Live blog: Operation Pillar of Defense, Day 5, Part 1

Ashkelon fireman, 2 residents suffer shrapnel injuries from Gaza rockets

Amid ceasefire rumors and denials, missile fire on Israel and Israeli strikes on Gaza continued on day 5 of Operation Pillar of Defense. Here’s how we live-blogged the first half of Sunday’s developments

A medic cares for a woman whose Ashkelon house was hit by a rocket on Sunday, November 18 (photo credit: Yossi Zamir/Flash90)
A medic cares for a woman whose Ashkelon house was hit by a rocket on Sunday, November 18 (photo credit: Yossi Zamir/Flash90)

For the third day in a row, Tel Aviv was the target of Hamas attacks on Sunday. Iron Dome carried out a successful interception. As soldiers continued to stream south, Egypt’s President Mohammed Morsi told reporters that there were indications that an agreement to halt hostilities was close. Israel denied the report, with officials saying there were still too many targets to hit before they could be confident the job they set out to do was done. Still, Southern Command head Tal Russo told reporters Hamas had been dealt a heavy blow.

Since the start of Operation Pillar of Defense on Wednesday, the IDF hit some 950 targets in the Gaza Strip, with Palestinians reporting 47 dead, over a dozen of them civilians. Gazan terrorists fired some 700 rockets at Israel and Iron Dome shot down nearly 250. Israel’s death toll stood at three, with dozens more injured, including 10 on Saturday when a missile scored a direct hit on an apartment in Ashdod. The Times of Israel live-blogged developments on Sunday morning here. For latest updates from Sunday afternoon and evening, click here.

Click here for part 1 and here for part 2 of Saturday’s live blog coverage.

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A rocket landed in an open area in the Sha’ar Hanegev region, ending several hours of relative calm. No injuries or damage were reported.

Barak Ravid of Haaretz has tweeted that Netanyahu is asking European leaders to help get the message to Hamas to hold its fire.


Barak Ravid

Senior US official told me the US is objecting a ground operation in Gaza and asked Israel to give more time for the Egyptian mediation

Amid ceasefire rumors, Israeli officials tell our Raphael Ahren that Jerusalem is not currently interested in a ceasefire, adding that the IDF’s campaign might be expanded and could continue for weeks, if necessary.

Operation Pillar of Defense will only end after Hamas has been dealt a serious blow, they vow.

“In parallel to the military effort, there is a diplomatic effort [to stop the rocket fire on Israel],” says one  Israeli government official. “But the operation will continue until we can be sure that the people of Israel’s south will no longer live under constant fear of rockets — and that goal will be achieved, one way or another.”

Hezbollah chief Hassan Nasrallah has weighed in on the situation in Gaza, warning that an Israeli ground incursion would be “stupid.” He also criticized Arab nations that have been trying promote a ceasefire between Israel and Hamas.

These countries, Nasrallah said at a Shiite festival, “must pressure Israel to stop its aggression and accept the terms of the Palestinian resistance.”

Palestinian sources are reporting that a mid-level Islamic Jihad operative by the name of Tamer Hamri was killed in an Israeli airstrike. Hamri reportedly headed Islamic Jihad’s artillery unit in the central Gaza Strip.

Our Arab affairs reporter, Elhanan Miller, is reporting that Hamas has been warning Gazans not to spread rumors originating from Israeli intelligence agencies. Such messages are  part of a “psychological war” aimed at splintering Palestinian society, Hamas is claiming. Read more here.

The Israel Defense Forces on Saturday released its second video aiming to disprove Hamas claims of damage wreaked upon Israel, and Israeli damage wreaked upon civilians, after releasing a debut installment on Friday.

Among the Gazan group’s more creative claims have been that it hit an Israeli warship, killing a soldier, rained missiles on Tel Aviv’s beach near the US Embassy, the stock exchange in Ramat Gan, and even north of the city, and that the Israeli army shot live rounds at protesters near Ofer Prison in the West Bank.

A rocket fired from Gaza exploded in an open area in the Shaar Hanegev region. There were no reports of injuries or damage.

The Palestinian Ma’an news agency is reporting that the IDF has struck a target in the northern Gaza Strip city of Beit Lahia. At this point, there are no reports of casualties.

