Israel has launched a sweeping counter-offensive to ongoing rocket fire by terrorists in the Gaza Strip dubbed Operation Protective Edge. The rapid deterioration in southern Israel comes on the heels of a spike in tensions between Jews and Arabs in Israel after the murders of three Jewish and one Arab teenagers.
The operation, which was launched in the early hours of Tuesday morning, began hours after the IDF called up some 1,500 reservists to the Gaza border. The Israeli Cabinet made the decision to launch Operation Protective Edge after a dramatic rise in rocket fire towards Israel on Monday. As part of the gradual escalation against Hamas, the Cabinet decided that the IDF will focus the operation on specific targets and figures, Ynet news reported.
At a meeting with heads of Israel’s security establishments in Tel Aviv, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu declared that “the gloves are off” when it comes to terrorism from Gaza.
“Hamas chose this escalation and will pay a heavy price,” the prime minister added.
The number of rockets shot towards Israel in the last 24 hours has topped over 100, including a ten minute barrage Monday evening between 8:00 p.m. and 8:10 p.m. that saw 30 rockets shot into Israeli territory. During that time, Code Red sirens sounded throughout communities in southern Israel as well as in central Israel, including Jerusalem, Rehovot and Beit Shemesh. As of early Tuesday afternoon, terrorists have fired more than 50 rockets towards Israel.
In response to the continued rocket fire, the Israeli Cabinet has approved the call up of an additional 40,000 reservists in preparation for a possible ground offensive into Gaza.
Fisherman in Ashdod catch Iron Dome in action
The Iron Dome Missile Defense system has been working non-stop since Monday as it further protects the lives of those residing in southern Israel. The anti-missile battery system has shot down incoming rockets over the towns of Sderot, Be’er Sheva, Ashdod and Ashkelon repeatedly.
According to the IDF, Operation Protective Edge is meant “to stop the terror Israel’s citizens face on a daily basis,” the IDF Spokesperson’s Unit said on Twitter. As part of the operation, the Israel Air Force targeted over 50 terror sites in Gaza overnight Monday, including the homes of four Hamas officials. [Click here to watch IDF footage of the strike]
Those officials include Iyah Sahikh, a senior Hamas official who is directly responsible for rocket fire on Israel; Abdullah Khashash, a “repeat offender” who has masterminded current and previous rocket fire on Israel; Samer Abu Daka, a senior Hamas official known to coordinate terror attacks against Israel; and Hassan Abdallah, a Hamas official responsible for the current barrage of rocket attacks.
The airstrikes also destroyed concealed “rocket launchers, launching infrastructure, a weapon storage facility, training bases and terror tunnel shafts,” the IDF confirmed.
Israeli Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon announced a “state of emergency” for cities and communities situated between 0-40 kilometers from the Gaza Strip. In a released statement, the defense minister stated: “We are preparing for action against Hamas, which will not end within a few days. Hamas has led this round of violence so it can target and damage our home front. There is a need for breathing room.”
“In the last few hours we have launched powerful strikes and hit tens of Hamas targets; the IDF is continuing its strikes to exact a heavy price from Hamas. We will not tolerate rocket fire on Israel cities, and we are preparing to expand the operation with everything at our disposal to strike Hamas,” he added.
Hamas’s military wing, the Izz ad-Din al-Qassam Brigades, has threatened Israel that it would cause “an earthquake” and allow rockets to reach farther into Israeli territory. A statement by the Gaza-based terror group said that Israel’s attacks on Gaza “crossed all the red lines.” Hamas vowed that it “will respond by expanding the range of our targets.”
Despite a 48-hour ultimatum issued by Israel over the weekend, Hamas has ignored Israel’s cease-fire agreement to end the rocket fire. Hamas spokesman Fawzi Barhoum said: “This is not the time for quiet. We have a bank of various targets. An Iron Dome will be needed in every Israeli home.”
Iron Dome intercepts rockets over Rehovot
IDF spokesman Brig.-Gen. Moti Almoz told Ynet Tuesday morning that the IDF is preparing itself to intensify operation in Gaza. “We are very determined and have an aggressive plan in Gaza,” he stated. “We are conducting this [operation] in steps that will escalate in the coming days.”
“Residents of the south need to heed Home Front Command guidelines,” he added.
Israeli officials across the political spectrum have come out in support of Operation Protective edge. Opposition leader Issac Herzog (Labor” acknowledged the serious escalation of violence perpetrated by Hamas and said Israel has no choice but to “strike a blow to the head of Hamas.”
Finance Minister Yair Lapid told Israel Radio that Hamas is “weak and crumbling” and the main goal of Operation Protective Edge is to “calm the south and allow citizens living there to get up in the morning and be able to send their kids to summer school.”