Following days of rocket attacks from Hamas in Gaza, Israel on Monday launched a “continuous, methodical and forceful campaign against the terrorist group in the Gaza Strip,” according to a government announcement.
Dubbed Operation Protective Edge, the air campaign came as IDF Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Benny Gantz requested the call-up of 40,000 reserve troops — on top of the 1,500 reserves already summoned Monday — to replace conscripted forces in the West Bank and the Golan Heights and allow them to be deployed to the Gaza border.
The goal of the mission is to “limit the impact and limit the capabilities of launching rockets from Gaza,” which jeopardize the safety and well-being of the State of Israel and its civilians, IDF spokesman Lt. Col. Peter Lerner said Tuesday during a conference sponsored by The Israel Project.
“I’ve been asked numerous times today, ‘What will it change?’ And my response is, ‘What is the alternative?’ ” Lerner said. “We can’t let Hamas – this terrorist organization that is ruthless – dictate and keep a million people in Israel hostage. Hold them hostage and at their mercy. It’s something that a responsible government has to act upon.”
According to Lerner, in a 24-hour period, 130 rockets were launched at Israel. At almost the same time, the IDF attacked approximately 140 sites in Gaza, ranging from “rocket launchers, concealed rocket launchers, militants, their dwelling spots, where they hide out and where they carry out their command and communication for their operation.”
Lerner did not rule out a ground offensive in Gaza.
Hamas has approximately 10,000 rockets and the ability to reach Tel Aviv, Herzliya, Jerusalem and its periphery, Lerner said. As he was speaking, rockets aimed at Tel Aviv had been shot down by the Iron Dome defense system. It was the first Gaza rocket to reach Tel Aviv airspace since Operation Pillar of Defense in 2012, according to the Jerusalem Post.
During the call, Lerner also received reports of five Palestinian terrorists entering Israel by sea on a beach just north of Gaza. Israeli forces killed all five.
Above Netivot and Ashdod, Iron Dome shot down 12 rockets. In Ashdod, residents fled for shelter, as rocket sirens sounded and eight people were injured. Beersheba — Israel’s largest southern city — and Ofakim were also subjected to Gaza rocket fire, with most rockets either striking open fields or intercepted by Iron Dome. Early warning sirens went off in Jerusalem and Beit Shemesh, but they were apparently false alarms.
Shortly after the operation began on Monday, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said that it was time to “take off the gloves” against Hamas.
“We must be prepared to go all the way, and a ground offensive is also on the table,” Netanyahu said.
“This battle will not end in just a few days,” added Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon.
Students taking their English final exam in Beersheba on Monday had their test interrupted by sirens warning of an impending attack. Elisha Peleg, principal of Beersheba’s AMIT Wasserman High School, said both the high school students taking the test and sixth-graders who were in the school for summer camp “displayed remarkable resilience and acted responsibly.”
Classes at the Sapir College in the rocket-battered southern city of Sderot were canceled Tuesday and Wednesday, and Ben-Gurion University in Beersheba announced there would be no final exams on Tuesday. In Ashkelon, Ashdod, Gan Yavne and the surrounding area, gatherings at the beach, performance halls and any other places where the number of people could reach dozens were temporarily banned. Summer camps in Ashkelon and Ashdod were canceled until further notice.
Israeli residents have expressed their fears of a further escalation in rocket fire.
“It’s scary, you hear that terrifying sound a rocket makes as it flies over you,” said Sabrina Cohen of Netivot. “It conjures these horrible world-is-ending thoughts, and then suddenly the explosion, no less scary, when [the] Iron Dome [system] intercepts the rocket. Why does this have to be our routine?”
Amid the announcement of Operation Protective Edge, some Israeli government officials called on the IDF to retake Gaza, which Israel evacuated in 2005 under former Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon’s controversial disengagement plan.
“The Islamist terror base [in Gaza], with its thousands of rockets pointed at us, didn’t happen by accident. It happened because of our mistakes, pulling out of Gaza and letting Hamas run in the [2006 Palestinian] elections,” Likud Knesset member Ze’ev Elkin, chairman of the Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee, told Israel’s Channel 2.
In late June, Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman advocated a similar position, saying at the time that only a limited operation in Gaza “just strengthens Hamas.”
Hamas spokesman Sami Abu Zuhri said he hopes the IDF enters Gaza on the ground so that the terrorist group, which had already claimed responsibility for the latest barrage of rockets, can kidnap Israeli soldiers.
“As long as the occupation attacks, we’ll respond, and it will pay the price for its crimes. Our will won’t break,” Abu Zuhri vowed, adding, “I hope the occupation makes this error and enters Gaza in a ground operation, so that we’ll have an opportunity to abduct soldiers.”
Dmitriy Shapiro is the political reporter for Washington Jewish Week. He can be reached at email@example.com.
JTA News and Features and JNS.org contributed to this report.