The aftermath of an IAF strike on Beit Lahia last week (photo credit: Mustafa Hassona/Flash90)

Quoting Israeli officials, the Daily Beast reports that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Friday assured President Barack Obama that Israel would not launch a ground offensive in the Gaza Strip “unless there was escalation from Hamas or a strike that caused significant casualties.”

The report quotes Israeli ambassador to the US, Michael Oren, as saying: “If they keep shooting at 5.5 million Israelis at the current rate we will have no choice but to use all necessary and legitimate means to defend our citizens and that includes possible ground action.”

The prospect of Israel ground forces invading Gaza is looming large, after Israel upped the number of reservists it has called up since last week to 75,000. The step is presumably meant to show Israel “means business,” sending to Hamas the signal that if rocket fire doesn’t taper out, Israel’s infantry and armored corps will come knocking.

Two people were killed and 10 others were injured in an IAF airstrike in Gaza, AFP is reporting. According to Ma’an, six journalists — including three who worked for Hamas’s al-Quds TV station — were among the wounded in a strike on the Al-Shawa building in Gaza City.

Media mogul Rupert Murdoch appears to be weighing in on international coverage of Operation Pillar of Defense in the Gaza Strip. The non-Jewish Murdoch, whose News Corp holding company owns Fox News, among many other outlets, tweeted Saturday:


Rupert Murdoch

Why Is Jewish owned press so consistently anti- Israel in every crisis?

In his latest column for The Atlantic, journalist Jeffrey Goldberg quotes Times of Israel blogger Meir Javedanfar in making the argument that an Israeli ground operation in the Gaza Strip cannot achieve any sustainable, long-term objectives. Instead, Goldberg suggests, a viable, thriving Palestinian state in the West Bank could convince Palestinians in Gaza to finally lay down their weapons and strive for peace.

Meanwhile, David Horovitz addresses the prospect of Hamas actually relinquishing its armed struggle:

“Israel has no quarrel with Gaza. It has no military presence in Gaza. It ripped out the settlement enterprise it had constructed in Gaza. Had a peaceful Gaza flourished after 2005, Israel – even though our country is tiny and embattled – would have been tempted, in its burning quest for a quiet place among the nations, to relinquish much or all of biblical Judea and Samaria to the Palestinians as well. None of this is of interest to Hamas; it should all be remembered, however, by those who seek to avoid the unpalatable reality of Hamas’s kill-and-be-killed motivation and look instead for ostensible reasons for Hamas-led ‘resistance.’”


A Palestinian official quoted by Reuters says ceasefire talks will recommence on Sunday in Cairo, Egypt. He reportedly says “there is hope” for a truce but that it is still too early to tell whether the efforts — spearheaded by Egypt’s President Mohamed Morsi — will bear fruit.

According to a report in Haaretz, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu indicated in talks with world leaders Saturday night that if Hamas were to cease all rocket attacks, Israel would stand down and commence a de facto cease fire. Still, Israeli officials told The Times of Israel diplomatic correspondent Raphael Ahren last night that a ceasefire would not be in Israel’s best interests only four day into the operation. They indicated that there were still many Hamas targets that had to be hit before the IDF could claim to have inflicted a substantial blow on the rulers of the Gaza Strip.

The IDF tweeted a link to the following video with the text “These are the kind of underground rocket launchers the IDF has been targeting in the past few days.”

Palestinian sources are reporting additional IAF airstrikes in the northern and southern Gaza Strip. There were no initial reports of casualties. So far, on Sunday morning, two Palestinians were killed — both were reportedly children — and 15 were injured, including journalists.

According to Palestinians, 50 have been killed in the Gaza Strip since Israel launched Operation Pillar of Defense on Wednesday.

Rocket attacks on Israel ceased at around midnight Saturday, and had yet to resume at 5:30 a.m. on Sunday morning. On Saturday night, Palestinians fired dozens of rockets at southern Israel, injuring six. So far, of some 800 rockets fired by Gaza terrorists, around 300 have been intercepted by the Iron Dome missile defense system.

The Associated Press has published a rundown of Israel’s “Iron Dome” missile defense system, which has been second only to the Twitter wars as the most discussed aspect of Israel’s bombing campaign in Gaza.

