There had been a relative calm in my small part of the world — a gentrified area of south Tel Aviv where the tree-lined narrow streets are scattered with bustling restaurants and coffee shops — where my biggest concern was finding a working Telo-Fun bike machine.
Before last week, words like miklat (bomb shelter), Iron Dome, red alert siren and bus bombings were not part of my daily vocabulary or thoughts. How quickly that changes.
Mixed with the usual sounds of Bob Marley singing and chopping vegetables, an unfamiliar howl lofted into our studio apartment. “Is that a siren?” we said, in disbelief. Sure, the chances of rockets are more likely than rain in this part of the world. But the reality that one would actually be aimed for in Tel Aviv is a different story. After pausing for a second in shock, we followed the sounds of footsteps to the ground floor, where all of us living in the same building quickly discovered the lack of any bomb shelter.
Since Israel launched Operation Pillar of Defense on Wednesday, fighting around the Israel-Gaza border has been intense. The death toll stands at three on the Israeli side and 13 on the Palestinian side. A few minutes a rocket wounded ago three Israeli soldiers.
In the last 24 hours, 138 rockets from Gaza has struck Israel and Israel has targeted 156 sites in Gaza. Israel appears to have achieved some of its significant aims, in assassinating Hamas leader Ahmed Jabari and eliminating large stocks of Hamas’ long-range rockets which it feared could be used to retaliate deep in to Israel.
And so the question is: What does Israel want now? How long will it continue with its offensive?
Israel’s security cabinet is being vague in the information put out to journalists today. It decided “to continue vigorous action against the terrorist infrastructures operating from the Gaza Strip against the civilian population in Israel in order to bring about an improvement in the security reality and allow a normal life for the residents of the State of Israel.”
Unless the aim is to end Hamas rule in Gaza which seems highly unlikely, there’s no single moment when a light flashes in Israel announcing “Game Over” or “Misssion Complete.” The various comments of Defense Minister Ehud Barak don’t give any better insight in to what is planned. Naturally, the concern isn’t that this information isn’t being made public, but rather that it stands undecided.
After Operation Cast Lead, it was widely said that Israel didn’t know when to stop and try to calm the situation. This time around, Hamas, having been humiliated with the killing of such a high-profile leader will need to appear vengeful to its followers, and will be hesitant to stop firing. The ball is in Israel’s court, but is a firm game plan there too?
Center-right commentator Shalom Yerushalmi at Maariv argues that the rockets from Gaza seem likely to turn the upcoming Israeli elections once again into a referendum on who has bigger guns, meaning a Likud reelection. Sadly, he says, that would again bury the election that seemed to be shaping up, the one that Israel deserves, the one that’s typical in normal democracies, over the country’s intolerable social and economic inequities.
This assumes, at least in part, that Israel launches a serious attack into Gaza to stop the rockets, in some sort of reprise of Operation Cast Lead in 2008-09. Military correspondents Amos Harel and Avi Issacharoff at Haaretz think that’s unlikely and will have to settle for less aggressive action, like resuming aerial targeted assassinations of Hamas leadership. They say Bibi’s freedom of action is limited because
…the diplomatic reality now is far different than it was when that offensive was launched in 2008: Israel fears a direct confrontation with the new regime in Egypt and it knows that neither the United States nor Europe will be as tolerant of a large-scale military operation this time around.
Here’s my question: Is it possible that Hamas has heated up the border, after close to three years of relative quiet (broken mainly by jihadi groups) because it wants the Likud to win – that it fears a possible victory by an Olmert- or Livni-led center-left leading to renewed negotiations with Abu Mazen? Is this Hamas’s bid to ward off a two-state solution and keep Palestine indivisible? I’m just saying …
Dozens of rockets launched by militants in Gaza have pounded down on southern Israel today, wounding three Israeli civilians. The round of violence began last night when Gazans launched an anti-tank missile which scored a direct hit, wounding four Israeli soldiers — an act that was followed by Israeli airstrikes on Palestinian targets in Gaza.
This escalation has a clear human cost. Aside from the wouned Israelis, thousands of residents of southern Israel have stopped their daily routines and sit in bomb shelters listening for “code red” announcements. On the Palestinian side, several people were killed in retaliatory strikes by Israel.
But it also has an important political impact.
Will the campaign for the coming January 22 Israeli election tackle pressing social issues head-on, as several parties hope, or will security dominate the agenda? The answer seems to change every day. For a day at least, politics in Israel seems to be a competition for who can talk tougher, who can apply more no-nonsense rhetoric about the Hamas regime in Gaza and what is coming to it.
Look at the report on today’s cabinet discussions. Interior Minister Eli Yishai (Likud) remarked that the “rules of the game in the south are about to change.” Water and Energy Minister Uzi Landau (Yisrael Beytenu) asked rhetorically if the Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas is “able to stop the firing from Gaza?” Internal Security Minister Yitzhak Aharonovitch (Yisrael Beytenu) said that “Hamas is accountable and will pay dearly.” And Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu declared that he is “ready to step up our response.”
Today, politicians like these on the Israeli right can give their strategists a vacation day — the script writes itself, and trumps the centrist and left-wing parties who want a more varied pre-election discussion. But all their talk doesn’t help the residents of the south who are stuck in their shelters.