Updates from Israel and the Jewish World
Compiled by Dr Ron Wiseman
Palestinian reports say ceasefire reached, in effect from 04:30 AM
Israel and the Gaza terror groups have reached a ceasefire to end two days of intense fighting that saw more than 600 rockets fired into Israel and 4 civilians killed, which went into effect at 04:30 AM, Arabic-language media reported early Monday, citing sources in Hamas and Islamic Jihad. There was no confirmation or comment from Israel.
The reports come after several hours of quiet and after a previous report of a truce appeared premature, ruptured by rocket fire and airstrikes.
Late Sunday, Hebrew and Arabic media reported that mediators from Egypt and the European Union were on the verge of successfully brokering a ceasefire between Israel and terror groups in the coastal enclave.
The reports cited a Western diplomat, who said the nascent agreement would go into effect around midnight on Monday. UN Middle East Envoy Nikolay Mladenov was said to be mediating the talks along with Egyptian intelligence officials.
But as midnight came, the IDF continued to strike targets in Gaza and rocket sirens were heard across southern Israel. A salvo of rockets fired at the Ashkelon area was intercepted by the Iron Dome system. There were no reports of injuries.
There were no further rockets or airstrikes after 02:00 AM, perhaps indicating progress in the ceasefire talks.
The Arabic media reports said the original ceasefire had floundered over an Israeli refusal to allow in Qatari cash. Hamas was adamant it wanted the money ahead of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan that starts Monday in the Palestinian territories and much of the Muslim World.
For it’s part, Israel did not comment reports of the deal, but it has refrained from doing so in the past, even denying reported ceasefires, which went on to hold for days, weeks and or months at a time.
Despite reports on a truce, local authorities announced Monday schools would remain closed within a 40 kilometer (25 miles) radius from Gaza.
Shortly after midnight, the Gaza terror groups said the fighting would continue until Israel gives in to their demands and acknowledges the understandings reached.
“The battle will not end until the occupation responds affirmatively to our people’s demands,” the Joint Command Center of Armed Palestinian factions in Gaza said in a statement early Monday.
“We will not allow the settlers to leave their shelters as long as the enemy’s leadership denies its understandings with the resistance,” it said.
Earlier Sunday, Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh said that restoring calm in and around the Gaza Strip would be possible if Israel agreed to stop all retaliatory strikes in the Palestinian enclave.
A senior Palestinian Islamic Jihad official said the group would also be willing to hold its fire if Israel agreed to its “obligations” — an apparent reference to pledges from Jerusalem last month to ease restrictions around the Gaza Strip and allow $30 million dollars in Qatari aid into the coastal enclave.
On Sunday night, the Israeli military said it bombed some 40 “terror targets” in the Gaza Strip in its latest round of airstrikes, bringing the IDF’s total number of raids up to 320 in the past two days. The military said it targeted “observation headquarters, underground bunkers, weapons caches, military facilities, launchpads, observation posts and more” in its most recent air raids.
The army said it targeted sites connected to both the Hamas terror group, which rules Gaza, and the Iran-backed Palestinian Islamic Jihad. Palestinian medical officials reported 29 dead since Friday, including at least 11 terrorists, The Times of Israel confirmed.
The high-level security cabinet huddled for five hours on Sunday over the violence that killed four Israeli civilians in a single day, the deadliest casualty rate for Israel since the 2014 Gaza war.
Following the meeting, the Prime Minister’s Office issued a brief statement saying that the army has been instructed “to continue the strikes and prepare for them to continue.”
The statement added that the government’s “main consideration is the security of the state and its citizens.” This appeared to refer to claims that Israel might cave to the demands of Hamas and Islamic Jihad in order to prevent the fight from continuing into Israel’s Memorial and Independence Days later this week and the international Eurovision Song Contest planned for May 14-18 in Tel Aviv.
As of Sunday evening, four people in Israel were killed and at least 10 injured by shrapnel from rockets, missiles and mortar shells from the Gaza Strip, according to the Magen David Adom ambulance service.
