Israeli warplanes have struck rocket launcher sites in north central Gaza on what is now the fourth day of sustained hostilities between the two sides. Over 100 Hamas Grad rockets have been fired since Saturday, with the initial attack being an anti-tank missile fired at an Israeli Army jeep along the border injuring 4 Israeli soldiers. While 6 Gaza Palestinians have been killed, only minor injuries and property damage have been reported in the impact areas in Israel, in the area of Ashdod. In addition to rocket launching sites, the Israeli Air Force (IAF) has also taken out an ammo storage facility in Gaza.
Hamas responded to discussions about a cease-fire with Egypt and as per usual conditioning the cease-fire on Israel’s actions. The Israeli’s are reported to have convened a meeting of the nation’s top military brass to discuss options to counter Hamas attacks. Israel’s Iron Dome Ballistic Missile Defense system has intercepted and destroyed many, though not all of the incoming Grad rockets.
The international community is encouraging restraint on Israel’s part, though Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told a gathering of foreign ambassadors in Ashkelon, Israel that it was not only “our right but also our duty” to take whatever actions are necessary to protect Israel and its people. The gathering of ambassadors was to brief them on the seriousness of the situation and included video of rockets being launched and the impacts of some on the ground in Israel, as well as in person testimonials from Israeli citizens in the target zone.
Laid out on a table as Netanyahu spoke, were a collection of rockets and missiles that had been launched into Israel, including a Qassam, a Grad and a Katushya of Iranian or Chinese origin. Netanyahu proceeded to tell the ambassadors that if the alarm sounded, all of them had exactly 30 seconds to take cover. The meeting was held in an unprotected auditorium inside the target zone to underscore the point.
Both the EU and the UN have condemned the rocket attacks, while urging restraint and respect for agreements by both sides. But, the French Ambassador to Israel Christophe Bigot, did point out that there is an issue to be addressed with the weapons smuggling into Gaza.
Israel so far has only responded with air strikes against Gaza, but Education Minister Gideon Sa’ar has indicated that a major ground operation into Gaza is close to being launched by Israel. Israel’s Home Front Defense Minister Avi Dichter told Israeli TV Channel 2 that Israel had to eliminate the rockets and that air strikes won’t do the job, but that ‘only ground forces can eliminate them’.
Dichter has history on his side as well military common sense. As far back as WWII, German V-1 and V-2 missile attacks on London were not stopped until Allied forces captured the German launch sites in Holland, pushing the weapons out of range of London. During Operation Desert Storm in 1991, Israel, Saudi Arabia and Bahrain had to endure a campaign of Scud missile strikes, never knowing if or when one of them might contain a chemical or biological warhead, for similar reasons.
Iraqi Scud crews in 1991 utilized the vastness of the desert for cover combined with the tactic of firing their Scuds and then immediately moving off out of the launch area and avoiding retaliatory US and Coalition air strikes. Hamas has smaller missiles. However, they are just as mobile in relation to the short distances the launchers have to be moved and utilize the urban residential areas as cover in Gaza, which also acts as a deterrent to wide area air strikes and artillery counter-fire out of Israeli fear of killing large numbers of non-combatant civilians in such a strike. And, as with Iraq in 1991 Hamas rocket crews have often disassembled their man-portable launchers and scattered from the area by the time Israeli jets arrive over the launch point.