The conflict between Israel and Hamas escalated over the past weekend, with more than 200 missiles launched from Gaza today alone. Sirens, warning of more inbound rockets, continue to sound in southern Israel.
A number of videos appear to show the Israeli Iron Dome missile defense system intercepting incoming missile from Gaza. The IDF reports 60 have been successfully intercepted.
— Haaretz.com (@haaretzcom) November 12, 2018
This video shows a fire in the town of Sderot close to the Gaza border. Several buildings, including homes, have been hit.
— חדשות 13 (@newsisrael13) November 12, 2018
— Israel Foreign Ministry (@IsraelMFA) November 12, 2018
Six people were wounded by shrapnel in Sderot, and nine people were transported to the hospital in Ashkelon.
Hamas also fired a guided Kornet anti-tank missile at a moving IDF bus near Kfar Gaza shortly after 50 IDF soldiers had disembarked. One IDF soldier was seriously injured.
Rockets have struck Israeli homes in Sderot, Netivot, and Ashkelon.
‘The rocket fell through the living room’: Israelis describe terror of barrage https://t.co/ELkDeYEJq8
— The Times of Israel (@TimesofIsrael) November 12, 2018
The IDF said it launched 20 counter-strikes on Hamas, PFLP, and Islamic Jihad targets inside Gaza, destroying at least three Hamas tunnels, observation posts, terror compounds, and rocket-launching squads. The offices of the Hamas-operated Al-Aqsa television channel were also hit by the IDF following warnings. At least three people have been reported killed.
Breaking news indicates that the Israeli cabinet has authorized more strikes inside Gaza in retaliation for today’s missile barrage.
This is quite a turn-around from just a few days ago when Israel allowed funds and fuel to be transferred to Gaza following an agreement brokered by Egypt and Qatar, and hopes were up that some softening of positions on both sides might lead to new ceasefire talks.
That has all changed in the past 24 hours.
What prompted this escalation was a gunfight between Israeli commandos and Hamas fighters near Khan Yunis in Gaza.
According to Hamas sources, the Israeli commandos were traveling in a civilian car dressed as Palestinians when they were stopped at a Hamas checkpoint. Al-Qassam Brigades battalion commander Sheikh Nour Baraka was called to the scene, and a firefight erupted. The Israelis retreated to the border and were extracted by IDF helicopters and their retreat covered by aircraft.
Baraka and six other fighters were killed in the incident.
— Eylon Levy (@EylonALevy) November 11, 2018
Hamas vowed revenge following their funerals yesterday.
It is believed that the Israeli commandos were conducting an intelligence-gathering operation inside Gaza. Baraka is reported to be responsible for the building of tunnels by Hamas into Israel, which have been used to transport terrorists who have conducted attacks killing Israeli civilians and attempts to kidnap IDF personnel.
The IDF said that the commandos were not on an assassination raid, but were gathering intelligence. One IDF officer identified only as “Lt. Col ‘M'” was killed in the incident and another soldier injured.
Because of the incident, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu returned early yesterday from Armistice Day ceremonies in France.
The ongoing events puts Netanyahu on the spot, just days after he had to defend $15 million in cash being transferred from Qatar to Hamas last week as part of the Egypt-Qatar brokered agreement.
Exclusive: 3 suitcases w 15 million dollars in cash entered Gaza today w the qatari envoy through Israel (Erez crossing point). The money goes to Hamas, to pay salaries of civil employees. Exclusive pic: pic.twitter.com/asmrOP0YFu
— Gal Berger גל ברגר (@galberger) November 8, 2018
Hamas received $15m cash today from Qatar pic.twitter.com/YKWX3tYDWe
— Ruth Marks Eglash (@reglash) November 8, 2018
The $15 million in U.S. bills was intended to help pay salaries for 30,000 bureaucrats in Gaza. At the time, Netanyahu said he hoped to avoid a war with Hamas.
An election for the Israeli Knesset must be held before November 5, 2019. A war with Hamas may help Netanyahu’s chances in those upcoming elections, but anything short of an overwhelming victory could spell political disaster.
Netanyahu has indicated that he would like to avoid a repeat of the 2014 Operation Protective Edge. Clear strategic goals would need to be identified, but a continued forceful response to today’s missile barrage out of Gaza will also be required. And any escalation by the Israelis notwithstanding provocations by Hamas would undoubtedly draw criticism from the international community.
The next few days will likely indicate whether the escalation seen today will continue, or if the strategic calculations on both sides will allow the hostilities to deescalate.