Fifty-eight year-old father of four Moshe Agadi was the first fatality after being rushed to Ashkelon’s Barzilai Medical Center with shrapnel wounds he sustained when the rocket hit his home in the city at around 2:30 a.m. Sunday.
In a barrage aimed at the same southern city later in the day, a rocket directly hit a factory, killing a Zaid al-Hamamdeh, a 47-year-old father of seven, and injuring two others.
A short while later, a third man, Moshe Feder, 60, was fatally wounded when an anti-tank guided missile slammed into his car as he was driving along the Route 34 highway near the community of Kibbutz Erez, just north of the Gaza border. He sustained a serious shrapnel wound to the leg, causing significant blood loss. Feder was pronounced dead at Barzilai’s Medical Center after CPR efforts failed. The Hamas terror group claimed responsibility for the attack.
On Sunday evening, a fourth man was killed after being struck by rocket shrapnel while running for cover in the southern city of Ashdod, medics said. Pinchas Menachem Prezuazman, 21, was survived by his wife and son. He was laid to rest in Jerusalem. (the Times of Israel) Staff
Netanyahu declares ‘special situation’ as IDF upgrades air strikes to targeted killings
In response to the massive air attacks from the Gaza Strip, the IDF says that the Israel Air Force (IAF) has struck back by hitting terror targets in Gaza.
Terrorist targets include rocket launchers, terror tunnel shafts, weapons manufacturing factories belonging to Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ), as well as a PIJ training compound and command center located inside a mosque, and a Hamas weapons depot.
The IDF says that it attacked arms and ammunition warehouses located in the home of Hamas terrorists in Rafah and Khan Yunis and another warehouse in Gaza City in the home of a member involved with Hamas’ rocket infrastructure.
By midnight Saturday, the Israeli military said that it had carried out some 220 air strikes and that the attacks were continuing.
On Sunday, the IDF said that it was starting to attack arms and ammunition depots placed “purposely” by the terrorists in areas populated by civilians and was targeting terrorists themselves.
Gaza sources reported that several people had been killed in the Israeli strikes but the IDF accused the Palestinians of inflating the figures.
“Palestinian propaganda is at its finest,” said IDF spokesman Ronen Manelis sarcastically. “A woman and girl claimed in Gaza to have been killed in an IDF attack were, in fact, killed by Hamas arms and ammunition,” Manelis tweeted.
An IDF spokesperson said that the 7th Armored Brigade had been dispatched to the Israel-Gaza border area to be prepared as necessary.
Military and government sources say that the political echelon has instructed the IDF to be ready for the counter-terror campaign to last a number of days, although the Israeli military censor has barred reporting just how long it is expected to continue.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu declared a “special situation” for a 40-kilometer area surrounding the Gaza Strip at a Cabinet meeting convened in Jerusalem on Sunday.
He also ordered the IDF “to continue massive attacks against terrorist elements in the Gaza Strip” and the “reinforcement of the units around the Gaza Strip with armor, artillery, and infantry.”
Repeating the longtime Israeli position, the prime minister said that “Hamas bears the responsibility not only for its own attacks and actions but also for the actions of Islamic Jihad, and it is paying a very heavy price for this.
“We are working – and will continue to work – to restore quiet and security to the residents of the south,” said the prime minister.(WIN) David Jablinowitz
Four Israelis dead, 700 rockets and a weekend full of terror in Israel
The IDF has reinforced troops along the Gaza border after close to 700 rockets were fired towards southern Israel since Saturday by Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ) from the Gaza Strip, killing four civilians and injuring close to 80 others.
Terrorist groups fired dozens of rocket barrages toward southern Israel on Sunday, as well as several longer-range projectiles towards central Israel. According to the IDF, terrorist groups in the Strip also tried to carry out a terrorist attack using a rocket propelled grenade (RPG) attached to a drone. The RPG-laden drone, which landed on a tank deployed along the border, did not explode.