As of Saturday evening, the military said it had shot down some 240 incoming rockets, more than half the number of projectiles launched into Israel since Wednesday.

Here’s a quick look at the system:

— Produced by Israeli-based Rafael Advanced Defense Systems, Iron Dome is meant to shoot down rockets and artillery shells with ranges of up to 70 kilometers, or 45 miles. It has been operational since 2011. Officials say it has a roughly 80 percent success rate.

— How it works: The system detects launches of rockets and quickly determines their flight path. If it is headed toward populated areas or sensitive targets, it fires an interceptor with a special warhead that strikes the incoming rocket within seconds. Rockets headed toward open areas area allowed to land.

— Currently, five Iron Dome batteries are deployed in Israel. Most are located in the south near Gaza. A fifth battery was deployed outside Tel Aviv on Saturday, two months ahead of schedule. Hours later, it shot down a rocket headed toward Tel Aviv.

— Missiles cost around $ 40,000 a piece. In 2010, the US provided $ 200 million to expand development. Additional funding is currently being considered, with $ 70 million already allocated for the 2012 fiscal year.

— The system is part of what Israel calls its “multilayer missile defense.” It is meant to protect against the tens of thousands of short-range rockets possessed by militants in the Gaza Strip and Hezbollah guerrillas in Lebanon. Israel has also deployed its “Arrow” missile defense systems for long-range threats from Iran. The military says its new “David’s Sling” system, being developed by Rafael to stop medium-range missiles, will be activated by 2014.

An Iron Dome missile is launched in Tel Aviv, to intercept a rocket fired from Gaza, Saturday, November 17, 2012 (photo credit: AP/Oded Balilty)

The Sunday Times is reporting that Israeli commandos are already operating behind enemy lines in the Gaza Strip, where they’re engaged in a “frantic search for long-range rockets aimed at Israel.” According to the report, any IDF ground operation in Gaza would be spearheaded by the Paratroopers Brigade.

The report, penned by Uzi Mahnaimi, quoted a defense official who speculated that Hamas could go for a “desperate attempt” to outfit rockets with chemical warheads. Still, according to the report, there’s no indication that any of Hamas’s mid-range Fajr-5 rockets, which are capable of carrying a non-conventional payload, have indeed been outfitted with such warheads.

Mahnaimi’s report included a blow-by-blow account of the assassination on Wednesday of Hamas chief of staff Ahmed Jabari, who, according to the Israeli sources quoted by the report, had “lost his insurance policy” as soon as captured IDF soldier Gilad Shalit — whose kidnapping was masterminded by Jabari – was released from captivity last year.

Jabari had never carried a phone, the report said, and was exceedingly cautious. Last week, having evaded detection for a year, he was reportedly tracked down by a Shin Bet agent who managed to verify his location as he got out of one car and entered a silver Kia — one of 10 cars he used — to which an Israeli tracking device had previously been affixed.

Air Force chief Amir Eshel (Moshe Shai/Flash90)

According to the report, Israeli Air Force Commander Maj. Gen. Amir Eshel, watching live, huge-screen footage of the vehicle as it drove down Omar Mukhtar Street — Gaza City’s main thoroughfare — okayed the assassination of Jabari, by drone-fired missile, with the words “Kill the bastard.”

The Israeli Air Force has reportedly hit a training camp of the Popular Resistance Committees in Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip. According to a report by the Palestinian Ma’an news agency, there were no casualties in that strike. Meanwhile, several Hamas installations were targeted in Rafah and Gaza City.

Sirens warning of rocket fire are heard in the Sdot Negev and Sha’ar Hanegev regions. The alarms bring an end to a relatively quiet night that saw no rocket attacks on southern Israel since around midnight. The rockets land in unpopulated areas. No reports of injuries or damage.

Since the beginning of Operation Pillar of Defense, 490 rockets have hit Israel. Iron Dome intercepted an additional 270.

The IDF Spokesman’s Office says the air force conducted 70 airstrikes on terrorist targets overnight, a total of 1,000 since Wednesday afternoon.

Schools in southern Israel are once again closed today.

