IDF deploys Iron Dome, raises alert amid Gaza terror threat
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IDF deploys Iron Dome, raises alert amid Gaza terror threat

Deployment of missile defenses comes 2 weeks after military destroyed an Islamic Jihad attack tunnel, leading to death of at least 12 of the group's operatives

Judah Ari Gross is The Times of Israel's military correspondent.

An Iron Dome missile defense system deployed near the southern Israeli town of Beersheba in 2014. (Flash90/File)
An Iron Dome missile defense system deployed near the southern Israeli town of Beersheba in 2014. (Flash90/File)

A number of Iron Dome missile defense batteries were deployed in central Israel on Monday, the military said, amid heightened tensions with the Palestinian Islamic Jihad since the army demolished the terrorist group’s border-crossing attack tunnel last month.

The IDF confirmed on Monday the anti-missile systems were installed in “central Israel,” but would not elaborate on their exact location, citing army policy.

The Iron Dome system, which is designed to shoot down short-range rockets and, in some cases, mortars, was deployed to counter the threats made by Islamic Jihad, which has vowed to avenge its members killed in the tunnel blast and its aftermath.

Israeli officials have tried to dissuade the terror group, warning of a harsh retaliation by the IDF.

On Saturday, Maj. Gen. Yoav Mordechai, who runs the Defense Ministry’s chief liaison office with the Palestinians, publicly warned Islamic Jihad in a video posted to YouTube. He addressed by name the terror group’s leader, Ramadan Shalah, and his deputy, Ziad Nakhaleh, who run the Gaza-based group from Damascus, and said they would be “held responsible” should Islamic Jihad attack Israel.

In the video, Mordechai said that Israel is “aware of the plot that the Palestinian Islamic Jihad is planning against Israel,” and warned that “any attack by the Islamic Jihad will be met with a powerful and determined Israeli response, not only against the Jihad, but also against Hamas.”

Islamic Jihad responded to Mordechai’s video on Sunday, saying the Israeli threats against its leaders constituted “an act of war,” and vowing to continue in its plans to carry out a revenge attack against Israel.

The “threats to target the movement’s leadership is a declaration of war, which we will confront,” Islamic Jihad said, according to a statement carried by its media affiliate Palestine Today News Agency.

The group said it would not back down on its “right” to retaliate against Israel for the tunnel explosion, which led to the deaths of 12 of its members, including two commanders, as well as two members of Hamas’s military wing.

“We reaffirm our right to respond to any aggression, including our right to respond to the crime of aggression on the resistance tunnel,” its statement said.

The Israel Defense Forces blew up the tunnel, which originated in the Gazan city of Khan Younis and crossed into Israeli territory, near Kibbutz Kissufim, on October 30.

According to the army, the tunnel had been under surveillance the entire time that it was inside Israeli territory and did not pose a threat to civilians.

The army said later that killing the terrorists was not the primary objective of the tunnel demolition.

The bodies of five terrorists who were working on the tunnel inside Israeli territory were recovered by the IDF, the army said.

According to Palestinian media, Hamas encouraged Islamic Jihad to abstain from retaliating both in order to prevent further escalation with Israel and to prevent the reconciliation talks it has been conducting with the Palestinian Authority from falling apart.

Mourners carry the coffin of Palestinian Islamic Jihad Movement terrorist Arafat Abu Morshed during the funeral at the Bureij refugee camp, in central Gaza of Palestinians killed in an Israeli operation to blow up a tunnel stretching from the Gaza Strip into Israel, on October 31, 2017. (Mahmud Hams/AFP)

In his YouTube message, Mordechai referred to those reconciliation efforts, saying Islamic Jihad was “playing with fire” and potentially threatening the talks, as well as the safety of Gaza Strip residents.

Earlier this month, a senior officer in the IDF’s Southern Command warned that the military suspected the terror group may retaliate for the tunnel demolition with attacks on soldiers serving near the border, rocket fire at southern Israeli communities or terror attacks in the West Bank.

“The Islamic Jihad will have a hard time holding back,” said the unnamed senior official.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu attends the weekly cabinet meeting at his office in Jerusalem, November 12, 2017. (AFP/POOL/ABIR SULTAN)

On Sunday, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu added his own warning addressed to those contemplating an attack. “These days, there are still those who toy with trying renewed attacks on Israel,” Netanyahu said at the start of the weekly cabinet meeting. “We will take a very strong hand against anyone who tries to attack us or attacks us from any theater.”

“I say this to every entity, rogue faction, organization — everyone. In any case, we see Hamas as responsible for every attack that emanates from, or is planned against us in, the Gaza Strip,” he said.

Dov Lieber contributed to this report. 

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