David Horovitz is the founding editor of The Times of Israel. He is the author of "Still Life with Bombers" (2004) and "A Little Too Close to God" (2000), and co-author of "Shalom Friend: The Life and Legacy of Yitzhak Rabin" (1996). He previously edited The Jerusalem Post (2004-2011) and The Jerusalem Report (1998-2004).
Israeli security forces and firefighters gather near a bus set ablaze after it was hit by an anti-tank missile fired from the Palestinian enclave, at the Israel-Gaza border near the kibbutz of Kfar Aza, on November 12, 2018. (Menahem KAHANA / AFP)
In the space of little more than an hour from about 4:30 on Monday afternoon, Hamas and other Gaza terror groups fired more than 100 rockets into southern Israel. The fire was so intensive that it took long minutes before a young Israeli soldier, seriously injured by a Kornet guided anti-tank missile fired at a bus near the border, could be safely evacuated to the hospital.
As darkness fell, the rocket fire continued — and penetrated deeper into Israel. Alarms sounded in Ashkelon, and a home sustained a direct hit; the mayor of Beersheba ordered his city’s bomb shelters opened as rockets began to fall near his city too. In the border town of Sderot, badly battered as so often before, one resident wailed late Monday afternoon in an Army Radio interview that “it’s a real war zone here.”
The specific incident that prompted this latest drastic escalation occurred late Sunday. An IDF special forces unit, on an undercover operation inside Gaza whose details remain under military censorship, was apparently spotted, exposed and confronted. A senior Israeli officer was killed; so, too, were seven Hamas and other terrorists.
In the immediate aftermath of that battle, Hamas fired several rockets into Israel, some of which were intercepted by the Iron Dome missile defense system. But any notion that this would mark the end of the escalation was viciously shattered with that massive barrage from Gaza on Monday afternoon.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has unarguably sought to avoid a descent into deeper conflict — into the kind of warfare last seen in 2014. The Israeli security establishment had also been encouraging efforts to avoid another major round of fighting. Israel even allowed the transfer to Gaza over the weekend of $15 million in Qatari cash to relieve the economic pressure in Gaza — knowing that, in so doing, it would be easing the internal Gaza pressure on Hamas, and that the influx of such funds would free up other resources for Hamas to devote to its prime goal: seeking to harm and ultimately to destroy Israel.
Since seizing control of Gaza in 2007, Hamas, an Islamist terror group, has devoted all available resources to building rockets, digging tunnels, and preparing balloons and other incendiary devices to utilize against Israel. It has also, for the past eight months, been encouraging violent “March of Return” riots at the border, placing bombs at the fence, intermittently breaching the border. The goal is in the name — Hamas wants to galvanize millions of Palestinians for a “return” to Israel, for the overwhelming of the world’s only Jewish-majority state.
Israel, it needs repeating, has no military presence in the Gaza Strip, which it had captured from Egypt in the 1967 war. It withdrew the army and uprooted the 7,000-8,000 Jewish civilians who lived in settlements there in 2005. But a Gaza free of Jews does not suffice for Hamas. It wants all the land from the Mediterranean Sea to the Jordan River.
The riots and the tunneling and the rocket fire amount to extortion. If Israel does not end the security blockade it maintains on Gaza, Hamas vows, then Israelis will have to continue to endure rocket and mortar attacks, the threat of cross-border terror tunnels, arson balloons burning its fields. But if Israel does ease the security blockade, of course, Hamas will exploit this to import more weaponry to cause still greater harm.
In repeated flareups since the 2014 warfare, Israel has sought to avoid the loss of life and devastation that a resort to deeper conflict will entail. Israel is also well aware that “defeating Hamas” may sound straightforward but is immensely complex. The military challenge is profound, though emphatically not beyond the capabilities of Israel’s military forces. But Israel does not want to reconquer Gaza and reassert responsibility for two million hostile Palestinians.
Yet Hamas will not rest, and will not change. A murderous extortionist cannot be bought off. Sooner or later, therefore, Hamas must be faced down. And in the battle between a sovereign state that is obligated to ensure security for its citizens, and a ruthless, cynical terrorist organization, backed by Iran and committed to Israel’s destruction, there can and must be only one winner.