Israel Faces Escalation across both Syrian and Gaza Borders
Rocket damaged home in Nativot, Southern Israel Golan Artillery Exchanges with Syria
Sources: APSource: Reuters
At brunch on Sunday here in Pensacola, a friend, who is a research scientist at a local think tank, and I discussed the growing instability on Israel’s northern border with war-torn Syria and rocket onslaught against Southern Israel from Gaza. We were focused on whether the Iron Dome System was truly cost effective against a veritable fusillade of rockets, given the high cost per kill. We thought that inevitably Israel may have to go into Gaza and complete the cleanout of Hamas and Islamic Jihad rocket support not achieved when Operation Cast Lead was aborted in January 2009.
We discussed the recent supposed IAF raid on the munitions factory in the Sudan purportedly targeting Iranian supplied rockets and short range missiles for assembly and transport across Egypt via the Sinai Peninsula into Gaza. We also noted the troubling incidents of mortar fire artillery and counter battery missile exchanges from across the Syrian frontier with Israel’s Golan Heights. That latter marked the first return fire by IDF forces stationed there since the October 1973 War. Clearly the Assad regime’s control over that frontier has deteriorated given fighting with opposition forces that have entered the border zone.
Over the weekend more than 140 rockets were fired from Hamas-controlled Gaza, with direct hits on three houses in Nativot and Sderot in Southern Israel. The much vaunted Iron Dome system scored two “kills” of incoming Grad rockets, including one near Beersheba. Earlier this past weekend, an anti-tank rocket was fired at an IDF patrol near the Gaza frontier - see this IDF summary report of this weekend’s activities.
Monday, PM Netanyahu spoke to a gathering of foreign diplomats in Ashkelon hard by the northern Gaza frontier. Netanyahu noted the threat to more than one million of Israel’s citizens in his remarks to the foreign diplomats:
If an alarm is sounded, all of us have exactly 30 seconds to find shelter. This is the situation in which one million Israelis find themselves.
[. . .]
A million Israelis, including many little children, like the ones here, are
targeted on a daily basis, by people who took areas that we vacated, that
the Government of Israel vacated, came in there, and are now hiding behind
civilians, while firing on civilians, firing on our children.
Israel Hayom headlined a report about the deteriorating situation in Southern Israel, “Countdown to large ground operation in Gaza has begun”. Israel Hayomnoted comments from public figures about possible retaliation. This despite an alleged Egyptian- brokered cease fire alleged to go into effect on Tuesday:
Home front Defense Minister Avi Dichter warned on Monday that there would be no recourse but to invade Gaza with ground troops. "There is no precedent in history of destroying terror by air power alone. It hasn't happened and it won't happen. Thus it is necessary to reformat Gaza altogether," Dichter, a resident of Ashkelon, said.
Tzachi Hanegbi, former chairman of the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee and a close associate of Netanyahu, also said Monday that Israel's patience had worn out. "Israel's deterrence against terror from Gaza, including Hamas and others there, no longer exists, and now we find ourselves in a countdown toward a large and aggressive ground operation in the Gaza Strip. Air power has run its course. They have obviously forgotten the lessons they learned from Operation Cast Lead. The terror organizations in Gaza want to drag us into a conflict there so that we take our attention off the real threat, which is from Iran."
The Syrian Golan frontier tensions spiked with the mortar attacks and exchange of artillery fire prompted Israel to fire its advanced Tapuz anti-artillery missile. The Jerusalem Post noted PM Netanyahu’s warning on Monday to the faltering Assad regime in Damascus, less than 42 miles away from the Israeli frontier . ” Israel "will not allow anyone to breach our borders or to fire on our citizens."
Israeli Strategic Affairs Minister Moshe Ya’alon noted there is heavy fighting inside Syria between Assad and opposition forces making the matter of control problematic.
UN Secretary General Ban Ki Moon cautioned about future exchanges that might jeopardize the Disengagement Agreements between Syria and Israel.
When my brunch partner in Pensacola asked about the escalation threat on the Golan Heights, I pointed out that Druze villages lie astride the border. The Druze minority inside Syria had previously supported Assad. Given Sunni supremacist opposition forces fighting in Syria near the border zone, the Druze are at risk. These opposition forces view the Druze as heterodox. The Syrian Druze might panic and elect to join their brothers across the frontier seeking sanctuary in the Israeli-held Golan.
Escalation on both Israel’s border with Syria and southern border with Gaza raises the risk of possible security operations on two or three fronts, should Hezbollah in Southern Lebanon react to Syrian frontier developments.