With talk mounting of a possible Israeli ground operation against terror factions in Gaza, cross-border violence continued Monday night and Tuesday morning, as Palestinians fired a rocket at southern Israel and Israel Air Force jets struck rocket launching sites and a weapons warehouse in the Strip.
The rocket slammed into an open area outside the coastal city of Ashdod, and did not cause casualties or damage.
The IAF airstrikes late Monday night came after rocket fire from Gaza continued to pummel Israel’s south for the third straight day. As of Tuesday morning, over 160 rockets and mortar shells had hit Israel since Saturday. More than 40 Israelis were reported lightly injured, mostly suffering from shock and light shrapnel injuries.
A volley of Grad rockets were fired at towns in the south just after nightfall on Monday, with a number landing near Beersheba, Netivot and Ofakim. Two rockets were shot down by the Iron Dome anti-missile system near Ofakim. Three rockets landed in open areas near Sderot before 10 p.m. No injuries or damage were reported in those attacks.
Earlier in the day, 26 people were treated for shock after a direct hit on a home in Netivot. A second missile hit a factory in the city’s industrial zone in the afternoon.
On Tuesday morning, ahead of a meeting of senior ministers set to deliberate the recent escalation, Education Minister Gideon Sa’ar hinted that an extensive Israeli response to the rocket attacks was in the offing.
“Anyone with eyes in his head” can see that an Israeli ground operation in the Gaza Strip was near at hand, Sa’ar said. In an interview with Israel Radio, the minister, a member of Prime Minister Netanyahu’s security cabinet, reiterated that the increasingly frequent bouts of cross-border violence were creating an untenable situation.
“The cabinet will choose the timing responsibly and level-headedly,” Sa’ar said, noting that any cease-fire agreement with Gaza would be fragile due to the whims of a multiplicity of factions that did not feel obligated to comply with Hamas’s instructions.
“We can’t remain dependent on each and every terror cell, and we have to make the other side realize that there are painful repercussions to the firing of rockets at Israel,” he said.
Speaking after Sa’ar, MK Nahman Shai, who’s vying for a spot on the Labor Party’s Knesset list for the upcoming elections, called for a diplomatic solution, including, “perhaps in the future, direct talks with Hamas.”
Maariv reported that Egypt had threatened to recall it’s new ambassador in Tel Aviv, Atef Salem, if Israel embarked on a ground operation in Gaza.
On Monday, Netanyahu started taking steps to shore up international support for a possible military ground operation into Gaza that would aim to quell the ongoing rocket fire from the strip.
“The world must understand that Israel has the right and obligation to defend its citizens,” he told some 50 ambassadors in Ashkelon. “We will not sit idly in front of recurrent attacks that occur almost daily, against our citizens and our children. More than one million citizens have to live in a reality where within 15 or 30 seconds they need to find shelter against terrorists who shoot at civilians, while the terrorists themselves hide behind civilians. That’s a double war crime.
“None of your governments would accept such a situation,” he said. We do not accept such a situation, and I, as prime minister of Israel, am not prepared to accept this situation, and we will act to stop it.”
Defense Minister Ehud Barak and IDF Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Benny Gantz met with Netanyahu Monday night to present him with their assessment of a possible military escalation against the Gaza Strip.
President Shimon Peres told CNN that Israel was not seeking an escalation of hostilities, but would do whatever was necessary to protect its citizens.
“No country in the world would agree to it – without exception,” Peres said. “[The Israeli government] shall try to stop it by all the means we can mobilize and use… we don’t think that we’re defenseless.”
He added that the international community should cut off funding to Hamas as long as they remained belligerent.
The rocket fire began on Saturday night, touched off by an Israeli airstrike that followed an attack on an Israeli jeep patrolling near the border that left four soldiers injured.
A government official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, neither denied nor confirmed reports that Israel was planning a ground invasion into Gaza. “Different options are being looked at,” he told The Times of Israel. “It’s more than possible that there will be a need to reassert Israeli deterrence,” the official said.
“Netanyahu wants to make sure that the international community will understand the reasons if Israel is forced to act,” the official said ahead of the prime minister’s meeting with the senior diplomats.