On Saturday night, Moshe Agadi, a father of four, was killed when a rocket struck his home in Ashkelon when he went out to smoke a cigarette. He was struck by shrapnel to his stomach and chest and was taken by Magen David Adom teams to Barzilai Hospital where he was pronounced dead.
Moshe Feder, 64, from Kfar Saba, was killed Sunday afternoon after a Kornet anti-tank guided missile struck a car near the Gaza border between the communities of Yad Mordechai and Sderot.
A Bedouin man was killed after he was critically injured in his chest by shrapnel from a direct strike on a factory in Ashkelon, dying from his wounds shortly after.
A 23-year-old Israeli man was also killed Sunday evening after he suffered severe shrapnel injuries to his chest while running to a shelter in Ashdod.
On Sunday afternoon, Israel’s Security Cabinet met and instructed the military to intensify its attacks in the Strip.
Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh said on Sunday night that he does not rule out the possibility of reaching a ceasefire agreement with Israel.
In a statement, Haniyeh said that the “return to calm is possible and depends on the commitment of the occupation to a complete ceasefire.”
Haniyeh said any ceasefire should also include the weekly protests along the border between the Gaza Strip and Israel, also known as the Great March of Return.
“The response of the resistance is linked to the level of Zionist aggression,” Haniyeh said, adding that Israel must also abide by the recent Egyptian-sponsored ceasefire understandings between the Gaza-based groups and Israel.
“The slow pace of the implementation of the understandings and the attempt to gain time have created an increased state of tension among our people in Gaza because of the crimes committed by the occupation during the current aggression,” the Hamas leader added.
Due to the violence in the South, the IDF has deployed the 7th armored brigade, “which would be ready to act as an offensive force within the Gaza Division” as well as the Golani brigade. The Paratroopers brigade is on standby to deploy south if needed, the military said.
A senior Israel Air Force officer said Sunday that over 600 hundred rockets were fired at Israel from the Gaza Strip since Saturday morning, and that over 150 had been intercepted by the Iron Dome missile defense system. While the majority struck in open areas, 35 struck urban areas in Israel.
In retaliation, the IAF struck over 280 targets belonging to PIJ and Hamas, IDF Spokesperson Brig.-Gen. Ronen Manelis said. In addition, Manelis and the senior Air Force officer both confirmed that the military had begun carrying out targeted assassinations in the Strip against Hamas militants.
The first targeted strike since 2014 hit a vehicle carrying 39-year-old Hamed Ahmed Abed Khudari, who the IDF said was in charge of large-scale money transfers from Iran to terror groups in the Strip.
The officer told reporters that the IDF “had not carried out a targeted assassination in a long time” and that a number of aircraft participated in the strike, which was carried out in the heart of Gaza City with the approval of Israel’s political echelon.
“We are prepared to continue operating with the message that Hamas and its men are vulnerable,” the officer said, adding that this is in an attempt to “renew deterrence” against the terrorist group.
“We are acting against Hamas and the PIJ – but for us, Hamas is the sovereign and its role is to stop PIJ,” he said, explaining that under this directive, the IDF has carried out over 100 sorties, striking weapon warehouses, terror infrastructures, terrorist cells, tunnels and more.
“We are prepared for the possibility of escalation,” he continued, warning that “we have not used everything yet: there’s a lot more we can do.”
The targets struck by Israel’s military overnight included rocket launchers and a Hamas military position in the northern Gaza Strip, as well as dozens of private homes belonging to Hamas and PIJ commanders. Also struck were attack tunnels, military compounds and emplacements, storage houses and weapons factories belonging to Hamas and PIJ.
Israel’s navy also struck several naval targets belonging to the two groups.
According to the Hamas-run Gaza Health Ministry, 16 Palestinians have been killed including several members of the terror groups’ rocket-launching cells. Another 80 Palestinians were said to have been injured. The ministry also claimed that a Palestinian woman and her 14 month-old niece were killed in Israeli strikes on Saturday night, a claim repeatedly denied by the IDF which says that the two were killed by a Hamas rocket which failed to launch within a populated area.
