By ISRAEL HAYOM—
Israel Air Force jets attacked targets in the Gaza Strip on Monday morning in response to five rockets fired into Israel overnight. They were the first rockets fired from Gaza to hit Israel in 40 days.
The Iron Dome anti-missile defense system intercepted two rockets headed for the coastal city of Ashkelon, while the other three rockets exploded in open areas. No one was wounded and no damage was caused by the rockets.
In response, the Israel Air Force warplanes attacked two terrorist arms depots, a rocket-launching site and another hub for terrorist activity in the central Gaza Strip. Even though the IDF Spokesperson’s Unit said it held Hamas responsible for all terrorism from the Gaza Strip, the targets hit in the IAF strikes belonged to the Palestinian Islamic Jihad.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, speaking at the inauguration of a school in Samaria, warned that he would not tolerate even a trickle of rocket fire.
“There was rocket fire into our communities, and the response came immediately,” Netanyahu said. “My policy is to harm anyone who tries to harm us. No trickle, no accumulation.”
IDF Spokesman Brig. Gen. Yoav “Poly” Mordechai said that Islamic Jihad, which is “based in Damascus, and part of the radical axis,” and which enjoys massive support from Iran, was behind Sunday night’s attack.
“Regardless, Israel holds Hamas responsible for any terror emanating from the Gaza Strip. Hamas is still in control of Gaza, and it bears the responsibility for what goes on there,” he said.
Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon ordered the closures of the Erez and Kerem Shalom border crossings following the rocket fire.
Lt. Col. Peter Lerner, head of the IDF Foreign Press Branch, said in a statement that the rocket attacks were “an intolerable act of aggression against Israel and its civilians,” and that “Hamas is held accountable for all acts of terrorism deriving from the Gaza Strip.”
“Israel should consider recapturing the Gaza Strip,” Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee Chairman Avigdor Lieberman said on Israel Radio on Monday in response to the rocket attacks. He said that if Israel did not respond now, then in two years’ time Hamas would possess aircraft and hundreds of missiles that could reach Tel Aviv and even Netanya.
Asked what Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon thought about his proposal, Lieberman said he did not know. Lieberman also did not offer any exit strategy after the “serious cleanup” he was proposing.
Mordechai poured cold water on Lieberman’s suggestion that Israel reconquer the Gaza Strip.
“Conquering Gaza is not on the agenda now. The implications of such a move are much greater than just military. There are vast diplomatic, international, and financial implications,” Mordechai told Israel Radio.
Meretz Chairwoman Zahava Gal-On said Lieberman was “engaging in war-mongering and behaving in his typical politically irresponsible manner,” and added that “Netanyahu should calm the winds of war in his own coalition.”
Israeli media outlets reported that security forces conducted searches in the areas where the explosions were reported in search of remnants of the rockets and to assess damages. Residents from the southern Beduin city of Rahat reported seeing a smoke trail and hearing a loud explosion.
“We had hoped that the quiet from Operation Pillar of Defense would hold,” Merhavim Regional Council Head Shai Hajaj said. “I believe the government of Israel will know to do the right thing to protect the citizens of the south, especially now before the summer break.”
The Merhavim Council has reported that more than 60 percent of the houses in the district are not fortified to withstand rocket attacks.
Although no one has taken responsibility for the rocket attacks, an Israeli defense official speculated that the rockets were fired by members of Islamic Jihad as a result of recent friction with Hamas over the death of Islamic Jihad member Rayed Jundiyah during a Hamas arrest. Hamas claims Jundiyah committed suicide, but Islamic Jihad members claim he was assassinated. Jundiyah’s death eroded relations between the two terrorist groups, and on Sunday night Islamic Jihad announced that it had frozen relations with Hamas.
The defense official said the attacks against Israel were meant to undermine Hamas’ efforts to enforce a cease-fire and maintain quiet. In recent weeks, Hamas has clashed with other terror cells in the northern Gaza Strip who oppose the notion of a cease-fire with Israel.
Terrorist groups in Gaza have attempted a series of rocket launches in recent days. None landed in Israel, but the launches set off alarms in communities bordering Gaza and in the Ashkelon beach area. The last such alarm was on Wednesday, when a rocket was fired toward Israel but exploded in the Gaza Strip. The last time a rocket exploded in a populated area in Israel was 40 days ago. No one was injured then but a house was damaged.
It is also possible that the tensions between the Hamas and Islamic Jihad are also the result of the Hamas’ stand against Iran and Hezbollah’s backing of Syria’s Bashar Assad regime. Hamas is a Sunni group, while Islamic Jihad is fully financed and outfitted by Shiite Iran.