Israel mobilizes, launches offensive in Gaza

After a hailstorm of rockets landed in southern Israel, the Netanyahu government has launched significant military action against Hamas in Gaza. Earlier today, the combined military branches struck 50 targets in the enclave, and the Israelis say this will go on for quite a while:

The Israeli army, air force and navy launched a major operation Tuesday against the Islamist militant group Hamas in the Gaza Strip, striking 50 sites in the coastal enclave and mobilizing infantry troops along the border for a possible ground incursion designed to stop rocket attacks on Israel.

Israel announced the beginning of “Operation Protective Edge” to strike Hamas and protect southern Israeli citizens from intensified rocket fire from Gaza.

The Israeli military announced the call-up of 1,500 reservists and the deployment of two infantry brigades along the Gaza Strip. …

“They chose the direction of escalation,” said Lt. Col. Peter Lerner, an Israeli military spokesman. “So the mission will go on as long as we feel it is necessary to carry it out. We don’t expect it to be a short mission on our behalf.”

Lerner told reporters that Israel has offered “calm for calm” but that rocket fire from Gaza escalated in recent days and that now the Israeli military would seek to hit Hamas hard.

Israel has moved two brigades of infantry to the Gaza border in a show of force — and very likely a hint of what’s coming. The army declared that they were prepared to invade Gaza to stop the Hamas rockets:

The Israeli army is preparing all options for stamping out militant rocket fire from Gaza, including a ground assault, a senior official said on Tuesday.

“The army is preparing for all possible scenarios, including an invasion or a ground operation,” the official told AFP, speaking on condition of anonymity.

Another official had earlier confirmed the army had received instructions “to prepare different military alternatives in order to be ready in case of need.”

Israel announced the name of the operation yesterday, “Protective Edge.” Ben Wederman told Wolf Blitzer yesterday that announcing an operation name means this is no short-term reprisal, but instead a major offensive that can be expected to last quite a while. Wederman also reports that Israel has changed tactics from its normal reprisal operations and targeted the homes of Hamas leaders in Gaza:

Mahmoud Abbas called for a cease-fire … at least on Israel’s part:

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas called on Israel to immediately stop its strikes, warning the operation would drag the region into instability.

Abbas said a truce was needed to “spare the innocent from mass destruction.” …

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas called on Israel to immediately stop its strikes, warning the operation would drag the region into instability.

Abbas said a truce was needed to “spare the innocent from mass destruction.”

Cease-fires don’t work that way. If one side keeps shooting at the other, eventually that will draw a response. When that shooting becomes as heavy as the artillery attacks by Hamas on Israel have been, it’s going to draw a very large response at some point. Abbas might have done better to tell his partners in the Palestinian Authority to cease their fire before that point, and it’s notable that CNN’s quote of Abbas only mentions Israel when it comes to ceasing fire. It’s also notable that this latest barrage from Hamas came after Abbas invited Hamas back into the PA power structure.

Last week, former US envoy Martin Indyk declared the Israeli-Palestinian peace process dead:

The former top U.S. envoy to the Middle East said that trust between Israeli and Palestinian leaders has completely dissolved, leaving him exceptionally pessimistic about the prospects of restoring negotiations over a lasting peace settlement between their two peoples.

“There is a deep loathing of each leader for the other that has built up over the years,” Martin Indyk told an audience of several hundred people at the Aspen Ideas Festival in Colorado in response to questions from the Atlantic‘s Jeffrey Goldberg. Indyk, in his first public remarks since stepping down as the U.S. special envoy for Israeli-Palestinian negotiations on June 27, said the distance between Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas seems unbridgeable. “There is no trust between them. Neither believes that the other is serious,” Indyk said.

Interestingly, while Indyk says he blames Netanyahu and Abbas equally for the impasse, he only mentions Hamas once, and only to note the kidnapping and murder of three Israeli teens and not for the constant artillery attacks coming from Gaza. The Israelis don’t have the same luxury of ignoring those shells dropping onto their civilians from Sderot to Tel Aviv. When the rockets stop, perhaps then the peace process can be revived.

Update: Just to make this last point clear, Israel warned Hamas and Islamic Jihad last week that a failure to accept a cease fire would bring on a military response:

Israel has boosted its forces along the Gaza border, with officials sending out a message that Israel would only be able to sustain militant rocket fire for another 24, or maximum 48, hours before undertaking a major military offensive.

The security cabinet convened last night – for the fourth consecutive day – to consider Israel’s response as artillery pieces and tanks took up positions along the border.

Israeli military spokesman Lt Col Peter Lerner confirmed that the army has moved forces to serve defensive activities and forward preparations.

“The main issue is how Hamas is reading the situation. We don’t want to take it further, but we will be prepared for developments.”

Hamas has issued statements over recent days making clear that it doesn’t seek a wider conflagration. However, rocket fire has intensified, making an Israeli response more likely.

If they didn’t want “a wider conflagration,” then they should have stopped firing rockets into Israel last Friday when Israel issued this warning.