On Sunday morning, the two groups threatened to increase the range of their rocket fire, saying in a joint statement that they are considering firing rockets to cities over 40 kilometers from the blockaded coastal enclave.
“We are prepared for additional days of fighting,” Manelis told reporters in a telephone call, adding that the military is “prepared” for rocket fire on central Israel, including Tel Aviv.
The Home Front Command instructed residents living within 40 km. of the Gaza Strip to consult with heads of local authorities, and remain near protected spaces. Public gatherings were limited to 300 people in enclosed spaces only, and agricultural work was banned. All studies in southern Israel were also cancelled due to the security situation.
While Tel Aviv did not open public shelters, many municipalities did, including Beersheba, Rishon Lezion, Netanya and others.
Energy Minister Yuval Steinitz decided on Sunday to temporarily halt natural gas supplies from the offshore Tamar field due to a surge in violence with Gaza militants, the ministry said in a statement.
Steinitz declared an emergency to ensure that power generation is not interrupted, the ministry said. This typically means using more expensive fossil fuels like diesel and fuel oil.
Israel receives most of its natural gas supplies from Tamar. The field is located some 90 kilometers (56 miles) in deep Mediterranean waters, but its production platform stands just 25 kilometers off the coast of southern Israel. (Jerusalem Post) Anna Ahronheim
Photo of Pregnant Israeli Mother Shielding Two-Year-Old Daughter During Rocket Attack With Her Own Body Goes Viral
Mother Lihi Piatzsky protects her two-year-old child with her body during a rocket attack in southern Israel, May 5, 2019.
A picture of a young pregnant mother protecting her two-year-old daughter with her body during rocket fire on southern Israel over the weekend has gone viral.
According to Hebrew news website Mako, the dramatic photo was taken by the child’s father, who was protecting the two from above.
The family lives in Moshav Ge’a in southern Israel, a few miles from the city of Ashkelon. The area has taken massive rocket fire from Gaza over the last two days.
Lihi Piatzsky, who is expecting her second child, said, “We’re very well trained for this, when we’re in an area with a secure space, or when there is no secure space, we defend [our child]. … We listen to orders from Home Front Command. That’s what we do without thinking very much and very quickly.”
“This was the first time the child experienced this,” she added, “because most of the time [the rocket attacks] were at night.”
“She’s all of two years old. I don’t know how, I just protected her, I said to her that we’re protecting her because there was a siren, even though she really wanted to get up and asked to get up,” Lihi said.
The girl’s father, Elon, recounted that he originally sent the picture to family and friends “so they could see what was going on with us.”
Israel’s military said more than 450 rockets, many of them intercepted by its Iron Dome anti-missile system, have been fired at southern Israeli cities and villages since Friday, and it struck some 220 targets belonging to Gaza terrorist groups. Three Israelis have been killed in the attacks. Two Gaza civilians, including a young child, have also been killed by Hamas rockets, according to the Israel Defense Forces.
The latest round of violence began two days ago when an Islamic Jihad sniper fired at Israeli troops, wounding two soldiers, according to the Israeli military. (the Algemeiner) Benjamin Kerstein
President Rivlin demonstrates solidarity with residents of the South
In a demonstration of solidarity with residents of the south who in recent days have been traumatized by a barrage of rockets, President Reuven Rivlin on Sunday visited the situation room of the Eshkol Regional Council.
He was greeted by council chairman Gadi Yarkoni who together with regional security officers briefed him on the latest developments. Throughout the visit, there were constant red alerts.
“We are at the start of a week of acute tension, and in the midst of a very long period, a period in which for far too long, has made you – residents of the south – targets of terror organizations along the Gaza strip.”
Rivlin lauded the resilience of the residents, saying that it was not a trivial thing, nor was it something to be taken for granted. “There is proud Zionist settlement here, which is determined not to give in and to continue the battle for life here,” he declared.
