Israel Seen Preparing for Military Action in Gaza

Israel warns that it will not hesitate to launch military action if Gaza rocket fire continues.

An Israeli F-16 fighter aircraft, March 30, 2009
An Israeli F-16 fighter aircraft, March 30, 2009 (Nehemia Gershuni)

Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu sought international support on Monday for an expansion of military operations in Gaza to quell ongoing rocket fire from the Palestinian territory.

“We will not sit idly in front of recurrent attacks that occur almost daily, against our citizens and our children,” he told a conference of foreign diplomats gathered in the city of Ashkelon.

Despite Egyptian claims of having brokered a ceasefire between Israel and Palestinian militant groups in Gaza, notably Hamas and Islamic Jihad, rocket fire continued for a third day Monday. Some one hundred fifty rockets and mortar shells were reported to have hit Israel from the strip since Saturday. Twenty-six people were treated for shock after a direct hit on a home in the southern Israeli city of Netivot on Monday morning.

Israeli defense minister Ehud Barak made clear on Sunday that the army was prepared to reenter Gaza after it most recently launched a similar operation in late 2008. “If we are forced to go back into Gaza in order to deal Hamas a blow and restore security for all of Israel’s citizens, then we will not hesitate to do so.” He warned, “It is Hamas that will pay the price.”

The group that is considered a terrorist organization by Western countries has been in political control of the coastal strip since 2007.

Overnight, Israeli Air Force jets struck three targets in Gaza. According to the military, they hit a terrorist tunnel, a weapons storage site in the north of the territory and a rocket launching site in the south.

The unrest in Gaza coincides with skirmishes along the Israeli-Syrian border in the Golan Heights where Israel reported to have fired a warning shot into Syria after army units there fired into Israeli territory in an attempt to hit rebel fighters. An Israeli offensive in Gaza could give Islamic militant groups in the north, including Hezbollah in Lebanon which is linked with the Syrian regime, an opportunity to expand their own operations, facing Israel with the prospect of a war on two fronts.

With parliamentary elections scheduled for January, Netanyahu’s government will be reluctant to escalate tensions which would almost certainly draw the ire of human rights groups which fiercely criticized its 2008-2009 operation in Gaza. But the premier cannot at the same time politically afford to be perceived as weak on national security for that is the core of his platform.

Members of others parties, including the liberal Kadima and the nationalist Yisrael Beiteinu, have already voiced support for another offensive in the Gaza Strip. Even Labor has recommended “military and diplomatic pressure.”