After a few days of exchanging shells with Syria, Israel engaged with Hamas in Gaza on Wednesday, killing a commander of Hamas with an air strike and talking about launching another invasion of the Gaza Strip. Hamas said that an invasion would “open the gates of hell.”
Egypt had brokered a truce on Tuesday, following five days of Hamas rockets (115 in all) and Israeli air strikes. That truce didn’t last 24 hours. The Israeli air strike hit the car carrying Ahmed al-Jaabari, the military commander of Hamas, and Hamas photographer Izz el-Deen al-Qassam, killing both instantly. After the strike on al-Jaabari’s car, other sites in Gaza were hit, killing six adults and three children and wounding about 40 others. Army tanks shelled the southern border areas of Gaza and the Navy shelled a Hamas position close to the coast.
Hamas launched four or more Grad rockets at the city of Beersheva, causing damage but no casualties. Egypt’s new government has been honoring the 1979 peace agreement with Israel, and has been dealing with Gazan problems of its own at the Rafah crossing and in the Sinai, where extremists were gathering to attack Israel. Egypt condemned the attacks on Gaza and recalled its ambassador to Israel. They also called for an emergency meeting of the United Nations Security Council.
In 2008-09, Israel spent a week shelling and bombing Gaza and then invaded the Strip. Around 1,400 Palestinians died in that “Operation” and 13 Israelis were killed. Israel then blocked the importation of any building materials into Gaza to repair the damaged homes and shops. Much of the goods being smuggled into Gaza through the Rafah tunnels has been building supplies, along with consumer goods and weapons. Attempts to bring building supplies and humanitarian supplies into Gaza by ship have been thwarted by the Israeli Navy, once with lethal force.
Gaza is controlled by Hamas, a terrorist organization supported by Iran. The West Bank is controlled by Fatah. The two were supposed to be power sharing after voting showed how divided the two parts of occupied Palestinian territories are, but have grown further apart in the past two years. Fatah wants a peaceful path to statehood, brokered by the United Nations or the nations that have been trying to broker a two-state solution for the past 45 years. Hamas wants a military victory over Israel. The West Bank’s statehood may hinge on cutting Gaza loose from the negotiations.
As emergency personnel were putting out the flames of al-Jaabari’s car and picking up body parts, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu issued a statement, “Today we relayed a clear message to the Hamas organization and other terrorist organizations. And if there is a need, the [Israel Defense Forces] is prepared to broaden the operation. We will continue to do everything in order to protect our citizens.”
Hamas responded in a radio broadcast, “The occupation has opened the gates of hell. Israel has declared war on Gaza and they will bear the responsibility for the consequences.”
About one million Israelis live within range of Hamas’ rockets, and those communities were on full alert, with schools closed. Brigadier General Yoav Mordechai, the top military spokesman, told Channel 2 TV that “The days we face in the south will, in my estimation, prove protracted. The home front must brace itself resiliently.” Asked if there were plans for another land invasion, Mordechai said “There are preparations and if we are required to, the option of an entry by ground is available.”
Israeli President Shimon Peres called President Obama to advise him of the operation.
Both Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh appealed to the Arab states for help in ending the assault. Abbas asked Arab League Secretary General Nabil al-Arabi for an emergency meeting of the Council over the “dangerous Israeli escalation and brutal aggression on our people in the Gaza Strip.”
There are an estimated 35,000 fighters in Gaza, out of a population of 1.7 million Palestinians. They would be facing an Israeli standing army of 175,000 and 450,000 reservists. Though Hamas has acquired better weapons since 2009, it has nothing with which to take on the air power of Israel with its F-16 fighters and Apache helicopter gunships.