IDF general: Gaza terror groups ‘deeply deterred,’ not interested in war

IDF general: Gaza terror groups ‘deeply deterred,’ not interested in war

Amid criticism of weak IDF response, Southern Command chief tells officers the air force struck dozens of ‘valuable’ targets in the Strip, yielding a ‘significant achievement’

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

Southern Command chief Maj. Gen. Eyal Zamir speaks to officers in southern Israel on May 30, 2018. (Screen capture: Israel Defense Forces)
Southern Command chief Maj. Gen. Eyal Zamir speaks to officers in southern Israel on May 30, 2018. (Screen capture: Israel Defense Forces)

The head of the IDF’s Southern Command declared Wednesday that terror groups in the Gaza Strip were “very deeply deterred” by the air force’s aerial bombardment against dozens of targets in the coastal enclave on Tuesday afternoon and pre-dawn Wednesday.

“I think Hamas and the other terror groups in the Gaza Strip are very deeply deterred, and there is a lack of will and desire to reach a situation of another full-scale campaign,” Maj. Gen. Eyal Zamir told officers on Wednesday.

Zamir’s comments were released by the military less than a day into an apparent ceasefire between Israel and Palestinian terror groups in the Strip, after the largest exchange of fire over Gaza since the 2014 war.

“We struck many valuable targets, important targets that we’ve waited a long time for an opportunity [to strike them]. I think at this point, there’s a significant achievement for us,” Zamir said.

Critics of the army’s actions on Tuesday and Wednesday noted that the military did not strike the terror cells firing the rockets and mortar shells at Israel. The Hamas-run Gaza health ministry did not report on any casualties in the IDF’s strikes. Hamas has also been hailing its “achievement” in forcing Israelis in the south to spend a night in bomb shelters.

Late Tuesday night, the Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad terror groups, who claimed responsibility for the majority of the attacks throughout the day, said that an Egypt-brokered ceasefire agreement had been reached, based on the truce that ended the 2014 war.

IDF soldiers seen near tanks at an army base near the border with the Gaza Strip, May 30, 2018. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Israel repeatedly denied that it had reached an agreement, but a senior defense official, speaking on condition of anonymity, indicated to reporters that an understanding had been reached under which Israel would not conduct additional strikes in Gaza so long as no more rockets or mortar shells were fired, but would act forcefully if they were.

“If the launches are renewed, the attacks against Hamas will be intensified,” the official said.

Over the course of 22 hours, from 7 a.m. Tuesday to 5:17 a.m. Wednesday, sirens were triggered at least 166 times in southern Israel, according to the IDF Home Front Command, by mortar fire, rockets or, in some cases, heavy machine gun fire.

The remains of a mortar shell that struck the yard of a kindergarten in the Eshkol region, near the Gaza border, on May 29, 2018. (Shay Machluf)

The army said it determined that on Tuesday and Wednesday over 100 rockets and mortar shells were fired from the Gaza Strip and were on a trajectory to hit Israel. A large number of the projectiles launched from Gaza failed to clear the border and thus were not included in the military’s figure.

The number of rockets and mortar shells fired over the course of those 22 hours was greater than in the previous three years and 10 months, since the 2014 war, combined.

In response, Israel struck more than 65 targets in the Gaza Strip belonging to Hamas and the Iran-backed Palestinian Islamic Jihad, including a Hamas attack tunnel that traveled from the Gaza Strip, through Egypt and into Israel.

Smoke billowing in the background following an Israeli air strike Gaza City, May 29, 2018. (Thomas Coex/AFP)

According to the military, among the targets struck by the air force were Hamas drone facilities, naval bases, caches of shoulder-fired SA-7 missiles and a rocket manufacturing plant. In addition, the army said, a Palestinian Islamic Jihad weapons depot, containing locally produced rockets, was also destroyed in southern Gaza.

Though a number of terror groups in the Gaza Strip participated in the attacks against communities in southern Israel, the military says it ultimately holds the Islamist Hamas organization responsible, as it has controlled the coastal enclave since taking it over in a violent coup in 2007.

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