Israel shoots down Hamas drone as escalation continues

The Israeli-Gaza war showed no sign of calming down over the weekend, nor have calls for a cease fire had any impact. The fighting continues to escalate, with Hamas firing more than 100 rockets at Israeli cities yesterday, which have largely been an exercise in futility. Yesterday Hamas tried a new wrinkle by sending up a drone, but the IDF shot that down as well:

Israel’s military said it downed a drone along its southern coastline on Monday, the first time it encountered such a weapon since its campaign against the Gaza Strip militants began last week.

The drone came from Gaza and was shot down near the southern city of Ashdod, the military said. It did not say what the drone was carrying.

Hamas tweeted Monday that it had “deployed a number of pilotless drones into Israel, adding that, “Our drones carried out specific reconnaissance missions” over the War Ministry in Tel Aviv.

Israeli TV was reporting there could have been at least a second drone fired toward the Jewish state.

For now, it looks like the drone was unarmed:

The drone got shot down by a Patriot missile battery, according to the Washington Post.  Those anti-missile systems have been working successfully in the field since the first Gulf War, but it’s the first time I’m aware that it has succeeded in knocking down a drone. The use of drones by Hamas may be a test, perhaps a reaction to the extraordinary success of the Israeli Iron Dome defensive system, which Hamas may be attempting to exhaust through sheer numbers. If they’re now unleashing drones, perhaps Hamas is beginning to worry that Iron Dome may be inexhaustible and their years-long effort in rebuilding their missile cache may end up being fruitless.

Gazans may be wondering when Hamas will figure that out. Thousands of them have now had to flee their homes as Israel warned yesterday that it would “strike with might,” hinting at a ground invasion of Gaza:

Tens of thousands of panicked residents had fled their homes in the northern Gaza Strip on Sunday after the Israeli military dropped leaflets from the sky warning those who stayed behind that they were risking their lives because a large, intense operation was imminent.

Residents in Gaza were whipsawed by growing anxiety and frustration. More than 17,000 people poured into makeshift shelters as Israeli commandos entered the coastal enclave early Sunday to target a Hamas rocket-launch site. A gun battle with Hamas militants ensued and left four Israeli soldiers lightly wounded, an army spokesman said.

The Telegraph reports that Israel has decided to hold off for the moment on a ground invasion:

Israel kept up its punishing raids on Gaza early on Monday, but held off from a threatened ground incursion as the world intensified efforts to broker a truce.

With Israel’s campaign to halt cross-border rocket fire entering its seventh day Monday, Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas was to discuss moves to seek UN intervention at an emergency meeting of Arab foreign ministers in Cairo.

And UN chief Ban Ki-moon urged Israel to scrap plans for a ground offensive, saying “too many” Palestinian civilians had been killed as the death toll from Israel’s punishing air campaign hit 172, with another 1,230 wounded.

The Gaza-based Palestinian Centre for Human Rights (PCHR) has said more than three-quarters of the victims were civilians.

But, despite preparations for a possible ground attack, Israel appeared to be holding off with media reports saying that ministers attending a Sunday evening meeting of the security cabinet had decided against putting boots on the ground – for the time being.

Israel won’t take the decision to move on the ground lightly. Hamas will look for ways to trap and capture Israeli soldiers to force Israel into lopsided prisoner swaps, for one thing, and urban fighting will negate some of the IDF’s advantages, especially given the need to protect civilians from getting caught in crossfires — while Hamas uses them as shields. However, if Hamas doesn’t stop firing missiles into Israel (which is what prompted the war in the first place), at some point Israel will have to start taking ground and tacking down Hamas’ command and control to put an end to it.

Israel already has taken some ground action in Gaza, although just in a limited commando raid that destroyed one missile cell. The US has begun evacuating Americans from Gaza, and the UN is preparing for the potential ground offensive:

The push for Israel to adopt a cease-fire is pointless. Hamas started this war by escalating its rocket attacks, and continuing to do so for several days of Israeli warnings about the consequences. When Hamas stops firing rockets, this war will end. Until that happens, don’t expect the Israelis to let up.