Israel's calculus for Gaza eruption
Since Friday night, all hell has broken loose on Israel's border with Gaza. Palestinian terrorists have fired more than 130 rockets at southern Israel. Half a million Israelis are in bomb shelters. Major population centers like Ashdod, Ashkelon, Beersheva and Yavne have cancelled Sunday school attendance.
What's going on?
Well, let's back up a bit. Since the start of the year, Gaza terrorists belonging to Islamic Jihad and the Popular Resistance Committee have ratcheted up rocket and mortar fire -- an average of one missile a day. To top it off, Israeli intelligence got wind of plans by the Popular Resistance Committee to launch another major cross-border ambush like the one that killed half a dozen Israelis near Eilat last August.
This time, rather than wait for such a calamity, Israel's political echelon and the IDF decided to thwart such an attack and, in with a pinpoint airstrike, killed the head of the Popular Resistance Committee and another Palestinian terrorist. In turn, the PRC was expected to retaliate with a series of rocket barrages and Israel didn't have to wait long for a terrorist response against civilian populations.
But this time, the terrorists clearly got the worst of the deal. For one thing, nearly half of their rockets didn't even reach Israel. Of those which did, a third fell in open fields. And most of the remaining ones were intercepted by Israel's Iron Dome missile-defense system. By late Saturday, Iron Dome racked up an amazing 90 percent interception rate - 28 out of 31 rockets were shot down.
In addition, with reliance on advanced drones and high-precision air strikes, the IDF killed 15 Palestinians in Gaza -- every one of them a terrorist -- 10 from Islamic Jihad and the rest from the PRC. The IDF's targeting accuracy was all the more amazing when one factors in that these terrorist groups are deeply embedded among civilians. Israel reported only one of its civilians seriously injured.
In the meantime, Israel sent a strong signal to Hamas, the other terrorist group which actually rules Gaza but pretends that its hands are clean while other terror groups do the dirty work. The lesson to Hamas in the last 48 hours was to get real, end the bloodshed and put other terror groups back in their cages.
On an even more significant strategic level, this also was another signal to Iran about its nuclear program -- the mullahs in Tehran are apt to pay a high price if they decide to mess with Israel.
Israel's success in exacting a high toll from Gaza terror organizations, while providing maximum protection to its own civilian population, came at a price. There are 1 million Israelis within range of Gaza rockets and when the missiles start flying, civilians in their path, especially young children, are literally terrorized. There are lasting psychological traumas that the media almost always overlook.
But given the security threats posed by Palestinian terror groups, Israel performed outstandingly.
Leo Rennert is a former White House correspondent and Washington bureau chief of McClatchy Newspapers