Former defense minister Amir Peretz tells Army Radio that Israel should give Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi a chance to initiate a ceasefire.

Amir Peretz in the Knesset, December 2011 (photo credit: Miriam Alster/FLASh90)

Peretz notes that in the past, when Hosni Mubarak was president, he was seen by Hamas as an impartial broker, favoring Israel. “The same cannot be said about Morsi,” says Peretz.

Peretz says Israel should consider accepting a long-term ceasefire, but not one that will last a month or two before Gaza terror groups resume fire.

IDF Spokesman Brig.-Gen. Yoav Mordechai tells Army Radio that as long as rockets continue to fall on Israel, there will be no change in plans for a ground incursion into Gaza.

Israeli soldiers participate in a training exercise  simulating fighting in Gaza, at a training base in the Negev on November 17 (photo credit: Edi Israel/Flash90)

Mordechai says that the reservists that were called up are streaming to the area and preparing for their planned missions.

Mordechai also talks about the air force’s activities overnight and the complexity of targeting terrorists who use mosques and hospitals as their bases of operation.

“It is a huge challenge and sometimes causes us to cancel strikes, but the air force knows how to carry out surgical strikes and will continue doing so successfully,” says Mordechai.

Channel 2 reports that the Canadian government has sent police to guard Jewish schools and synagogues in major cities, in response to anti-Israel demonstrations and fears of violence directed against Jewish institutions.

Reports coming in that a house in Ashkelon suffered a direct hit from a rocket launched from Gaza.

Channel 2 reports that it was two rockets that landed in a residential area in Ashkelon. One resident was injured from shrapnel and is being given medical attention.

Ashkelon strike update: Israel Radio reports that one of the rockets hit the roof of a four-story apartment building and one hit a parked automobile. Channel 2 reports that two people were lightly injured by flying debris and received medical attention, and five were treated for shock.

A police officer shoos away onlooker coming to view a vehicle that caught fire after suffering a hit by a rocket fired from Gaza, in Ashkelon, on Sunday, November 18 (photo credit: Yossi Zamir/Flash90)

Two more rockets were intercepted by the Iron Dome, and one landed in an open area in the Ashkelon Regional Council, causing no reported damage.

Channel 2 reports that some 3,200 Israeli school children from the south, where schools are closed, are being treated by the Jewish Agency to special activities out of rocket fire range. A Jewish Agency press release says multiple busloads of students are being taken to the Azrieli shopping center in Tel Aviv, the amusement park in Kibbutz Tzora or the Jerusalem Biblical Zoo for the day.

Illustrative photo of visitors at the Jerusalem Biblical Zoo (photo credit: Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Sirens again in Ashkelon, with reports of two more rockets fired at the coastal city.

German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle reiterates in an op-ed in Bild, Germany’s largest daily, on Sunday his unequivocal support for Israel’s military offensive against terrorists in Gaza, firmly placing the blame for the current violence on Hamas. He also called on Egypt to mediate a ceasefire.

German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle (photo credit: Yossi Zamir/Flash90)

“It is obvious that Israel has the right to confront the violence of Hamas rockets and to protect its people. Israel’s government is acting in order to protcect its citizens. The trigger of this spiral of violence are Hamas’s rockets,” Westerwelle writes.

“But what’s also obvious is that the situation is extremely dangerous. The entire region risks being drawn into an escalation. Everyone needs to be aware of their responsibility,” he adds.

Westerwelle calls on both sides to avoid civilian casualties and to start working toward achieving a ceasefire. “The most important criteria for that to happen is an end to the rocket fire from Gaza,” he writes.

Egypt has influence on Gaza’s Hamas rulers and therefore is playing a central role in mediation efforts, the German foreign minister adds. “President [Mohammed] Morsi has acted responsibly until now. We hope he uses his influence to stop the senseless rockets and create the possibility of a ceasefire.”

Palestinian sources are reporting that two children have been killed and 12 injured by an airstrike in northern Gaza. If correct, there have been 53 Palestinian casualties since Operation Pillar of Defense began last Wednesday.

On Channel 2, child psychologist Michal Daliyot recommends getting kids to laugh to relieve the stress of the wartime environment. She recommends old slapstick comedy videos like Charlie Chaplin or Laurel and Hardy.

