On Friday evening, we ate Shabbat dinner outside in the Rehovot area. At some point over the course of dinner, we saw some bright flashing lights in sky, off in the distance. Soon afterwards, we heard a large explosion. We later learned that Israel's Iron Dome system had intercepted a rocket that had been fired at the Gadera area. Yesterday, sitting at our home in Ra'anana, we heard a loud sound late in the afternoon. The windows in the house shook. We then learned that the Iron Dome had intercepted two rockets that were fired at Tel-Aviv, about 15 km away from here. Fortunately, for us, these two incidents are about as close as we have come to any kind of involvement in the current hostilities. But the situation has been much more difficult for many Israelis and for Gaza residents.
Dozens of rockets were fired today from Gaza at Israeli towns and cities in the south, including Beersheva, Ashkelon, Ashdod and Sderot. Many were intercepted by the Iron Dome system, although there were reports of explosions in Ashkelon. According to IDF reports, between 6 a.m. and 2 p.m. today, more than 60 rockets were fired at Israel by Hamas and its allies. Hamas issued a statement on Sunday night indicating that it fired approximately 1,090 rockets at Israel by Sunday night. The IDF has claimed that it has intercepted 310 missiles and/or rockets since the start of the operation.
The IDF has been carrying out a vigorous air bombardment campaign in an effort to put a stop to the Hamas rocket bombardments. The IDF reported earlier today that approximately 1,350 targets have been hit, many of which have been missile launching sites. It has been reported that approximately 85-90 Palestinians have been killed with several hundred injured. Israeli spokespeople, from both the government and the IDF, have emphasized that Israel has made every effort to avoid civilian casualties and has used the best intelligence that it has to target Hamas military sites, including missile launching sites. In this kind of battle, is, of course, impossible to eliminate all civilian casualties. The flip side is that Hamas has been sending its rockets with the explicit purpose of attacking and terrorizing civilians, even though it has not been that successful in causing casualties.
As of the time of this writing, there are reports of significant dialogue between the two sides over the possibility of some type of cease fire. Egypt is apparently brokering these talks, which are said to have involved the U.N., the U.S., France, Germany and other countries as well as, of course, Israel and Hamas.
From the Israeli side, Israel is wary of concluding a cease fire that only lasts for a few days or weeks. There have been quite a number of situations over the past seven years, since Hamas took power in Gaza and began firing rockets at Israel where a cease fire or truce of some sort has been put into place. However, within days or weeks, or in some cases, months, Hamas has started firing rockets at Israeli towns and cities, sometimes blaming other "militant factions" in Gaza and claiming that it could not control them, even though Hamas is the governing power in Gaza.
To end the current operation, Israel has therefore reportedly asked for a 15 year truce, to be "guaranteed" by Egypt. Israel has also asked that there by an outright ban on the importation of weapons into Gaza and that Hamas agree to prevent the firing of any rockets at Israel - not only by Hamas but by any other faction as well. Thousands of Israeli reserve troops have been called to report to duty and are now in place. These are primarily civilians, who serve in the IDF for one month per year of reserve duty or whenever else they are called to report. IDF spokespeople have indicated that the army is prepared to proceed with a full scale ground invasion at any moment if an acceptable cease fire deal cannot be arranged. Neither the Israeli government nor the Israeli public is interested in a temporary cease fire which will simply require Israel to conduct another similar operation in the coming days, weeks or even months after Hamas has had an opportunity to rebuild its rocket supply. If that is all that is being offered, there is significant support in Israel for an expansion of the current operation even if that involves alienating world opinion in Europe and other places, even the U.S.
From the Hamas side, the Palestinians have issued their own demands, which include asking that Israel lift its "blockade" of Gaza, agree to cease Israeli policy of targeted killings of key terrorist targets and agree to refrain from any kind of strikes in Gaza.
The fascinating thing is that all of these discussions are being carried out through intermediaries since neither Israel nor Hamas recognize the other. Nevertheless, the successful resolution of a deal to exchange Israeli prisoner Gilad Schalit, who had been held by Hamas in Gaza, provides a ray of hope that Israel will be able to negotiate some sort of deal with Hamas. There are reports that Israel is willing to discuss lifting a blockade of Gaza, if there is an inspection process put into place, with mutually agreeable inspectors who will ensure that weapons are not being brought into Gaza.
In the meantime, both sides are actively continuing their activities. Hamas continues to launch rockets at Israel and the IDF continues to conduct aerial bombardments against targets in Gaza. Against this backdrop, Israel faces significant world pressure to cease its operation, much of which comes from countries which are hostile towards Israel in any event. There have also been a barrage of false or misleading media reports just as there were in Israel's previous operation in Gaza.
For a demonstration of the type of propaganda that Israel faces, here is a link to a compelling story involving CNN. The web site "Elder of Zion" reports that CNN has now retracted a false accusation that it publicized against Israel. When Egyptian Prime Minister Hesham Kandil visited Gaza, he was photographed holding a dead four year old child. Reuters publicized the allegation that the child had been killed by an Israeli attack. It soon became clear, initially from the Palestinian side, that the boy was actually killed by a Hamas rocket that was misfired or exploded prematurely.
As of the time of writing, Khaled Meshal, the head of Hamas is holding a press conference in Cairo to discuss the situation. It is likely that we will hear from Israeli government spokespeople shortly afterwards. The next 24-48 hours will undoubtedly be critical. If a cease fire deal is not reached, there is every indication that Israel will embark on a full scale ground operation in Gaza.