Gut-shot from Gaza: 10 things to know for March 25
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Gut-shot from Gaza: 10 things to know for March 25

A missile from Rafah to the heart of Israel raises war fears, with little appetite for Hamas’s excuses, and will likely have a direct impact on Israeli elections

A home in the central Israeli town of Mishmeret that was destroyed in a rocket attack from the Gaza Strip on March 25, 2019. (Israel Police)
A home in the central Israeli town of Mishmeret that was destroyed in a rocket attack from the Gaza Strip on March 25, 2019. (Israel Police)

1. Rocketing war-fears: A rocket scored a direct hit on a house in a suburban area north of Tel Aviv, utterly destroying the home, leaving several members of a family injured and shaking up the country.

  • Among the wounded — all with non-life threatening injuries — are two infants who were in the house at the time of the attack.
  • The attack is the third in the last half-year to seemingly target cities far from Gaza, and unlike the last two times, when Israel seemed content to accept claims that the launches were accidental, this time it has immediately switched to war footing, with troops being called up to the border region.
  • “The launch was carried out by Hamas from one of the group’s launchpads. We see Hamas as responsible for everything that happens in Gaza,” IDF spokesperson Ronen Manelis says.
  • Initial indications are that the rocket was a domestically produced J80, which flew some 120 kilometers from Rafah in southern Gaza to Mishmeret, northeast of Tel Aviv.

2. Hitting back hard: One sign of how seriously the launch is being taken is Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s decision to cut his US trip short and return to Israel — albeit after his morning meeting with US President Donald Trump.

  • “There was a criminal attack on the State of Israel, and we will respond forcefully,” Netanyahu says in a video recorded Monday morning.
  • Likud MK Avi Dichter, head of the Knesset’s powerful defense and foreign affairs committee, tells Army Radio that the response “will be heavy. We are not just talking about hitting a bank of targets, but achieving deterrence.”
  • In Gaza, members of Hamas and other terror groups are going underground in expectation of heavy retaliatory fire, though the fireworks may wait with the prime minister away.
  • Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon tells Army Radio that a meeting of the high-level security cabinet, which can authorize major operations, will not take place until Netanyahu gets back on Tuesday.

3. Helter shelter: Mishemeret residents are calling the fact that the families in the home that was hit were mostly unharmed a “miracle.”

  • “The bomb shelter room saved the life of my family,” the father of the household, who is unnamed in news reports, tells the media during a visit by Kahlon.
  • Drone footage of the site shows that the majority of the structure, which contained two housing units, had been flattened by the missile.
  • Israel Hayom highlights pictures that show a baby’s crib among the ruins of the home.
  • Bar Pauker, a 12-year-old girl who apparently lived in the secondary unit which did not have direct access to the bomb shelter, was among those injured by shrapnel. She tells Walla news she tried to run to the main unit, where her grandparents lived, but the door was locked.
  • “My dad immigrated to Israel as a lone soldier, he had a dream of opening a business. Now the house is destroyed. We are in shock,” Yoni Wolf, one of the sons of the family in the home who was not there at the time, tells reporters.
  • “I don’t want revenge, but the policies now aren’t working,” Wolf adds.
  • Raf Sanchez of the Telegraph reports that the Wolfs are originally from London.

4. Make no mistake: Tensions had already been ramping up, with fears that a Friday protest to mark a year since the beginning of the March of Return border demonstrations could reinvigorate violence.

  • While in the past Israel was willing to dismiss some more serious launches as mistakes, this time there seems little appetite for such shenanigans.
  • “We do not yet have a full understanding of who exactly ordered the firing of the rocket,” Eran Lerman, a former deputy director at Israel’s National Security Council, tells the Associated Press. “But clearly this is no longer something that can be explained away as a mistake or a technical failure.”

5. Oops, we did it again? While many are reporting Hamas claimed this launch was a mistake, it’s not at all clear, with Channel 13 reporter Roi Kas calling it “fake news.”

  • Nonetheless, many are using the ridiculous nature of the accidental launch excuse/reason, which was used twice before and may be used again, as an excuse for a bit of levity.
  • Former MK Yinon Magal tweets that the army should “show Hamas how much of a mistake firing rockets is.”
  • “This is how Hamas says it was a mistake? Without any apology or even balloons,” tweets TV writer Reshef Shay.