Two rockets headed towards Ashdod were intercepted by Iron Dome a few minutes ago.

Iran has denied supplying long-rage Fajr-5 missiles to Hamas, according to a Reuters report from early Sunday, which cited sources from the Iranian media. According to the article, Iranian parliamentarian Alaeddin Boroujerdi, head of the national security committee, refuted Israeli claims that Iran has sent Fajrs to Gaza and asserted that Hamas is “self-sufficient” with regards to armaments.

Israel Radio reports that Hamas sources claim there has been progress towards reaching a ceasefire agreement. Hamas and Islamic Jihad representatives, currently in Cairo to discuss an Egyptian-mediated deal, say a truce may be declared before the end of the day.

Israel has denied reports it is participating in ceasefire talks, confirming only that there is diplomatic talk of de-escalating the conflict.

Channel 2′s veteran Arab affairs analyst Ehud Ya’ari describes what he thinks a ceasefire should look like inthis Foreign Affairs column.

As rockets fall on the south, two dairy farmers are being interviewed on Army Radio — one from Kibbutz Ein Harod and one from Kibbutz Yad Mordechai — northern and southern kibbutzim, respectively. It’s an extraordinary conversation — each of them recalling wars and mini-conflicts when they were unable to milk their cows, each stressing how they’ll get through any conflict.

Illustrative photo of a cow (photo credit: CC BY Hamed Saber, Flickr)

The dairy farmer from up north recalls how his friends from down south came up to help them out after the Second Lebanon War in 2006. His colleague down south says he hopes they’ll reciprocate when this round is over. “And you’ll bring some vodka down with you too,” suggests the program’s host Razi Barka’i.

Soon after the interview ends, a female voice interrupts broadcasts to announce a red alert for more imminent rocket falls. She reels off a long list of locations in the south where people must head to secure areas. And minutes after that, the radio reports that one rocket has fallen on a dairy barn. No immediate reports of injuries.

Israel National News reports that the IDF has released a video showing the IAF destruction of an arms cache located under the courtyard of a mosque in Gaza.

The Hebrew media is reporting that the Keren Shalom border crossing, linking southern Gaza with Israel, has been reopened to allow supplies of medicine and food into Gaza.

Reports surfacing that a Palestinian official says a truce could be reached today or tomorrow, with the help of the Turks and Egyptians. Ynet News quotes an AFP report, which says that there are “serious discussions” underway to call a cease-fire.

Air-raid sirens heard across cities in the center of Israel. Channel 2 reports that two rockets were successfully intercepted by Iron Dome over Tel Aviv. This is the fourth day in a row that Tel Aviv has been targeted by long-range missiles from Gaza.

Hamas claims responsibility for the missiles, believed by Israel to be Iranian supplied Fajr-5 rockets. The Israeli air force reportedly destroyed the rocket launcher that fired the missiles towards Tel Aviv.

Tel Aviv Mayor Ron Huldai praises Iron Dome.

More rockets: two rockets have landed in the Sha’ar Hanegev area, with reports of damage. Reports of another rocket landing in Ashkelon.

One person reported to be lightly injured in Ashkelon. There are also reports that the latest rocket to fall on the coastal city landed next to a school, and that the air-raid siren did not go off.

Channel 2 reports Iron Dome has intercepted 6 rockets headed towards Ashdod this morning.

Rocket fire towards the center of the country today, has so far spared Beersheva, which has heavily targeted in the first days of the recent escalation. Channel 2′s reporter in the southern city says “it’s been quiet for 17 hours,” but that things haven’t returned to normal.

An explosive expert holds the remains of a rocket after it landed in Beersheba, November 16, 2012 (photo credit: Dudu Greenspan/Flash90)

A car in Holon was set on fire by a chunk of rocket debris, presumably the result of a missile destroyed by Iron Dome. No one was injured.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaks at the weekly cabinet meeting in Jerusalem on November 11 (photo credit: Miriam Alster/Flash90)

A number of news sites are reporting that Netanyahu said in a cabinet meeting that Israel is prepared to “significantly expand” the Gaza offensive, presumably a reference to a ground operation.

