Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government was coming under intense pressure to respond forcefully to several barrages of rocket fire launched from Gaza Tuesday after a member of the Palestinian Islamic Jihad terror group died in Israeli jail following an 86-day hunger strike.
Much of the pressure came from within Netanyahu’s own coalition, as the right-wing bloc’s approval rates have declined since it returned to power four months ago, promising to restore security, only to be met with a sustained series of deadly Palestinian terror attacks and security tensions on other fronts as well.
“Ramadan is over. The excuses are over. There is no longer any reason for restraint. Now is the time to strike hard at those who seek to harm us,” tweeted Likud MK Danny Danon, referencing the government’s strategy over the previous month, which saw it take steps to deescalate tensions during the holy Islamic month.
Almog Cohen, from the far-right Otzma Yehudit coalition party, struck a similar tone. “The excuses are over. It’s time for a crushing and painful response!” he tweeted.
The Walla news site cited “sources close to National Security Minister Itamar Ben Gvir” — often code for a statement okayed by Ben Gvir himself — who said that “the containment policy has exhausted itself. This time there needs to be an unequivocal and decisive response.”
Unnamed security sources cited by Hebrew media on Tuesday evening said the cabinet was likely to respond Tuesday night or early Wednesday morning.
The IDF has responded to most rocket attacks from Gaza over the past four months, but the government has been pushed to do more, given the hardline rhetoric its members had used while they were in the opposition and during the election campaign.
Four rockets were fired at Israel on Tuesday morning following PIJ member Khader Adnan’s death. The army responded with tank fire at several military sites belonging to the Gaza-ruling Hamas terror group.
Channel 12 news reported that the IDF decided to wait until the afternoon to shell Gaza in response, so that children could get in a normal day of school.
The army began shelling positions in Gaza shortly after 3 p.m. when most schools would have already gotten out, though many kindergartens run later, starting at around 3:30 p.m.
Shortly thereafter, a second barrage of 22 rockets was fired from Gaza, including one that hit a construction site in the southern city of Sderot, moderately wounding a 25-year-old foreign national and lightly wounding two others.
Later in the evening, the IDF said six more mortars were launched from Gaza, several of whom fell short in the Palestinian enclave while the others landed in Israeli territory, close to the security barrier.
Earlier, Otzma Yehudit MK Cohen accused Gazan terrorists of timing their barrage to coincide with pick-up from kindergarten.
Netanyahu has since held a situational assessment with security chiefs, though the far-right Ben Gvir was not invited to participate despite his requests to do so, according to the Kan public broadcaster.
After wrapping up his own situation assessment with IDF Chief of Staff Herzi Halevi, Defense Minister Yoav Gallant said in a statement: “Anyone who attempts to harm the citizens of Israel will be sorry.”
As the army readied for its response to the barrages, the government received support from the opposition, with the latter bloc’s head Yair Lapid tweeting that it would “back the government in any military action that will bring quiet and security to residents of the south.”
The statement came less than 15 minutes after the Yesh Atid party chief tweeted that southern residents “deserve a government that will take care of their security.”
Benny Gantz, who heads the National Unity opposition party, offered similar backing for “any determined and responsible security action against terrorism.”
Former prime minister Naftali Bennett, who led the previous government along with Lapid and Gantz, tweeted that more rockets had been fired at Israel over the past day alone than the number launched at the Jewish state during his year-long tenure as premier, which was relentlessly slammed as weak by Netanyahu’s bloc.
“The Netanyahu government ‘contained’ rockets from Lebanon, Syria and Gaza, so it’s no wonder that the enemy continues to fire,” he wrote.
Sderot Mayor Alon Davidi expressed his frustration with the government following the rocket attack on his city, accusing the nation’s leaders of being all talk but letting Gaza’s terror groups dictate the security situation in the south.
“Enough with the lip service. There are two terror groups ruling Gaza. They shoot when they want. We need to assassinate them,” he told Channel 13 news, standing in the construction site where three people were injured in a rocket strike.
He said the army should launch a thought-out offensive operation against Gaza, but also says he trusts the army to do the right thing.
“The safety of residents of the south and of Sderot must come before everything else,” he said.