5/30/18 A day of Rockets and Mortars- Where Does it Go From Here
7:00 AM this past Tuesday morning was not your average 7 AM. For those of us in Tel Aviv, and other places in Israel far from the Gaza border, people woke up to a “Red Alert” notification on the app most of us keep on our smartphones. This time, the alert was not for our area, but for those in the area surrounding the Gaza border. Unlike the usual one or two notifications of missile launchings we all have become accustomed to hearing, this morning the alerts kept going off, time and time again.
Of course, those of us in Tel Aviv and throughout most of the rest of the country can only imagine what it was like for those living in the Kibbutzim and cities surrounding the Gaza Strip. Round-after-round of long-range mortar shells were being fired at them. The southern residents have mere seconds to react and seek shelter in the safe rooms and bomb shelters before the mortars land. Today, for the first time, Israelis located within mortar range were not totally helpless. Israel’s Iron Dome detection system has been improved and is now capable of intercepting at least some of the incoming mortars, despite the very short window of warning.
Analysts immediately suspected Islamic Jihad had fired the mortars — as they had vowed revenge for the death of three of their fighters who were killed earlier in the week, while trying to place an IED on the border fence. In addition, according to the IDF, the Islamic Jihad had received support and encouragement from Iran to attack Israel, as revenge for Israel’s attack on Iranian bases in Syria. Islamic Jihad soon took responsibility.
Most Israelis, including reports from the army, expected that one barrage of 25 mortars would be the end of this current volley. However, the incoming fire continued and expanded to rocket fire. At 8 am, the sirens went off again in the communities around Gaza … and again at 9 am —but that time, there were also rockets intercepted above Ashkelon, a large city north of Gaza.
By then, it was clear something had changed. Hamas, who rules the Gaza Strip with an Iron fist, had clearly given its approval for the renewed barrage of attacks. At 12:30 pm, the Israeli Air Force had responded with its largest attacks on the Gaza Strip since the end of the last Gaza war in 2014. The Israeli targets were identified as warehouses for munitions, production facilities for making weapons, and other high-value targets — All of which appear to have been completely empty, without a soul inside them, since the air attacks seemingly did not kill or wound anyone.
The hope was that one swift responsive air strike would end things. Unfortunately, it did not. After an hour of quiet, the mortar and rockets attacks continued, hour-after-hour. By mid-afternoon, every Israeli TV network had canceled their regular programming and began continued coverage the ongoing attacks in the South.
By midnight, over 100 mortars and rockets had been fired at Israel and the Iron Dome system had been called to fire its defensive missiles 25 times (which is greater than the total number of projectiles fired on Israel over the course of the past four years since the end of the last war). By now, Hamas and the Islamic Jihad had already issued a joint statement taking responsibility for the attacks; attacks that continued through the night. Those living around Gaza slept in their secure rooms, since attacks kept on coming hour-after-hour.
As dawn broke, Hamas announced that a ceasefire had been reached with Israel. At 5:20 am the last rockets were fired. Israel initially denied that a ceasefire had been put in place, but by mid-morning, there were indications that some sort of agreement had indeed been reached to end this round of rocket fire.
The question on everyone's minds — whether they live near Gaza, or in downtown Tel Aviv — is how long will this ceasefire last. It is hard to see what either Israel or Hamas could gain from an additional round of fighting. The Hamas strategy has been that it gains, even when it loses, — meaning, it at least gains sympathy, if it loses on the battlefield. At the moment, Hamas may have come to realize that it is losing even in the battle for public sympathy.
Hamas failed to gain any support or significant sympathy — even from the Arab world — when it sent people to die at the border fence. Thus, we come to a new stage of conflict in which Hamas knows its missiles are close to useless, its tunnels have been neutralized, fighting on as usual seems to make even less sense than before. Since right now, Israel sees its Northern border with Syria and potentially Iran as a potential strategic threat, therefore, a confrontation with Gaza is a needless distraction.
This of course still leaves the Islamic Jihad as a wild card. If Israeli intelligence is correct and Islamic Jihad receives support and direction from Iran, they will continue to attempt to destabilize the situation. How much control Hamas has over them remains an open question, as is the question of whether Hamas actually wants to control them.
The most important question remains — what is next? While no one is starving in Gaza, (Israel facilitates the daily transfer of enough food, medicine, and other supplies to meet the essential needs of the population), two million people continue to live on a small sliver of land with little real employment, nurturing a false dream of returning to ancestral homes that are long gone. Nobody seems willing to tell the people of Gaza the truth and offer them an alternative positive vision for the future.
Without an alternate vision for the future and some sort of plan to implement it, another round of attacks, however irrational, is inevitable. One of the famous quotes of Prime Minister Golda Meir was, “We will only have peace with the Arabs when they love their children more than they hate us.” While there is truth to that saying, a modern corollary might also be — there will never be peace as long as Israelis bring up their children in a wealthy modern state whose children have a bright future, as long as those in Gaza (40 miles away) live in a third world state whose children have little to look forward to.
Unfortunately, no solution to this quandary is visible on the horizon.