The PMs office tweets that since the start of Operation Pillar of Defense the IDF has struck more than 1000 terrorist targets and have “significantly damaged weapons aimed at Israel.”


While residents of the south remain in or close to safe areas as the rockets rain down, there’s no doubt that the astonishing effectiveness of the Iron Dome anti-missile system has changed the equation. The relative lack of Israeli casualties is predictably working against Israel in much of the international media — “Why are there so few Israeli dead?” runs the unspoken context of some coverage — but we’d rather be alive with poor press than dead with good press. Moreover, the success of Iron Dome is giving the IDF greater room for maneuver — breathing space for the commanders — and more time.

To date, the five Iron Dome batteries — the fifth came into service on Saturday, and not a minute too soon as rockets headed toward Tel Aviv — are intercepting with a remarkable success rate of around 90 percent.

Cheap, it is not. Each interceptor rocket costs some 35,000 dollars. Each new battery costs almost 200 million dollars. Life-savingly effective, it most certainly is. Lately, accuracy has improved to the point where one interceptor is fired, rather than two until recently — exploding in the vicinity of the incoming fire. And technical improvements have also enabled swift decisions on whether an intercept is needed at all based on incoming fire trajectory.

The Times of Israel’s Mitch Ginsburg wrote presciently about the merits of Iron Dome back in March, highlighting former defense minister Amir Peretz’s central role in getting the project operational. Peretz has been the object of immense criticism for his unsuitability in the role as exposed during the 2006 Second Lebanon War. He is now the object of quite a lot of positive media attention, and public gratitude, for getting Iron Dome up and firing.

Amir Peretz (photo credit: Miriam Alster/Flash90)

As a resident of Sderot, “as someone who raised a family in the city, and as someone who came from the civilian world,” Peretz told Ginsburg in the March article, one of the first questions he grappled with upon taking office  as defense minister was the IDF’s inability to stop the short range rocket fire on southern Israel. “I was told in no uncertain terms that defensive systems were incompatible with the offensive spirit of the IDF,” he said.

“I said that threats to morale were strategic in nature,” Peretz recalled. “Sure, more people might die in a big car accident than in a wave of rocket attacks, but the effects (of death from rocket fire) reach every single house in Israel.”

Fortunately (to put it mildly), the Peretz view prevailed. Read Ginsburg’s piece on “the missile defense system that nobody wanted” here.

Meretz chairwoman Zehava Gal-On speaking in the Knesset last year (photo credit: Abir Sultan/Flash 90)

Meretz chief Zahava Gal-On calls on Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu not to let Israel be drawn into a ground operation in Gaza, as such an offensive would necessarily cause bloodshed and would do little to restore peace to the area.

“We won’t live on might alone, and right now what’s needed is a diplomatic effort and a ceasefire through the help of the Egyptians and the international communities,” she says during a meeting with students at Tel Aviv University. Netanyahu shouldn’t listen to his coalition members but should act judiciously and responsibly, she adds.

The left-wing Meretz party is the only Zionist faction in the Knesset that openly voiced criticism of Operation Pillar of Defense.

Prime Minister Netanyahu releases an official statement from the Sunday cabinet meeting. In it, the PM says that the “Gaza operation continues, and we are expanding it. I appreciate the rapid and impressive mobilizations of reservists from all over the country…regular and reserve soldiers are ready for any command.”

The PM says the IDF has caused “significant damage” to terrorist infrastructure from strikes on over 1,000 targets in Gaza. He says strikes will continue.

Benjamin Netanyahu (right) at a weekly cabinet meeting in Jerusalem (photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem/Flash90)

“Today I will continue to consult with world leaders,” the PM says. “I appreciate the understand they are showing for the right of Israel to defend itself. I have emphasized in these conversations the effort Israel does to avoid harming civilians, and how Hamas and other terrorist organizations make every effort to hit civilian targets in Israel.”

Netanyahu said he talked with US President Barack Obama at the end of last week and thanked him for his support for Israel’s right to defend itself, and for the American people’s contribution to the development of the Iron Dome missile defense system.

Four rockets impact in Sha’ar Hanegev regional council. One person moderately injured in the head by shrapnel.

