Iron Dome deployed in greater Tel Aviv area as IDF girds for possible attack
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Iron Dome deployed in greater Tel Aviv area as IDF girds for possible attack

Anti-missile battery placed in heavily populated urban area, which includes Tel Aviv, amid fears of Gaza rocket launch as Islamic Jihad seeks revenge

An Iron Dome anti-rocket battery is deployed in central Israel, on November 14, 2017. (Jack Guez/AFP)
An Iron Dome anti-rocket battery is deployed in central Israel, on November 14, 2017. (Jack Guez/AFP)

An Iron Dome missile defense battery was deployed in the Dan region — made up of Tel Aviv and the surrounding suburbs — it was revealed on Tuesday, a day after the military said it had stationed several interceptors in central Israel to protect against a possible rocket attack.

The battery is one of several measures taken by the army to raise its alert level and response capabilities amid heightened tensions with the Palestinian Islamic Jihad organization since the army demolished the terrorist group’s border-crossing attack tunnel last month.

Also on Tuesday, the army closed off a number of tourist attractions near the Gaza border, out of concerns that the terrorist group may carry out a sniper attack on visitors. This included the Black Arrow, Givat Hapa’amon and Nizmit sites, an IDF spokesperson said.

Since the demolition on October 30, local farmers have also not been allowed to approach the Gaza security fence, but there are no other specific instructions for residents, the army said.

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

On Tuesday, the military censor allowed media outlets to report that at least one battery was located in the Dan region, which includes Tel Aviv and its environs.

The economic heart of the country, Tel Aviv has not been targeted by a Gazan rocket since the 2014 Gaza War.

Other Iron Dome batteries were also reportedly moved to central Israel from the south of the country, where they normally protect against sporadic short-range rocket attacks.

These batteries, which are designed to shoot down short-range rockets and, in some cases, mortars, were deployed to counter the threats made by Islamic Jihad, which has vowed to avenge its members killed in the tunnel blast and its aftermath.

The Iron Dome system, which was developed with US assistance, was declared operational in 2011 and first saw extensive use during the week-long Operation Pillar of Defense in November 2012. In the interim years, the military has improved the system itself dramatically and streamlined its protocols for operating it.

The terror group is known to have Katyusha rockets, which could reach Israel’s heavily populated central coastal region.

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, 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.

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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