When I took my dog for a walk early this morning on Dizengoff Street in central Tel Aviv, all was business as usual. Merchants were opening up their shops, parents walking their children to school, trash was collected.
One-hour’s drive later and I found myself on the Gaza-Israel border in the south of the country, where life was the extreme opposite. The sky was covered in thick black smoke. F16’s were flying overhead. Dozens of tanks began massing on the border. A white balloon floated overhead. It’s a missile defense system called an Aerostat.
I could hear explosions and gunfire sporadically. I counted about 8-10 large booms an hour. More and more troops began arriving at the border, shooting their tanks’ cannons to make sure the equipment was working properly. Other soldiers lined up on their stomachs looking out towards Gaza. Some put on tefilin and said prayers. Others spoke to the crowd of international media that had gathered. Many chose to meditate alone and keep to themselves.
This is day two of Operation Oferet Yetzuka (â€˜Cast Lead’). The goal of the operation according to Defense Minister Ehud Barak: “To bring a fundamental improvement in the security situation in the south. To protect 250,000 people in the south, 100,000 children that have been under constant rocket fire for months.â€
Day two began with another series of airstrikes. The number of fatalities now stands at 280 with 600 injured. One air strike targeted the headquarters of Al-Din Al-Qassam Battalion, Hamas’ military wing. Another targeted a Hamas-run jail; hundreds of prisoners ran for freedom. Other strikes hit a warehouse and a tanker holding smuggled fuel. Another hit a mosque and police stations throughout Gaza.
Israeli Intelligence reports issued today note that accuracy has not been an issue for the Air Force: almost all strikes were right on target. In all, the IDF has dropped 100 tons of explosives on Gaza since the start of the operation.
At around 4pm, the IDF had bombed over 40 weapons smuggling tunnels on the The Philadelphi Route (corridor / buffer zone — an IDF code name for the strip of land along the border between Egypt and Israel). These tunnels have been used by Hamas since Israel’s disengagement from Gaza.
At 5pm, more armored personnel tanks from around the country have arrived at the Gaza border in preparation for a possible ground operation. About a kilometer out, artillery batteries, soldiers from different infantry brigades as well as Special Forces began stationing themselves about one kilometer from the Gaza border. Some 6700-reserve soldiers have been called up for possible reinforcement.
Today Hamas fired fewer than 20 rockets, significantly fewer than yesterday. Why? Is Hamas trying to fool Israel into thinking they have no more rockets. Are they saving their firepower?
Another major question: Will the IDF be able to finish this operation from the air? Many Kassam rocket launchers are located next to schools or in the bottom stories of warehouses. The air force has decided not to destroy these infrastructures yet, due to the risk of the massive potential number of civilian causalities. To get to these structures without incurring a large civilian loss, the IDF needs troops on the ground.
Today, rockets continued to land in Israel. The Ashdod hits were the furthest for Hamas ever, about 40 km from the Gaza Strip. Rockets also landed for the second day in Ashkelon and other areas in the Western Negev. The IDF advised residents of Beer Sheva, G’dera and Yavneh to locate a fortified room. Sderot residents are also gearing up for more barrages. Schools within a 20 km radius of Gaza will remain closed indefinitely. Deaf residents in the area have received beepers in case of an attack. Israel’s northern residents are also preparing for possible attacks from Lebanon and are examining the preparedness of their fortified rooms.
What really worries meâ€¦ that Israeli Arabs and Palestinians will go wild and that a front will open up in Lebanon and that we’ll find ourselves in an all-out war.
Today the Kerem Shalom border crossing was open for humanitarian support. Foreign journalists have petitioned the high court to let them into Gaza to cover the other side; they may be allowed in tomorrow, but I was not permitted into Gaza because I am an Israeli citizen. Covering the conflict on the other side proves extremely difficult. The Hamas regime there is in the Taliban style. There is no way to verify what Hamas is saying. The western world should treat with caution statistics coming out of the Gaza Strip.
There is a wall-to-wall coalition with the Iranians that says Hamas is solely responsible for this crisis. Hamas ripped up Egyptian-brokered deal for a truce between Gaza and Israel brokered recently. One day last week, Hamas fired more than 40 rockets and mortar shells into Israel.
Today the Prime Minister’s spokesman, Mark Regev, said, “If we have quiet from Gaza we will answer with quiet.”
I spoke to Haled, an acquaintance of mine who lives in Gaza City today. It took me hours to get through to him. He told me that he saw someone’s head blown off last night and that he is traumatized. Haled went out two days ago to get groceries and was caught in the crossfire. He has been unable to make his way home and cannot reach his family. He told me there is no food, no water and that the city is in complete darkness. But he told me what most Gazans would never say to a camera that wiping out Hamas is not a bad thing, that life could be different – peaceful – bearable in the Gaza Strip, if not under Hamas’ tyranny.
Is the Arab world behind Hamas or not? It seems like they are behind them in the media, but that really, they are blaming Hamas. Fatah said Hamas is to blame for their troubles.
How long will this battle rage on? How long will the suffering go on for residents on both sides of the border? Are we talking about days, weeks or months? This morning, in a meeting of the Israeli cabinet, there was a positive assessment of what’s going on: the Israeli Air Force has been knocking out Hamas infastructure in Gaza as planned. But the Hamas military machine is still very strong and this could get worse before it gets better. The Prime Minister called on Israeli citizens in the South to be strong and resilient. All of us must be prepared for the long haul.
Cross posted to ROI120