IDF Spokesperson tweeted minutes ago that the IDF has targeted the launching site in Gaza where missiles were launched earlier towards Tel Aviv.

Words of wisdom on the contours of a possible ceasefire from Ehud Yaari, Channel 2′s Arab affairs commentator and Times of Israel editorial board member.

Ehud Yaari (photo credit: Courtesy)

Writing in Foreign Affairs, Yaari highlights Egypt’s potentially central role, and the US imperative to ensure Egypt plays that role. “Egypt knows well that ongoing support for Hamas’ shelling of Israeli civilians would jeopardize the billions of dollars in international aid that its bankrupt treasury depends on — 450 million dollars annually from the United States, 4.3 billion dollars annually from the IMF, and 6.3 billion dollars annually from the EU’s development bank. This explains why, despite Cairo’s venomous anti-Israeli rhetoric over the past several days, Egypt did not take any serious actions beyond recalling its newly accredited ambassador from Tel Aviv…

“Given Egypt’s adversity to conflict, Egypt and Israel should strive to reach an understanding about Gaza. In doing so, they would reaffirm the 1979 Egyptian-Israeli peace treaty for the post-Arab Spring era…

“First, Egypt should broker the Israel-Hamas cease-fire at the highest political levels… Egypt faces a choice: launching a high-level political dialogue with the Israel to obtain the cease-fire that it desires, or seeing the continuation of violence in Gaza. An Egyptian refusal to lead the political process should raise red flags in Washington.

“Second, since most of the weapons in Gaza were trafficked through Egyptian territory, Cairo should agree to help prevent the reconstruction of Hamas’ arsenal. For years now, Egypt has been turning a blind eye to smuggling in the Sinai Peninsula and tolerating the operation of 1200 tunnels that run underneath the Egypt-Gaza frontier…

“Any agreement should also address the growing lawlessness in Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula, where attacks against Israel and even sometimes against Egyptian security personnel have become regular occurrences…

“Egypt and Israel need to ensure that when the cease-fire takes hold in Gaza, terror operations do not simply pick up and move south to Sinai…

“A cease-fire agreement could also address the sensitive and important issue of border crossings. Egypt might get Israeli consent to open the Rafah terminal on its border with Gaza, not only for passenger traffic but also for trade. This could mean that Gaza would get its fuel and other commodities from Egypt, while Israel would continue to supply electricity. Egyptian ports could begin to handle the flow of goods in and out of Gaza…

“Given its leverage over Egypt, Washington has a role to play in bringing about such a comprehensive cease-fire — and in keeping it in place. The Obama administration should inform Morsi that, in return for the huge financial support Egypt gets from the United States, it must start ensuring stability in the region…”

A mass prayer rally “for the success of the military operation going on in southern Israel and for the safety of our soldiers and civilians” is scheduled to be held at the Western Wall, in the Old City of Jerusalem Sunday afternoon. Sephardi chief rabbi Shlomo Amar and Western Wall rabbi Shmuel Rabinowitz followed up on a suggestion of National Union MK Uri Ariel and agreed to initiate the mass prayer at Judaism’s holiest site.

Israel Radio is reporting that the person injured in the recent rocket strike on Ashkelon was a fireman. The man reportedly lost a lot of blood and was transferred to Barzilai Hospital in the City.

IDF Spokesperson tweets that Israel coordinated the transfer of 124 truckloads of goods into Gaza this morning, including supplies of food and medicine.

Finance Minister Yuval Steinitz tweets that the government will compensate workers who live within the 40 kilometer rocket range for lost wages. He also says Israel has blocked 44 million cyber-attacks since Operation Pillar of Defense began on Wednesday.

Palestinian Ma’an news agency is reporting that rescue crews have found the body of a 52-year-old woman in the rubble left behind by an Israeli airstrike on a police station in al-Tufah in the northern Gaza Strip.

More than a thousand students are rallying at the University of Haifa in support of Operation Pillar of Defense and residents of the south, Ynet News reports. University President Amos Shapira is among the demonstrators.

Reports that a rocket landed a few minutes ago next to a kindergarten in Ashkelon. School is not in session today, no injuries reported.

The IAF is clearly targeting key Hamas personnel, several of whom were killed on Saturday. Aircraft also bombed the Hamas command center in Gaza that housed the bureau of Hamas’s Gaza Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh.