6. Projectile in the poll: The rocket also scores a direct hit on election season, with just over two weeks to go before Israelis head to the polls.

  • Dichter tells Army Radio that leaders will not hesitate to delay the April 9 vote if needed.
  • Ynet’s Attila Somfalvi tweets that for a politician of Dichter’s stature to speak of pushing off elections in one of the stronger countries in the world 15 days before elections is “nothing less than giving in to terror.”
  • A number of politicians quickly seize on the attack as a way to attack Netanyahu, saying his policies over the last 10 years vis-a-vis Gazaz have failed.
  • “We’ve totally lost security. This has taken us back to the 1950s,” Labor head Avi Gabbay tells Israel Radio. “Instead of listening to old wives’ tales and giving speeches, the prime minister and defense minister needs to deal with the real lives of people.”

7. Benny in a bind: Netanyahu will in fact skip his speech to AIPAC, but Blue and White’s Benny Gantz, Netanyahu’s chief rival, will apparently stay there and give his speech Monday morning US time.

  • ToI’s Raoul Wootliff points out that the whole situation puts Gantz in a bit of a spot — not having a reason to leave early, but not wanting to act like everything is normal.
  • Apparently not realizing the irony, Netanyahu social media guru Topaz Luk chides Gantz for criticizing Netanyahu’s policies.
  • “Instead of national unity, instead of standing behind the government at a time like this, small-minded politics. Sad,” he tweets.

8. Netanyahu may be skipping out, but the AIPAC conference is still going on. CEO Howard Kohr kicked off the festivities with a claim that critics of the group, ahem ahem Ilhan Omar, were trying to starve support for the Jewish state.

  • In Haaretz, Allison Kaplan Sommer writes that while the confab is presenting an upbeat facade in the face of unprecedented criticism and what looks to be partisanship, behind the scenes there is much hand-wringing.
  • “If the Netanyahu-Obama era clashes opened a crack in AIPAC’s mission of maintaining support for Israel in both political parties, the past two years of President Donald Trump have taken that crack and driven a jackhammer into it,” she writes.
  • Yuval Karni in Globes writes that Israel could have healed some of the rifts after Trump claimed Democrats were anti-Jewish and anti-Israel: “It was Israel’s obligation to respond to the president’s false claim. It didn’t do so and deepened the partisanship.”

9. Here’s Johnny! Netanyahu’s lack of willingness to confront Trump will be on display when he meets the president Monday, with Trump expected to officially recognize Israeli sovereignty over the Golan Heights.

  • In Yedioth Ahronoth, Nahum Barnea writes that there may be one more pre-election gift from Trump to Netanyahu: Jonathan Pollard, currently banned from leaving the US and moving to Israel, the country he spied for.
  • “If Netanyahu gets Pollard today, during his meeting with Trump, he’ll be able to return to Israel a victor,” he writes.
  • On Sunday, Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked said she and Netanyahu had been hard at work behind the scenes to bring Pollard to Israel, Israel National News reports.
  • A recent report placed Pollard at the Israeli consulate in New York, raising speculation that there may be a seat for him on Netanyahu’s plane back.

10. Chinese checkers: In Foreign Policy, Yossi Melman writes of another spy scandal setting Israel and the US at odds, this one involving China.

  • “Russia and China have in recent years enhanced their espionage efforts in Israel, particularly to obtain access to both state-owned and private-sector Israeli tech companies, and through them to the United States, a close ally of Israel,” he reports.
  • “Israel is an international powerhouse when it comes to cyberwarfare, which is of the utmost importance to Moscow and Beijing. If they can steal state-of-the art technologies, it could create havoc in the United States and other Western democracies.”
  • Melman reports that an upcoming Israeli National Security Council report will have to find a way to balance Israel’s trade relationship with China and its strategic ties with the US, no easy task.
  • “If the report leads to new laws or regulations, they will employ generic language that will avoid singling out any specific country,” he writes. “They will refer to all foreign governments and corporations— although everyone now knows that the main targets will be Russia and China.”
  • China may come up when Trump and Netanyahu meet, especially after a Rand report for the Pentagon urged the US to get more involved in helping Israel oversee its Chinese investments.
  • The study says “China should be regularly discussed as part of the American-Israeli dialogue, and the two countries should agree to share information and jointly monitor the expansion of Chinese investments and other economic activity, both in Israel and the wider Middle East,” Haaretz reports.
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