Every few years, Hamas’ rocket fire into southern Israel intensifies to the point where Israel has little choice but to respond, and every few years a shooting war erupts that usually ends with Israeli troops in Gaza and the world demanding a cease-fire from both sides. Those calls actually produced a cease-fire that lasted about three hours before Hamas sent more rockets out of Gaza again, unleashing longer-range rockets that took aim at Israel’s commercial center of Tel Aviv.
Today, however, Hamas ratcheted up the stakes by aiming for the first time at Jerusalem, the holy city for Jews, Christians, and Muslims alike:
Palestinian militants fired a rocket aimed at Jerusalem on Friday, setting off air raid sirens throughout the city and opening a new front in three days of fierce fighting between Israel and armed groups in the Gaza Strip.
The Israeli campaign has been limited to airstrikes so far. But military officials say they are considering expanding it to a ground campaign.
Lt. Col. Avital Leibovich, a military spokeswoman, said the military had called 16,000 reservists to duty on Friday as it geared up for a possible ground offensive.
She said the army had authority to draft an additional 14,000 soldiers. She would not say where the troops were deployed.
The Jerusalem Post reports that two rockets headed toward Jerusalem, but that both missed:
Two rockets landed outside of Jerusalem Friday evening as sirens rang out, causing no injuries or damage. Police reported that there was “no indication” that rockets landed in the city, stating that “most likely, the rockets landed in an open area outside of Jerusalem.”
Hamas took credit for the attack, claiming to have shot “an improved Kassam,” which it called an M-75, towards Jerusalem. The launch represents the first Hamas rocket attack aimed at Jerusalem. …
Hours earlier, two rockets were fired from the Gaza Strip in the direction of the greater Tel Aviv area and prompted a red alert air raid siren to be sounded in the city for the second straight day.
The IDF stated that no rocket impact was located in Tel Aviv, but local residents reported hearing an explosion following the siren. No injuries or damage were reported.
The armed wing of Hamas claimed responsibility for that attack as well.
As air-raid sirens went off in Jerusalem, witnesses said they saw a stream of smoke in Mevasseret Zion, a Jerusalem suburb.
This escalation is new, and it puts yet another big hurdle into the long-fruitless negotiations between the Israelis and the Palestinians. When Barack Obama issued a call for Israel to pursue peace on the basis of the pre-1967 borders, Israelis objected to both the fact of Obama’s statement and its substance. Israel has insisted that borders remain an issue to be resolved in negotiations for a two-state solution, not a prerequisite to those negotiations. More to the point, though, they have claimed with a large amount of historical precedent on their side that those borders were indefensible, especially against an enemy that wants to eradicate them rather than find ways for peaceful coexistence — an argument that implicitly and explicitly argues that Hamas and the Palestinian Authority don’t want a two-state solution at all, which Hamas more or less acknowledges anyway.
Now that Hamas has rockets capable of hitting Jerusalem and Tel Aviv, Israelis may rethink their declared support for a two-state solution as well. This very outcome was why Israel has blockaded Gaza — they wanted to prevent the smuggling of larger-range rockets from Iran that would put the whole of Israel under Hamas’ fire. These attacks almost certainly guarantee that the IDF will conduct a ground incursion into Gaza, which might be Hamas’ preferred outcome, too. They may be hoping that with a new Islamist regime in Cairo, the Egyptian army might march into Gaza to repel the IDF and set off a regional war. This latest round of rocket attacks comes just three months after Mohamed Morsi consolidated his power over the Egyptian military, which may or may not be a coincidence, but I’d bet on the latter.
This has the potential to get very ugly, very fast. The US will need to use whatever influence we still have in Cairo — which doesn’t appear to be much, according to Obama himself — to warn Morsi that the US will not tolerate an Egyptian escalation, and that we expect them to stick to the peace agreement that brings in a billion dollars a year from us. Will that work? It’s difficult to say. This would be a good time to pray for cooler heads to prevail, but even if that happens, the aftershocks of these attacks on Jerusalem and Tel Aviv will be likely to continue for a long time.
If you’re inclined to pray for peace, this would be a very good time to do so.