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The story that has made headlines in recent days deals with the various weapons being shot from Gaza into the south of Israel. As this is written, over 40 projectiles have been launched: Grad Katyusha rockets, Kassam rockets, and mortars, much of this arsenal supplied by Iran. The Grads – which are both the most accurate and have the greatest range – are the most deadly.
Israel has responded, but in a severely limited fashion (which some refer to as “tit-for-tat”). Air Force planes take off over Gaza, hit a launching site, or a smuggling tunnel, or a group of terrorists planning a launch, and return.
Since Saturday, one Israeli man has been killed by a rocket, and four others have been injured. Damage has been done to buildings, and cars have been gutted. Children within range of the rockets (some 40 kilometers of the border with Gaza) are being kept home from school, and the populace of southern Israel lives with fear.
Scant attention is paid to the fact that some individuals end up going to the hospital because of anxiety attacks, but high anxiety – perhaps better called panic – is both psychologically and physically debilitating. Additionally, as it is important for them to try to stay close to shelters, residents of places such as Ashdod, Beersheva and Ashkelon have limited opportunities for moving about.
Bottom line: Citizens of Israel should not have to live this way. Israelis in growing numbers are of the opinion that it’s time to launch a second operation such as Cast Lead. That brief war, involving both air and ground operations in Gaza, took place during the first weeks of 2009 and dealt Hamas a significant but not fatal blow.
In many quarters, it is felt that the Israel government is not doing its best to protect its citizens or to ensure deterrence. As a matter of full disclosure, this writer confesses readily enough to a visceral longing to see appropriate heads in Gaza blown off. It’s difficult to witness what’s happening, especially when one must struggle with the impression that Israeli action is insufficient.
But decisions cannot be based on a visceral desire to do damage, however valid that desire may be. Before a conclusion is reached regarding what should be done now, the broader context must be considered – both in terms of history and the complexity of current prevailing factors. The Middle East is rife with shifting inter-Arab/Muslim rivalries, hatreds, and alliances of convenience. Israel, the only non-Arab/Muslim state in the region, is often caught in regional crossfire and must maneuver accordingly for its best interests.
As we consider reports of the situation, what stands out is that the rockets are being launched by Islamic Jihad; Hamas, which runs Gaza, is sitting on the sidelines – neither actively participating nor attempting to control Islamic Jihad. This is a new situation.
What is not well known is that Islamic Jihad has links with Fatah. Quite simply, Hamas and Fatah are rivals, while Fatah and Islamic Jihad function, at least covertly, as allies. (There are reports within the last few days of Fatah people joining the Islamic Jihad forces.)
A look backwards explains this situation: During the time of the Iranian Revolution, Yasser Arafat – functioning as head of both the PLO and Fatah, which were essentially one and the same then – provided assistance to the revolutionary forces via both training and weaponry. When the Shah fell, Arafat emerged as one of the first supporters of the new radical Islamic Iranian regime; he entered Tehran jubilant.
The Ayatollah Khomeini, who had sparked that revolution from outside of Iran, was so pleased with Arafat that he gave to the PLO as its headquarters the building that had housed the Israeli mission to Iran during the time of the Shah. A special bond then evolved between Arafat and Khomeini. It was a honeymoon of short duration, as a displeased Arab world (reflecting Sunni-Shia tensions) delivered Arafat a message: Us or Iran.
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