After an unusually long break from rocket attacks and military responses from a five-month cease-fire, rockets again began shelling southern Israel from Gaza the last few days. Israel didn’t wait long to deliver a response, attacking “two extensive terror sites” with air attacks of their own. Gaza answered back with two more rocket launches, once again highlighting the fragile status quo:
Israel will not sit back while Palestinian militants attack the south of the country from Gaza, Defense Minister Moshe Yaalon said Wednesday, hours after the military retaliated for rocket fire for the first time since an eight-day exchange of strikes in November.
Yaalon’s remarks came as two rockets fired from the coastal territory exploded at an Israeli border town, according to police. Code Red alarm sirens wailed in Sderot at about 7:30 a.m. local time warning of incoming rockets and forcing the town residents who were on their way to work or school to take cover. No injuries were sustained in the attack.
Hours earlier, Israel struck targets in Gaza in response to Palestinian rocket attacks. It was the first time Israel retaliated for Gaza rocket fire since an informal cease-fire ended eight days of cross-border strikes between Israel and the Hamas-ruled territory in November. That round of fighting was triggered in part by almost daily Palestinian rocket and mortar attacks on southern Israel.
Palestinians in Gaza have fired several rockets since an informal cease-fire took hold after the fighting. Two rockets were fired during President Barack Obama’s visit to Israel two weeks ago.
The exchange took place in the context of a new push by US Secretary of State John Kerry to get talks restarted on Israeli-Palestinian peace:
CBS News correspondent Robert Berger points out from Jerusalem that that the situation on the Israeli-Gaza border has been tense for months. The Israeli air raids followed the Tuesday rocket fire, the third successful rocket attack on Israel since the November cease-fire. The military reported that Gaza militants sent at least one rocket toward southern Israel. No one was hurt and no damage was caused. The attack was the first since rockets were fired during President Obama’s visit to Israel two weeks ago.
Separately, the Israeli newspaper Haaretz reported Wednesday that U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry is about to head to the region for the second time in a week-and-a-half to try to “kick-start” the long-stalled Mideast peace process. Haaretz cited a senior Israeli official who asked to remain anonymous, who said Kerry was expected to arrive in Israel Saturday night.
Haaretz said Kerry was to resume his “campaign of shuttle diplomacy between Jerusalem and Ramallah.”
At least the volume of attacks seems low, even if the cease fire isn’t really ceasing fire entirely. Prior to the last outbreak of wide hostilities in November, Israel might have suffered these kind of attacks without a large response, but not now. Barack Obama’s visit notwithstanding, the Israelis don’t appear to be in the mood to allow Hamas and/or its allies in Gaza to conduct those kinds of operations without any cost at all — and it’s not difficult to understand why.
Nor is that the only response Israel has delivered. The IDF also reported returning fire and scoring “a direct hit” after a shell came across the Golan from Syria:
On Tuesday, the Israeli military said a mortar shell exploded on its side of the frontier in the Golan Heights. The military said its soldiers returned the fire and said it scored a direct hit. No other details were given.
“Israel has no intention of ignoring fire from Syria toward Israeli territory, incidental or not, and will respond with a firm hand,” Yaalon said. “As soon as we identify the source of the fire, we will take it down without hesitation, as we did last night and in previous cases. As far as we are concerned, the Syrian regime is to be held responsible for everything happening in its territory. Israel will not allow a situation in which firing spills over to Israeli territory without a response,” he said.
That is, of course, a much trickier situation. Bashar Assad would probably welcome a chance to start a shooting war with Israel if he thought it would redirect the anger against his regime and unite Syrians against Israel. It’s far too late for that to help now, but that doesn’t make the dangers of spillover in the Syrian civil war any less for Israel. An exchange at this point would not only get bloody for Israel, it would strengthen the Islamists within the rebellion against Assad.
On another front, the news is much better for Israel. They have begun to extract natural gas from two fields in the Mediterranean, which have the potential for turning Israel from a major importer of energy to a major exporter. The big political question will shortly become whether the Israeli government wants to sell the natural gas to help capitalize that effort, or keep the energy for national security purposes:
Needless to say, this also opens another potential front for terrorism, too. That will be the real national security question, at least in the short term.