Rivlin emphasized how imperative it is for residents to heed the instructions that are given to them by Home Front Command for their own safety and security. “Obeying Home Front instructions can save your lives and give the army the leeway it needs to breathe and to carry out its operations,” he said.
As he completed the visit, Rivlin said that he wanted to thank each and every resident of the south for their pioneering spirit and for the inspiration they give to the nation as a whole under such trying circumstances.
Rivlin pledged that Israel would not allow the assailants to win, and would not rest until quiet is restored to the region.
He was confident that Israel’s neighbors would eventually learn to understand that it is better to live in peace with Israel than to wage war.
“You have no idea how much strength the rest of the nation derives from your attitude and the example you have set,” he said.
Tamir Idan, head of the Sha’ar HaNegev Regional Council told Rivlin that everyone felt strengthened by the fact that he arrived in the region so soon after the rocket attacks began.
Despite the rockets, he said, the (Israel side of) the Gaza Strip is flourishing, and the mission now is not to lose what has been achieved, and not to harm the general stability. “We intend to continue and to build to expand existing settlements and to construct new settlements.”
Rivlin did not immediately return to Jerusalem, but went on to meet the divisional and brigade commanders of the IDF Gaza Division who updated him on all aspects of the security situation in the area. (the Jerusalem Post) Greer Fay Cashman
Amid Gaza violence, Trump says US supports Israel 100% as it defends citizens
US President Donald Trump said Sunday that the United States supports Israel “100%” as it protects its people from an onslaught of rockets fire from Gaza.
“Once again, Israel faces a barrage of deadly rocket attacks by terrorist groups Hamas and Islamic Jihad,” Trump tweeted Sunday evening in his first remarks since the surge in violence over the weekend. “We support Israel 100% in its defense of its citizens.”
In the worst outbreak from the coastal enclave since the 51-day 2014 war, Gaza militants have fired more than 600 rockets into Israel since Friday, killing four Israelis, including a 21-year-old Israeli-American, and sending much of the country into bomb shelters.
Trump also had a message to the Palestinians.
“To the Gazan people — these terrorist acts against Israel will bring you nothing but more misery,” the president said. “END the violence and work towards peace – it can happen!”
The eruption in violence comes as the Trump administration is preparing to unveil its long-awaited peace plan, which officials have said will come as early as June, after the Ramadan holiday, which starts Monday in many places.
Trump’s full backing for Israel is unlikely to impact the Palestinian reaction to the plan, as they have already rejected it, citing previous pro-Israel moves by the Trump administration.
The latest violence began on Friday after a Palestinian sniper wounded two Israeli soldiers, and Gaza terrorists fired rockets and mortars toward Israeli cities and towns.
Israel responded with airstrikes against Hamas and Islamic Jihad targets in Gaza. Hamas officials said that 22 Palestinians died in the offensive, including a pregnant woman and two young children. The IDF said the pregnant woman was killed by a failed rocket launch from within the Strip. At least 11 of the Palestinian dead were terrorists.
A White House official declined to comment on Sunday when asked how the latest flareup would affect the rollout of the proposal.
Vice President Mike Pence condemned Hamas attacks and said that Israel had a right to protect itself militarily. “We strongly condemn the attacks in Gaza by Hamas terrorists,” he tweeted. “Israel has the absolute right to defend itself & the U.S. stands by our great ally Israel.”
Not everyone in Washington, however, was so unequivocally supportive of Israel.
Freshmen Democratic Congresswoman Ilhan Omar, of Minnesota, suggested that the root cause of the fighting was Israel’s “occupation” of Gaza and the impoverished conditions there.
“How many more protesters must be shot, rockets must be fired, and little kids must be killed until the endless cycle of violence ends? The status quo of occupation and humanitarian crisis in Gaza is unsustainable,” she tweeted. “Only real justice can bring about security and lasting peace.”
Under former prime minister Ariel Sharon, Israel withdrew from Gaza in 2005, forcibly evicting 7,000-8,000 settlers and pulling out all its military forces.
