards are particularly evident. The European Union and the United Nations, in their knee-jerk response, were unable to distinguish between the acts of self-defense by Israel – combating ongoing terror and rocket attacks – and the acts of an internationally-designated terrorist organization. The name Islamic Jihad is more than a hint of its aims and nature. Its sworn goal is the destruction of Israel, an aim it shares with Iran, its main backer.
On Tuesday, UN Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process, Tor Wennesland, issued a statement saying: “I am deeply alarmed by developments in Gaza after Israel launched a military operation this morning targeting members of the Palestinian Islamic Jihad movement (PIJ)...
“I condemn the deaths of civilians in the Israeli airstrikes. This is unacceptable.”
The more than 100 rockets fired within 24 hours last week from Gaza, or the hundreds of rockets launched on Israel on Wednesday, were not clearly condemned. One might get the impression that the international guardian of world peace finds them understandable. The UN is blown away not by Palestinian rockets, but by the Palestinian narrative. Next week, on May 15, the United Nations is holding special events to mark the 75th anniversary of the “Nakba” – the Arabic word for “catastrophe”: i.e. the creation of the State of Israel.
Jordan, which this week carried out air strikes on Iranian drug smuggling facilities in Syria, joined in the anti-Israel chorus. And Russia backed the call for a special United Nations Security Council session on the situation. Don’t make me laugh. Well, if you appreciate a bad joke, consider that Russia, while still fully engaged in its atrocities in Ukraine, last month chaired the Security Council. I’m not sure who felt secure as a result – other than Vladimir Putin.
No wonder Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi has such a broad smile on his face as he trots the globe – while funding global terrorism.
THE ROCKET attacks brought out the best in Israelis despite the weeks of turmoil over the government’s judicial reform plan. Even nominal leader of the opposition Yair Lapid offered Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu support for the government’s actions and there was no question of reservists refusing to respond to a call-up. Perfect strangers offered home hospitality to residents of the South seeking refuge (although by Wednesday, the rockets from Gaza had reached Tel Aviv and the Dan region). And there were the usual heartwarming stories of brides and grooms who were helped so that their weddings could go ahead in safer locations. My social media feed and WhatsApp groups filled with stories of couples seeking a new venue for that Tuesday evening, and then pictures of the happy newlyweds, whose wedding took place, just not as planned.
There were also the familiar touching pictures of newborn babies being moved from maternity wards to rocket-proof, subterranean units. No country should have to act as if this is normal. The pictures of the babies help explain to the outside world what residents of Israel’s South have to deal with. The plight of the elderly struggling to reach safety with just a few seconds’ warning of incoming rockets is less photogenic but no less serious. Sderot and the nearby communities must be among the few places in the world where wearing a seatbelt is at times forbidden – for safety reasons. When you have just seven seconds to seek shelter from an incoming rocket, there is not enough time to unbuckle and get out, let alone to help passengers out of the back seat.
Pity the sandwich generation-parent who has to herd to safety children and elderly parents – and often a much loved pet – as the sirens wail. And make no mistake: Israeli children are no less traumatized than their peers in Gaza. They are all, on both sides of the border, victims of Hamas and their jihadist partners.
Former Sderot mayor David Buskila once told me that his Kassam-targeted town was like a battered wife. Even if a woman is beaten “only” once a month by her husband, it is not considered acceptable – and she lives every day with the fear that today she will again get hit through no fault of her own, he noted.
Don’t forget who is the aggressor and who is the victim. If the Palestinian terror organizations were to cease their murderous campaigns, there would be peace.
Remember, “shahid” might be translated as “martyr,” but that ain’t a saint.