A concerted attack in broad daylight….
Southern Israel erupted in terror attacks on Thursday. In a major escalation, about twenty jihadists who had apparently originated in Gaza crossed into Israel through Sinai and carried out several hits.
It started at about noon with a shooting attack on a civilian bus. A half-hour later explosives were detonated against an army patrol. Not long after there were attacks on public and private vehicles with guns, a mortar shell, and an antitank missile. All in all six civilians, a soldier, and a police officer were killed and about 25 people wounded. Two more soldiers were injured in hostilities closer to evening.
Reports say the Israeli defense establishment had intelligence information on such an attack, but expected it to happen at night—not brazenly in broad daylight. It was also expected that the direct perpetrators, the Al Qaeda- and Hamas-linked Popular Resistance Committees of Gaza, would attempt to kidnap a soldier; security forces, in fighting back and killing several of the terrorists, apparently prevented that outcome. It was the PRC that kidnapped the Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit, held in Gaza to this day, at the Israel-Gaza border over five years ago.
Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, in a short, terse press briefing, said that “If there is anyone who thinks Israel will accept this they are wrong…. Israel will exact a heavy price from terror chiefs.” A short time earlier the Israeli air force had killed the PRC’s chief Qud al-Nirab, as well as the organization’s military commander and four others, with a strike on a building in Gaza. It seemed doubtful that this was all Netanyahu had in mind; and early Friday morning Israeli planes hit terror targets in Gaza while terrorists kept lobbing rockets at Israeli civilian targets.
Some major implications of these events include:
The role of Egypt: Israeli defense minister Ehud Barak stressed the fact that “the Egyptian grip is loosening and this is the reason for this attack….” It is no secret that, since the fall of the Mubarak regime, Sinai has descended into anarchy. This has involved reported infiltrations by global terror and rampant smuggling by Bedouins of Iranian weapons into Gaza.
Israeli media outlets quoted Egyptian officials denying any Egyptian involvement in Thursday’s attacks. It was also reported that Egyptian soldiers firing from across the Sinai border had killed at least two of the terrorists. Even if so, the fact remains that the terrorist squad—disguised, according to some Israeli eyewitnesses, as Egyptian soldiers themselves—managed to cross through Sinai to Israel. If not collusion, this at best bespeaks chaos.
In weighing whether to launch a substantial operation against Hamas, the PRC, and other groups in the steadily-strengthening hothouse of terror known as Gaza, Jerusalem is aware that the Mubarak era is over; how Egypt would respond is unclear. But Israel has to take into account that the situation in Egypt can still get a lot worse, especially if the Islamists attain greater power or even eventually take over. Seemingly the time to act against Gaza is now, or soon; before it turns much more difficult and risky.
Israel’s national priorities: Up until Thursday, the security situation in Israel had been relatively quiet for a time (the emphasis is on “relatively,” as dozens of rocket firings from Gaza continued in this period). This “vacuum” was recently filled by a wave of “social protests” in the Israeli streets over high housing and other prices. While the Israeli economy indeed has certain structural problems, the protests were largely driven and manipulated by the extreme left, and populist if not outright inane in nature.
Not surprisingly, one frequent demand of the leftists and populists had been to cut the Israeli defense budget and use the resources instead for allegedly worthier purposes. After Thursday’s events, these voices are certain to pipe down. With global-jihad forces entrenching themselves in Gaza and Sinai, and the peace with Egypt—always pragmatic and skin-deep at best—seriously in question as Islamist and extreme-nationalist factions gain strength there, “cutting defense” is the last thing Israel should be doing. Instead it should be preparing for a possible multifront war that could include the Egyptian front.
And speaking of military expenses, on Thursday night Gaza fired a number of Grad rockets at the Israeli coastal city of Ashkelon, and Israel’s new Iron Dome antimissile system successfully intercepted several of them. The cost of each interception, though, of the much-less-expensive rockets comes to $100,000. It is not going to be easy in the Middle East, and Israel does not need inane voices in its streets demanding a European-style welfare state.
The Palestinians’ UN statehood push. In about a month the Palestinian Authority is expected to ask the UN to recognize it as an independent state. That is, an entity including the Fatah-run West Bank as well as Hamas-run Gaza.
Apart from the fact that the West Bank Palestinian Authority is ultimately no less extreme in its anti-Israeli, anti-Semitic ideology than Hamas’s Gaza, the PA has actually been striving (albeit with difficulty) over the past few months to form a unified regime with Hamas. But even if the PA were pure as the driven snow, it is remarkable that an entity that includes the explicitly-jihadist terror haven of Gaza is suing for a major international upgrade of its status—and will undoubtedly attain it, at least in the General Assembly.
And while the U.S. is expected to veto the PA’s attempt in the Security Council, the administration is clearly unhappy at the prospect and was recently reported to be using it to squeeze concessions out of Israel. As for most of the other democracies, Israel has been waging an intensive diplomatic struggle to get as many of them as possible to vote against the PA statehood bid, or at least abstain. Getting across to people what Palestinian empowerment really means has never been easy. Thursday’s events won’t turn the tide either.