After Hamas overtook control over Gaza from Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas’s Fatah faction in a bloody coup in 20007, Israel installed a naval blockage and siege of the strip to prevent weaponry from being smuggled in and block Hamas militants from exacting terror attacks in Israel.
Omar has, in the past, been intensely critical of Israel. She tweeted during the last Israel-Hamas war of 2014 that Israel had “hypnotized the world.”
Earlier this year, she accused the American Israel Public Affairs Committee of paying public officials to support Israel and said pro-Israel activists were pressuring her to forge an “allegiance” toward Israel, which critics said amounted to her levying the charge of dual loyalty.
The Democratic Majority for Israel, a recently established pro-Israel advocacy group aligned with the Democratic Party, castigated Hamas for firing “deadly and unprovoked rocket attacks on Israeli civilians” and urged all of the party’s presidential hopefuls to publicly express support for Israel in this conflict.
“This is the time for political leaders in both parties to express solidarity with Israel,” the organization’s CEO Mark Mellman. “We urge all of the Democratic presidential candidates to condemn these terror attacks and reaffirm their support of Israel’s right to defend itself.”
As of this writing, none of them have commented. (the Times of Israel) Eric Cortellessa
This round of conflict with Hamas may worsen, but still won’t solve root problem
As in all past flare-ups, Gaza’s terrorists are out to loosen Israel’s security blockade. But Israel can never consent, as Hamas would then simply import more devastating weaponry
by David Horovitz The Times of Israel
A car bursts into flames after it was hit by a rocket fired from the Gaza Strip in the southern Israeli city of Ashdod on May 5, 2019.
With hundreds upon hundreds of rockets and mortar shells fired into Israel, and Israeli reprisal strikes on Gaza targeting the Strip’s terrorist leadership with considerable ferocity, these past two days of fighting already constitute the heaviest escalation of conflict in five years. Fearful that it is going to get worse, an estimated 35% of residents of Israel’s Gaza “envelope” towns and villages were reported late Sunday to have temporarily evacuated to safer pastures further north.
To listen to the threats of Hamas and Islamic Jihad, vowing to extend the range of their rockets and missiles to Tel Aviv and the rest of central Israel, and publishing videos highlighting specific potential targets, it might seem inevitable that the violence will escalate further.
To listen to Israel’s IDF Southern Command chief, Herzl Halevi, it would appear that the army is poised for a far more intensive assault on the Hamas infrastructure. “We are seeking an achievement that will bring a safer, quieter future,” Halevi said late Sunday, noting that the Israel Defense Forces had been “preparing for several months,” including with multiple drills involving ground forces.
And so it might prove. Hamas, the Islamist terror group that makes no secret of its strategic goal of wiping out Israel, and Islamic Jihad, its smaller but no less nasty Iranian-controlled sibling, may indeed yet drag Israel into another full-scale conflict.
As of this writing, however, both sides were indicating that this is something they seek to avoid.
The Sunday night TV news was a surreal mixture of reports compiled earlier on the day’s rocket attacks interspersed with live coverage of yet more alarms and rocket fire
With Israel’s Independence Day celebrations just a few days away, and the Eurovision Song Contest festivities following a week later, the Gaza terror groups are betting that Israel would rather make concessions than plunge into extensive conflict. Hence the calibrated targeting of Israel, rather than an all-out assault.
Israel has already sustained significant blows. The death toll is four at time of writing, including a civilian very deliberately targeted in his car close to the border by a highly accurate anti-tank missile fired from northern Gaza. On Sunday evening, the southern city of Ashdod was hit by a barrage of some 30 rockets — the worst such attack it has ever sustained — with another fatality and considerable devastation. The number of rockets and mortars fired from the Strip has mounted inexorably these past two days — to above 600 at this time of writing. The Sunday night TV news was a surreal mixture of reports compiled earlier on the day’s rocket attacks interspersed with live coverage of yet more alarms and rocket fire. Iron Dome has a reported success rate of some 90%, but that still leaves numerous rockets aimed at residential areas that are getting through the Israeli defenses.
