Israel escalates offensive in Gaza, Hamas rocket commander killed

Israel achieved one of its objectives in the offensive against Hamas in Gaza yesterday as it escalated the intensity of its attack overnight. The Jerusalem Post and other Israeli media report that a missile attacked killed Aymat Siam, the Hamas commander in charge of the group’s artillery forces:

The Israel Defense Forces killed a senior Hamas operative who headed the Islamist organization’s vast arsenal of rockets that have intermittently pounded the western Negev for over a decade, Channel 10 is reporting on Thursday afternoon.

According to Channel 10, a joint Shin Bet-IDF operation resulted in the killing of Ayman Siam, one of the most wanted Hamas figures.

Channel 10 is reporting that Siam was killed in a strike as he was driving in a vehicle in the southern Gaza Strip.

In the past 24 hours, the IDF has struck 320 targets, nearly half of all the targets hit in the three-day offensive. The Israelis are escalating the offensive in an attempt to stop the rocket fire, some of which almost hit a nuclear power plant:

ABC News | ABC Sports News

Israel dramatically escalated its aerial assault in Gaza Thursday hitting hundreds of Hamas targets, as Palestinians reported 16 people killed in strikes that hit a home and a beachside cafe and Israel’s missile defense system once again intercepted rockets fired by militants at the country’s heartland.

Military spokesman Lt. Col. Peter Lerner said Israel struck more than 320 Hamas targets overnight, focusing on underground tunnel networks and rocket launching sites. That brought the total number of targets hit to 750 in three days of the massive offensive that has killed at least 80 Palestinians.

Lerner said Israel has already mobilized 20,000 reservists for a possible ground operation into Gaza, but for the time being Israel remained focused on maximizing its air campaign. A ground invasion could lead to heavy civilian casualties on the Palestinian side while putting Israeli ground forces in danger.

Interestingly, one of the strongest voices for peace in Israel warned that Hamas was given its chance to prevent the war, and that a ground invasion might be necessary:

President Shimon Peres, whose role is largely ceremonial and is not involved in setting policy, said in an exclusive interview with CNN’s Becky Anderson that he believed a ground offensive “may happen quite soon” unless Hamas stops firing rockets at Israel.

“We warned them. We asked them to stop it,” Peres told Anderson. “We waited one day, two days, three days and they continued, and they spread their fire on more areas in Israel.”

While Peres was speaking on his own and his position may not outline an official government policy, Israeli Intelligence Minister Yuval Steinitz earlier told CNN that a ground operation “might become necessary.”

Peres most recently went on a trip to the Vatican with Palestinian Authority president Mahmoud Abbas, who complained that the IDF was imposing “collective punishment” on Gaza:

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, meanwhile, convened an emergency meeting of his cabinet on Wednesday to discuss the crisis.

“This war is not against Hamas or another political party but it is against the Palestinian people,” he told the media afterward. “What do you call this crime? What is this crime known under international law? To kill entire families, is this collective punishment? This is called collective genocide.”

The PA may have some arguably legitimate complaints about “collective punishment” in the West Bank, but that’s not what is happening in Gaza. The residents of Gaza voted to put Hamas in charge of its government after the Israelis ended the occupation there. Hamas has conducted continuous acts of war against Israel, constantly firing artillery into civilian areas. Israel has the right to respond to those acts of war, and has no obligation once war is under way to use proportionate force, although they do have to act within the bounds of international treaties to which they are signatories in the conduct of the war. If Gaza does not want war, then they should endeavor to remove Hamas from government.

With that said, though, this is yet another tiresome repeat of a cycle that has gone on in this region for decades. Hamas isn’t interested in peaceful coexistence, which means the state of war is constant. Talking to Israel to restrain its response is ultimately useless because Israel isn’t the problem in this part of the conflict. Until Hamas decides to live with Israel, there will be no peace in Gaza, and as long as Abbas keeps inviting Hamas into his PA government, the pursuit of a lasting peace in the West Bank will ultimately be futile, too. Hamas may not be the worst of the terrorist groups in the region, but that relative standing doesn’t turn them into a partner for peace either.