Israel Hits Gaza (Updated)
After leaking the news yesterday that the IDF would wait until after a defense cabinet meeting on Sunday before launching a strike on Gaza Palestinian targets, the Israelis let loose with a sizable surprise air attack on every single Hamas security compound in the territory:
Hamas said all of its security installations were hit and responded with several medium-range Grad rockets at Israel, reaching deeper than in the past. One Israeli was killed and at least four people were wounded.
Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak said "the operation will last as long as necessary," but it was not clear if it would be coupled with a ground offensive. Asked if Hamas political leaders might be targeted next, military spokeswoman Maj. Avital Leibovich said, "Any Hamas target is a target."
The strikes caused widespread panic and confusion in Gaza, as black clouds of smoke rose above the territory, ruled by Hamas for the past 18 months. Some of the Israeli missiles struck in densely populated areas as children were leaving school, and women rushed into the streets frantically looking for their children. Most of those killed were security men, but civilians were among the dead.
The air strikes were in retaliation for dozens of rockets fired by Hamas from Gaza into the western Negev as the terrorists unilaterally broke the cease fire that had been brokered several months ago.
Up to 155 Palestinians were killed, the vast majority belonging to the security forces according to Hamas.
In Gaza City's main security compound, bodies of more than a dozen uniformed security officers lay on the ground. One survivor raised his index finger in a show of Muslim faith, uttering a prayer. The Gaza police chief was among those killed. One man, his face bloodied, sat dazed on the ground as a fire raged nearby.
Later, some of the dead, rolled in blankets, were laid out on the floor of Gaza's main hospital for identification. Hamas police spokesman Ehad Ghussein said about 140 Hamas security forces were killed.
Defiant Hamas leaders threatened revenge, including suicide attacks. Hamas "will continue the resistance until the last drop of blood," vowed spokesman Fawzi Barhoum.
As I mentioned in my post on the planned strike yesterday, the Israeli response is exactly what Hamas was looking for. Israel has recently closed Gaza checkpoints in response to the attacks, although they have allowed some shipments of food, fuel, and cooking oil through. Hamas was hoping to provoke Israel into a retaliatory strike, after which pressure would be placed on Tel Aviv to improve the cease fire conditions for Hamas. It is doubtful that Hamas expected this kind of massive assault, however, and the death of so many of their security forces.
Israel must now decide whether to follow up this successful air strike with a ground assault. My guess is they will not unless Hamas ups the ante by continuing to fire massive numbers of rockets into Israel. Their response so far has been weak - just a couple of their precious medium range Grad rockets that are the only weapon they have that seriously threatens large numbers of Israeli civilians. The Kassams - while lethal - have a much shorter range and are notoriously unreliable. An off-target Kassam ended up killing two Palestinian children on Thursday. Many Kassams fall far short of their intended targets, exploding harmlessly in open fields.
But Israel takes these launches quite seriously - as Hamas has just found out much to their detriment. And given the uncertainty in Israeli politics right now, chances of a new cease fire - at least the kind that Hamas is looking for - are quite slim.
The website Jihad Watch has much more on the strike, including reaction from the usual suspects in the Arab world calling the action "unprovoked."
In response, JW created an interesting graph showing a month by month total of rocket fire from Gaza directed at Israel: