Since Israel evacuated every settler and soldier from the Gaza Strip seven year ago in hopes of stimulating the peace process, it has been attacked by terrorists. Thousands of deadly rockets and mortars were fired into southern Israel, causing deaths, injuries, and creating a constant state of fear and anxiety among nearly one million Israelis within rocket range.
This barrage finally created such a threat to the security of Israeli citizens that Israel launched Operation Cast Lead in 2008 to degrade Hamas' ability to engage in terror. For the last five years, terrorist attacks have continued sporadically, but increased dramatically in the last year as more than 1,300 rockets have been fired into Israel. Over a three week period in October and November 2012 alone, Palestinian terrorists from Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad launched more than 300 rockets into Israel. The escalation prompted the Israeli Air Force to kill Hamas Military Commander Ahmad Jabari on November 14 in hopes of convincing Hamas continued terror would come at a price.
Undeterred, the rocket fire continued, prompting the initiation of Operation "Pillar of Defense."
As Hamas' military commander since 2002, Jabari was responsible for the planning and execution of countless acts of terrorism against Israelis.
In 1996, he was involved in bombings that killed 59 Israeli citizens; in 1998, he helped execute a terror attack on a school bus in Kfar Darom that killed two Israeli children and, in 2006, Jabari organized a terror squad that infiltrated southern Israel, killed three IDF soldiers and kidnapped Gilad Shalit.
Following his involvement in the October 2011 prisoner exchange with Israel, Jabari became the de-facto leader of Hamas and Israel attempted to work with him behind the scenes to bring calm to the region. Instead, Jabari remained committed to the Hamas agenda of destroying Israel and ordered or permitted a new barrage of rockets to be fired at Israel.
Like other nations, Israel maintains its right to self-defense against threats to its civilian population. According to Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak, the IDF has four main goals for the current operation: A) To strengthen Israel's military deterrence over the Gaza Strip; B) to inflict serious damage to Hamas' rocket launching network; C) to deliver a painful blow to Hamas and any other terror organization operating in Gaza; and D) to minimize damage to the Israeli home front. Israeli spokesman Mark Regev said "we will act until we can achieve peace and quiet for those Israeli citizens who deserve to live in peace and quiet."
Thousands of reserve troops have been mobilized, but Israelis do not want to initiate a ground operation in Gaza, and have done everything possible to avoid one. The magnitude of the danger to millions of Israelis, however, may leave Israel with no other choice. Israel has said that the operation will end when Hamas stops its rocket fire.
Hamas' arsenal is large and diverse, with an estimated 10,000 rockets in storage that range from crudely constructed Qassam missiles to Iranian-developed technologically-advanced Fajr rockets. The unguided Qassam rockets have a short range, but can be launched quickly, and are packed with heavy explosives and shrapnel. Hamas took advantage of the years of relative quiet to smuggle into Gaza increasingly sophisticated weapons, mostly from Iran, but also from post-revolutionary Libya. Hamas now has the capability of reaching Tel Aviv and Jerusalem and putting 4.5 million Israelis - more than half the population - at risk and many confined to shelters.
The Iron Dome missile defense system, a revolutionary cooperative project of Israel and the United States is 90% effective in protecting populated areas and has stopped numerous rockets; however, the system cannot stop rockets fired at short distances, such as those targeted at Sderot, and the 10% that get past the Iron Dome can cause severe damage and casualties. On November 15, one rocket struck just south of Tel Aviv. A day later, two rockets landed just outside Jerusalem.
The barrage of terrorist rockets has forced the closure of schools in southern Israel and brought life to a standstill. "Ultimately you've got a whole generation of young children who instead of today sitting in a classroom, are sitting in bomb shelters ...," said Mark Regev, spokesperson for Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Many of these children will suffer from post-traumatic stress for years to come.
Article 51 of the United Nations Charter reserves to every nation the right to engage in self-defense against armed attacks. As Professor Alan Dershowitz has also noted, "The claim that Israel has violated the principle of proportionality -- by killing more Hamas terrorists than the number of Israeli civilians killed by Hamas rockets -- is absurd. First, there is no legal equivalence between the deliberate killing of innocent civilians and the deliberate killings of Hamas combatants. Under the laws of war, any number of combatants can be killed to prevent the killing of even one innocent civilian. Second, proportionality is not measured by the number of civilians actually killed, but rather by the risk posed. This is illustrated by what happened on Tuesday (December 30, 2008), when a Hamas rocket hit a kindergarten in Beer Sheva, though no students were there at the time. Under international law, Israel is not required to allow Hamas to play Russian roulette with its children's lives."
As The London Times said in response to this charge during Israel's war with Hezbollah, this criticism "is lazy and facile in several ways, especially in implying a moral relativism between the two sides that does not exist. This is not the contest between misguided equals that many in the West seem to see. One is the region's lone democracy, which for much of its existence has faced a very real existential threat and would like, if possible, to live in peace with its neighbors. The other is a terrorist organization, bent on preventing such a future."
Furthermore, since Hamas' stated objective is the destruction of Israel, isn't the appropriate response the destruction of Hamas? What would America do if terrorists fired thousands of rockets targeting U.S. cities? After 9/11, we saw that America took the same type of action as Israel by launching military strikes against the terrorists. It continues to do so, as we saw during the raid that killed Osama bin Laden.
IDF activities are governed by an overriding policy of restraint and a determination to take all possible measures to prevent harm to innocent civilians. On November 15, for example, an Israeli pilot aborted a mission when he saw children near the target site. The murder of innocents is the goal of the Palestinian terrorists. In fact, what other army drops leaflets and makes phone calls to warn people to leave an area they intend to attack -- as they did within 48 hours of launching the operation -- even though it gives up the element of surprise and allows the bad guys to hide as well as the innocent to escape?
No innocent Palestinians would be in any danger if the Palestinian Authority took steps to stop terrorism, or if the international community, especially the Arab world, pressured Hamas to stop attacking Israel. No innocent Palestinians would be in danger if Hamas terrorists did not deliberately hide among them. If the peace-seeking Palestinians prevented the terrorists from living in their midst and firing rockets from their neighborhoods, Israel would have no reason to target those areas.
It is a tragedy whenever innocent lives are lost, and Israelis have consistently expressed their sadness over Arab casualties. By contrast, when innocent Israelis are murdered by terrorists, Hamas celebrates the murders.
One of the most popular, yet misleading, arguments made is that if Hamas rockets actually posed a legitimate security threat to Israel, and if upwards of 3.5 million Israeli's were actually in Hamas rocket range, then how could the number of Israeli casualties be so low? If the threat from Gaza were real, then shouldn't Israel be dealing with more civilian deaths, just like in Gaza?
The reality, however, is that Israel suffers so few casualties because of its proactive efforts to protect its civilian population - and not because the Hamas rocket threat is overstated.
A well-known tactic of the Israeli Air Force is to thwart terror attacks by striking preemptively at a site where terrorists are in the act of launching rockets. Since the start of Operation "Pillar of Defense," the IDF has targeted more than 1,300 terror sites in the Gaza Strip, thwarting tens of rocket-launching attempts and targeting countless rocket launching sites. These strikes caused severe damage to terror groups’ arsenal and drastically reduced the threat posed to Israeli civilians, by simple elimination.
Israeli civilians are also protected by Israel's groundbreaking missile defense shield, the Iron Dome. Jointly developed by the United States and Israel to intercept both short- and medium-range rockets, the Iron Dome is proving invaluable when countering the rocket threat. The system intercepts rocekts headed for major population centers by calculating their trajectory from launch and neutralizing them before they cause damage. Since the beginning of the operation, the Iron Dome System has intercepted over 340 rockets aimed directly at Israeli civilians, including rockets towards the Tel-Aviv area.
Another reason so few Israelis are killed is because of the readiness of Israel's Home Front in confronting the terror threat. Unfortunately, this isn’t Israel’s first time dealing with aggression from Gaza. Over the last 12 years, more than 12,000 rockets have been fired from Gaza, terrorizing the lives of over a million Israelis in the south and these civlians are already used to having less than 15 seconds to run to the nearest bomb shelter every time a rocket falls. Moreover, technologies have been developed to help Israelis deal with the threat, such as installing a bomb-proof room in every house, or the implementation of the Red Color alarm system.
Hamas is considered a terrorist organization by the United States and it has been the government's policy that it would not engage in talks with the group unless it renounces terror, recognizes Israel's right to exist and agrees to adhere to Israel-Palestinian agreements. The State Department's Deputy Spokesperson Mark C. Toner released a statement on November 14 "strongly condemn[ing] the barrage of rocket fire from Gaza into southern Israel" and expressing regret at the death and injury of innocent Israelis and Palestinians from the ongoing violence. The U.S. supports Israel's right to defend itself and encourages it to continue to take measures to avoid civilian casualties. Moreover, the statement said, "Hamas claims to have the best interests of the Palestinian people at heart, yet it continues to engage in violence that is counterproductive to the Palestinian cause. Attacking Israel on a near daily basis does nothing to help Palestinians in Gaza or to move the Palestinian people any closer to achieving self determination."
On November 15, both houses of the U.S. Congress - the Senate and House of Representatives - passed resolutions by unanimous consent expressing support for Israel's "inherent right to act in self-defense."
On November 18, President Barack Obama reiterated U.S. support for Israel: “The precipitating event here...that's causing the current crisis...was an ever-escalating number of missiles; they were landing not just in Israeli territory, but in areas that are populated. And there's no country on Earth that would tolerate missiles raining down on its citizens from outside its borders. So we are fully supportive of Israel's right to defend itself from missiles landing on people's homes and workplaces and potentially killing civilians. And we will continue to support Israel's right to defend itself.”
Sources: em>Times of Israel (November 14, 2012); (November 14, 2012); (November 15, 2012); (November 16, 2012); IDF Blog (November 15, 2012); (November 20, 2012); Jerusalem Post (June 15, 2011); U.S. State Department Press Release (November 14, 2012); CNN interview with Mark Regev (November 15, 2012); GovTrack; Meir Amit Intelligence and Terrorism Information Center (November 15, 2012); White House