ISRAEL AT WAR - DAY 148

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Gaza op gets broad political support as some trade barbs over Ben Gvir

Lapid, Gantz offer backing for ‘Operation Shield and Arrow’ action against terrorists; foreign minister cuts short visit in India; Likud MK: No connection to Ben Gvir’s boycott

Yesh Atid head MK Yair Lapid (left) and National Unity head MK Benny Gantz in the Knesset in Jerusalem, February 20, 2023. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Yesh Atid head MK Yair Lapid (left) and National Unity head MK Benny Gantz in the Knesset in Jerusalem, February 20, 2023. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Opposition and coalition lawmakers expressed their backing of the military operation launched Tuesday in the Gaza Strip with the targeted killings of three senior members of Palestinian Islamic Jihad.

Opposition leader Yair Lapid tweeted that he gives “my support to the security forces for this operation against Islamic Jihad in Gaza.” He added that: “This morning, terror groups in Gaza know that the intelligence community and the security forces are following their every move and every step and the score will be settled.”

“An Israeli response at the time and place of our choosing is the way to deal with terror from Gaza. We will support any operation to defend the residents of the south,” Lapid said.

At least 13 people were killed in the bombing runs, according to the health ministry of the Hamas-controlled territory. Islamic Jihad said the wives of the three commanders and a number of their children were among the dead. At least 20 people were reported injured in the strikes.

National Security Itamar Ben Gvir, who had been boycotting government activity in recent days over the government’s “feeble” response to rocket fire from Gaza last week, called the launch of Operation Shield and Arrow “a good start.”

“I congratulate the prime minister on the proactive operation in Gaza,” Ben Gvir said. “It’s a good start. The time has come to change our policy in Gaza.” He did not say if he was planning to end his boycott.

National Security Minister Itamar Ben Gvir gives a press statement during a meeting of his Otzma Yehudit party in the southern city of Sderot, May 3, 2023. (Flash90)

In announcing details of the targeted strikes, Defense Minister Yoav Gallant wrote: “Any terrorist element that harms the citizens of Israel will regret it,” adding: “We will pursue and reach our enemies.”

The bombings came days after Gazan terrorists led by Islamic Jihad fired 104 rockets at Israel in response to the death of an alleged senior member of the group who had been on hunger strike in Israeli prison. Several rockets struck Sderot during the May 2 clash, injuring three workers and damaging homes and cars.

From left: Islamic Jihad commanders that the IDF said it killed in Gaza, May 9, 2023: Khalil Bahtini, Tareq Izz ed-Din, and Jihad Ghanem (IDF Spokesman)

Israel conducted some limited retaliatory strikes at the time, but the government came under criticism from the right for not reacting more strongly.

Gallant and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu reportedly decided on Operation Shield and Arrow during discussions with security brass on Friday, without involving other members of the cabinet. According to an unsourced report on the Ynet news site, they specifically kept Ben Gvir in the dark amid fears that he would leak details of the upcoming strikes and negate the element of surprise.

Still, some right-wing coalition lawmakers hinted that they were involved in the decision-making, with Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich tweeting his thanks to Israeli citizens “for trusting us even when everything cannot be said in real time.” Likud MK Nissim Vaturi wrote: “Just as I promised, we operate at the time and place that suits us.”

The damage to a building following Israeli airstrikes on an apartment of an Islamic Jihad commander in Gaza City, Tuesday, May 9, 2023. (AP Photo/Fatima Shbair)

Foreign Minister Eli Cohen, who departed for India on Monday evening, said Tuesday morning that he would be cutting his trip short and returning to Israel Tuesday evening following a meeting with Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

National Unity party chief Benny Gantz, the former defense minister, said Tuesday: “Our enemies erred in their assessment of the situation.” Gantz welcomed the start of the operation, saying he hopes the current government “will know how to conduct itself with the necessary combination of responsibility and determination in the future as well.”

MK Ofer Cassif of Hadash-Ta’al, meanwhile, decried the “massacre in Gaza,” saying that it was aimed solely at “keeping the party of racist filth in the government” — a reference to Ben Gvir and his far-right Otzma Yehudit party.

Ra’am MK Waleed Taha was more explicit in his condemnation, tweeting that “Palestinian blood is the price for returning Itamar Ben Gvir and Almog [Cohen] to voting!” Cohen is also a member of Otzma Yehudit.

Mourners comfort each other in the morgue of Al-Shifa Hospital after Israeli airstrikes killed a dozen Palestinians in Gaza City, Tuesday, May 9, 2023. The Israeli military says it has killed three senior commanders of the Islamic Jihad group in targeted airstrikes. (AP Photo/Fatima Shbair)

Likud MK Hanoch Milwidsky rejected any attempt to connect the launch of the operation with Ben Gvir’s boycott.

“It’s crazy and absurd to think anyone would time a military operation due to political pressure,” Milwidsky said in an interview on Radio 103 FM Tuesday morning. “It would be a terrible thing if that were the case, and it is not the case.”

Yesh Atid MK Ram Ben-Barak, a former deputy director of Mossad, mocked Ben Gvir, tweeting: “Itamar, breathe. The decision was made in a deliberation you were not a part of.” Ben-Barak added that his party “backs the government in its fight against terror. Right now there is no left and right.”

Labor MK Efrat Rayten said she was relieved no IDF soldiers had been harmed so far in the operation, and hoped for “quiet days” for Israelis living near Gaza. She added that the Foreign Ministry will have a “complicated job” in explaining the deaths of women and children in the strikes. “Ben Gvir was excluded from the decision to launch the operation,” Rayten wrote. “The message: ‘You are harmful and unwanted.'”

Otzma Yehudit’s Cohen, who had pressed publicly for a harsh IDF reprisal to rocket fire last week, said he would close his “Sderot bureau,” which he opened to draw attention to the rocket-battered city.

“You have our full [backing] to act against and battle terror until quiet is returned,” he said.

Otzma Yehudit MK Almog Cohen reacts during a discussion in the Knesset, in Jerusalem, on February 22, 2023. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

After the explosions ripped through Gaza early Tuesday morning, Israeli residents of areas within 40 kilometers (25 miles) of the Strip were instructed to enter or stay near bomb shelters amid fears of reprisal attacks.

Previous strikes on Islamic Jihad leaders have sparked barrages of rockets on Israeli civilians and intense battles with Israeli troops, some lasting several days.

The IDF began hitting targets in the Strip just after 2 a.m. in a coordinated surprise attack on the group’s senior leaders.

Military spokesperson Rear Admiral Daniel Hagari said the IDF had achieved its goals with the opening strikes.

“At this stage, we achieved what we set for ourselves, we hit those needed, and if necessary we will deepen the attacks more. We are prepared for any scenario,” Hagari told reporters.

Emanuel Fabian contributed to this report.

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