Defense Minister Benny Gantz warned Wednesday that overnight airstrikes in the Gaza Strip in response to rocket attacks would be “the tip of the iceberg” of Israeli actions if attacks emanating from the Palestinian territory did not cease.
Meanwhile, the Walla news site reported that the army had deployed further Iron Dome missile defense systems in the Gaza periphery Wednesday in anticipation of further potential rocket barrages from the enclave. There was no immediate confirmation from the army.
Tuesday night saw 15 rockets launched at communities shortly after Israel signed US-brokered peace agreements with the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain. An initial attack of two rockets hit Ashdod, injuring two people, one of them seriously. The IDF carried out retaliatory strikes, leading to another barrage of 13 rockets in the early morning and a second wave of Israeli retaliation.
Beyond the rocket that hit Ashdod, eight of the rockets were shot down and six more hit open areas (Iron Dome does not intercept rockets calculated to hit unpopulated land).
Walla reported that Israel’s initial strikes had hit a strategic Hamas target: a rocket production facility that a security source told the website was “particularly painful” for Hamas. This may have been the impetus for the following rocket barrage.
Gantz toured the Israeli military division responsible for the Gaza region Wednesday to hear of the army’s preparations in the sector, accompanied by top military brass and Michael Biton, Minister of Civil and Social Affairs in the Defense Ministry.
The ministers also visited the Sha’ar Hanegev Regional Council and met with local leaders.
“While the State of Israel marches toward a better and safer future, Hamas leadership is forsaking the future of Gaza’s children and bringing disaster down upon them,” Gantz said in a statement. “I demand that Hamas keep the calm. If fire continues, yesterday’s responses will be only the tip of the iceberg.”
Biton, meanwhile, said the Defense Ministry was working to remove bottlenecks and bureaucracy in plans to fortify thousands of homes in the region.
Israeli aircraft conducted two rounds of strikes in the Gaza Strip before dawn Wednesday, the army said, reiterating that Israel holds Hamas responsible for any violence emanating from the Strip.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Wednesday said the Palestinians were trying to set back peace and vowed they would not succeed.
Netanyahu spoke as he flew back from Washington and the signing ceremony.
“I am not surprised that Palestinian terrorists fired at Israel exactly during this historic ceremony,” Netanyahu said in a statement from his office.
“We will strike all those who reach out to harm us, and we will extend a hand in peace to all those whose hands are extended in peace to us,” Netanyahu said.
Hamas, the terror group that is the de facto ruler of Gaza, warned Israel it could face a military escalation in response to the airstrikes.
“The occupation (Israel) will pay the price for any aggression against our people or resistance sites and the response will be direct,” Hamas said in a statement.
“We will increase and expand our response to the extent that the occupation persists in its aggression,” the group added.
The Palestinians have rejected the normalization deals between Israel and the UAE and Bahrain.
The rocket fire represented the first attacks since an unofficial ceasefire agreement was reached between Israel and terror groups in the Strip late last month and the largest barrage since February.
Qatar, Egypt and the United Nations brokered an unofficial ceasefire agreement between Israel and terror groups in the Strip last month, following weeks of heightened tensions between the two sides.
AFP contributed to this report