There was nothing peaceful about the Sabbath in Israel.
Following the launch of Operation “Cast Lead” — a bombing mission and show of overwhelming force from the air in Gaza that killed at least 200 Palestinians — the atmosphere has been tense and fearful.
The mission, in which 60 planes hit at least 100 carefully selected targets in Gaza, didn’t come as a surprise. It has appeared inevitable over the past week, following the end of the Egyptian-brokered ceasefire.
The initial targets of the attack were Hamas police compounds. A Reuters report said that the casualties included “40 at a police headquarters where Hamas was hosting a graduation ceremony for new recruits. Among those killed was police chief Tawfiq Jabber.”
Israeli television said that other targets included other Hamas targets and locations where ammunition and other weaponry are stored. In addition, Reuters reported that the attacks took place on the Gaza-Egypt border, clearly aimed at the tunnels used to smuggle weapons into the Strip.
Saturday was the appropriate day to do it from the Israeli perspective — a day when stores would be closed, schools wouldn’t be in session, and residents of Sderot, Ashkelon and other parts of southern Israel would be in their homes with their families, where they were ordered to stay, close to their shelters.
One of the first casualties of the mission on the Israeli front was the political season. Immediately, the political parties called time out from politics for a show of unity and all events related to the January elections were canceled.
Spookily, Israeli television broadcast live from all of the hospitals in the southern part of the country even before any casualties were showing up, a reflection of the fear of the size and nature of the reprisals that are expected — as were the ambulances deployed across the region. It didn’t take long until they arrived; residents of the city of Netivot rushed into shelters as rockets began to fall there — all broadcast live on television. Similar scenes in Sderot quickly followed as the Israeli casualty list began.
Quick on the heels of the attack were calls from European leaders to stop the attacks. The European Union wasted no time in calling for an immediate ceasefire. The U.S. reaction harshly criticized Hamas and asked the Israelis to do their best to limit casualties.
Condemnations were obviously quick in coming from Arab nations, who were described by the AP as being “in shock” although such action was far from unexpected.
Protests immediately broke out in the West Bank and in Arab cities within Israel.
The fury and impact of the attack was clearly designed to send a message to Hamas that the continued lobbing of missiles into Israeli territory has grave consequences. If not, Israeli commentators are saying, Israel is signaling that today’s attack is only the beginning of an operation that will almost certainly escalate and include ground forces.
Whether that message will be acknowledged — or responded to by Hamas — in any way is yet to be seen.