Yet Hamas and Islamic Jihad have further weaponry at their disposal. It was only a few weeks ago that the Gaza terrorists “accidentally” fired rockets at Tel Aviv. Nobody in the Israeli security establishment doubts their ability to do so again, to significant effect. Those precision anti-tank missiles can wreak a great deal more death and destruction. Anonymous sources in the Israeli security establishment were also being quoted on Sunday afternoon, warning of the possibility that violence might engulf northern Israel — as in, Iran might contemplate activating Hezbollah.
For its part, while General Halevi noted that Israel’s military strikes have targeted Hamas ammunition stores, missile launch crews, organizational infrastructure and more, and while Israel on Sunday directly targeted a Hamas operative responsible for channeling Iranian funds to the group, other, still more sensitive Hamas targets have not yet been struck. Many key members of the Hamas and Islamic Jihad leadership are in Cairo, where Egypt is trying to mediate some kind of ceasefire process. Many, but not all. Likewise, there has been no serious talk to date about an IDF ground offensive.
A street advertisement for the upcoming Eurovision Song Contest 2019 in Tel Aviv. (Adam Shuldman/Flash90)
At a lengthy meeting of the security cabinet on Sunday, Israel’s key ministers reportedly discussed the proximity of Independence Day, but nonetheless told the IDF to continue its operations with the only imperative being to ensure “the security of the state and its citizens.” Yet the upcoming anniversaries — IDF Memorial Day and Independence Day — are significant; the government would prefer not to mark them in mid-conflict.
Similarly, the notion that an imminent televised song competition would impact on Israel’s military strategizing may seem absurd, but mid-May’s Eurovision Song Contest is widely described as the world’s biggest annual music festival. Hundreds of millions of people are expected to watch it, and by extension to watch Israel. A forced cancellation — for the first time in the contest’s 63-year history — would not merely be embarrassing for Israel. It would impact Israel’s international reputation and status, with significant economic implications long into the future, including but not limited to tourism.
This round of violence ostensibly began with an Islamic Jihad sniper injuring two Israeli soldiers at the Gaza border on Friday, and the deaths of two Islamic Jihad terrorists in Israel’s retaliation. From there, overnight Friday, we entered the bitterly familiar routine of rocket and mortar attacks on southern Israel, IDF responses, wider rocket fire, heavier IDF responses, and so on.
But to view this conflict from that narrow perspective is erroneous. The root of this round of violence, as of those that have preceded it in the 12 years since Hamas violently seized control of Gaza from Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas’s Fatah faction, is that Hamas, Islamic Jihad and their sponsors have no tolerance for the presence of the Jewish state.
Israel left Gaza in 2005, forcibly evicting 7,000-8,000 Israeli Jews from some 20 settlements, moving out the entire military, and withdrawing to the pre-1967 lines. In other words, Israel has no presence in Gaza, no quarrel with Gaza, and would like nothing more than to see Gaza thrive.
But Hamas has other ideas. Thus while Gaza’s citizens suffer in poverty, it subverts any and all potential resources to its terror machine. It sends Gazans to the border in endless riots under the banner of a “return” to today’s Israel. And the “concessions” that it seeks to leverage from Israel, in this and all previous rounds of violence and full-scale conflict, are the same: to loosen Israel’s security grip on Gaza in order to bring in the money and the weaponry to cause greater and greater harm to Israel down the line.
Does this mean that Israel will inevitably have to reconquer the Gaza Strip (with the danger of considerable loss of life), oust Hamas’s military forces, and try to marginalize its extremist ideology? Well, for there to be an end to these relentless rounds of conflict, somebody is going to have to supplant the Islamic extremists. The problem Israel faces is that it does not wish to retake control and responsibility for Gaza, and its 2 million or so Palestinians, but sees nobody else prepared to do so.
And that will remain the reality however this current round of violence plays out, however high the toll of death and widespread the trauma and devastation. Hence Israel’s talk of reasserting its deterrent capability, and restoring calm, rather than strategic change.