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IDF Launches Operation Protective Edge to Stop Hamas Onslaught

In the late hours of Monday night the IDF launched “Operation Protective Edge” in an effort to stop the rockets from that continued to strike at Israel from the Gaza Strip.

Dramatic footage shows Iron Dome intercepting rockets over the southern port city of Ashkelon.

Prior to the announcement, Haaretz’s veteran military commentator Amos Harel published a column describing the hours and days that led up to the decision. According to Harel, Israel made a last-ditch effort to prevent the current escalation:

The Israeli proposal for calm came from the Israel Defense Forces via the media on Thursday. Similar messages have probably been sent to Gaza via Egypt. First, Hamas responded with positive signals. The Israelis were told that Hamas would soon enforce its control over its military wing and over the smaller armed factions in the Gaza Strip. But that didn’t happen.

According to Harel, Hamas steadily escalated its demands for ceasefire before the Operation:

It seems Hamas is painting itself into a corner. It is accusing Israel of being responsible for the deaths of its activists, but it is raising the bar on its demands for a cease-fire agreement. We’re no longer talking about a return to the understandings after Operation Pillar of Defense in November 2012. We’re talking about demands to release dozens of Hamas militants from the West Bank who were released in the Gilad Shalit deal and whom Israel rearrested after the abduction of the three youths in the West Bank It seems Hamas also has demands on Egypt and the Palestinian Authority: easing movement through the Rafah crossing, which has been almost completely closed, and the transfer of money to pay the salaries of Hamas government employees in Gaza. It seems Hamas’ financial and strategic woes are serious enough to risk an escalation, despite the chance that a direct confrontation with the IDF will exact a heavy price and that Egypt, now ruled by generals, won’t come to the rescue.

Early Monday the IDF hit a smuggling tunnel extending from Gaza into Israel. The tunnel was filled with explosives. The resulting blast killed seven terrorists.

The terrorists likely planned to use the explosives to carry out an attack against Israel. “Terror tunnels such as this one demonstrate Hamas’ constant attempts to violate Israel’s sovereignty and carry out complex attacks,” said IDF Spokesman Lt. Col. Peter Lerner. “We are committed to fulfil our duty with preemptive precision and extensive intelligence in order to safeguard Israelis under threat. Gaza terrorists will not be free to scheme, plot and conspire. They will face the repercussions of their loathsome intentions.”

The United States offered qualified support to Israeli responses to the rocket fire.

“We support Israel’s right to defend itself against these attacks,” State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki told reporters, while calling for restraint from the government in Jerusalem. But the message, consistent with previous US responses after rocket barrages from either Lebanon or Gaza, was coupled with a strong urge of restraint against escalating the conflict. The Obama administration fears a wider Israeli military campaign against Hamas in Gaza might destabilize political control in the Palestinian Authority, with riots in the West Bank reminding many of past intifadas.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s former national security adviser, Yaacov Amidror, estimates that Hamas possesses 10,000 rockets in its arsenal. Amidror also told Channel 2 that “’we may be in for many more nights’ of rocket attacks, but … that Hamas ‘does not have any kind of game-changing Doomsday weapon.’”

Israel plans a limited escalation against Hamas in Gaza including “specific figures and targeted hits,” according to a report on Ynet.

Civil disturbances have been reported as continuing both in Jerusalem and in the country’s north.

Channel 10 reports that preemies in Beersheba’s Soroka hospital have been transported to bomb shelters.

What do Israelis do when they hear a siren signalling an incoming rocket? They stop. And run.

[Photo: Israel Defense Forces ]