Gaza's Hamas Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh, right, and Egyptian Prime Minister Hesham Kandil, left, wave to the crowd as they meet in Gaza City on Friday (photo credit: AP/Adel Hana)

Haniyeh’s spokesman now says the Hamas prime minister has gone underground “for security reasons.” Haniyeh got the message that he might be a target, says the spokesman, when the IAF struck at the command center where his office is situated. The spokesman also vows that Hamas “resistance” will continue until the occupation of Palestine is over.

Several Israeli politicians including Environment Minister Gilad Erdan said last week that they hoped IDF operations would extend to Hamas political figures.

One of the jokes going around local Facebook pages today is from the Mutar Litzhok (or Allowed to Laugh) site, which posted this deadpan photo sometime Saturday. Captioned “Kipat Barzel,” or Metal Yarmulke, it plays off the name of the Hebrew name for the Iron Dome missile defense system. #Israelihumor.

(photo credit: courtesy/Mutar Litzhok)

Our daily Hebrew media review, by Josh Davidovich, details some of the extraordinary war-related snippets in today’s newspapers:

“Yedioth Ahronoth reports that the missile that landed in the Gush Etzion settlement bloc south of Jerusalem on Friday was aimed at Foreign Minister Liberman’s house.

Israel's main newspapers. (photo credit: Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)

“The paper, which splits its front page between news of the massive call-up and news of a possible ceasefire, is full of interesting tidbits like that. A feature on reservists heading south features tales of a soldier whose wife is nine months pregnant (not so unique), a married couple who were both called up within minutes of each other (more unique) and a kibbutznik about to celebrate his 79th birthday who threw on his olive threads when he got the call and has now joined up with his unit (very unique). ‘Yishai is the torch of our unit,’ his commander told the paper. “He is full of energy like a young youth.” (Yes, he said young youth).

“In the ‘that’s more ridiculous than a rocket being fired at Tel Aviv department,’ the paper reports on two people who were traveling in Beersheba Friday night when a siren went out and they leapt out of their car to take cover. While this was going on, a group of four youths came along, saw a car with keys in it, and took off with it, leaving the man and his elderly mother-in-law stranded on the side of the road.”

Walla reports that around 400 Palestinians are protesting in the West Bank city of Tulkarm against Operation Pillar of Defense. They are reportedly throwing Molotov cocktails and stones are security forces, who are armed with tear gas and riot control gear.

Kim Kardashian is doubtless regretting dipping her doubtless well-manicured toes into the swirling waters of Israeli-Palestinian conflict. She tweeted prayers for Israelis, got slammed, tweeted prayers for Palestinians, got slammed some more, and has now retreated — or, rather, deleted.

Kim Kardashian supporting the troops at the Marine Corps Ball (Courtesy Kim Kardashian, Instagram)

The ubiquitous, bafflingly famous Ms. Kardashian may have almost 17 million Twitter followers (?!?!), but evidently has not quite achieved universal adulation yet. When she can get the whole Middle East applauding her sentiments, she really will have changed the world.

Three mortar shells fell in the Sha’ar Hanegev region moments ago. No reports of injuries or damage.

British Foreign Secretary William Hague (photo credit: Yossi Zamir/Flash 90)

UK Foreign Secretary William Hague tells Sky News that both he and Prime Minister David Cameron have stressed to their Israeli counterparts that a ground invasion of Gaza would lose Israel a lot of its international support and sympathy. He says it would be much more difficult to avoid civilian casualties during a ground invasion and that a large ground operation would threaten to prolong the conflict.

Reports coming in that some Israeli citizens have become blase about the incoming rockets, not running instantly to shelter when an air raid is sounded or even attempting to take video of Iron Dome in action. In some cases citizens have indirectly interfered with security personnel at sites of rocket impacts by acting as “sightseers.”

A Home Front Command spokesman was just on the radio admonishing citizenry in areas affected by the ongoing rocket fire to take the threat seriously and enter shelters as soon as possible when an alert is sounded.

A building in Sderot has suffered a direct hit by a rocket, no injuries reported.

Reports coming now that a house in Beersheba was hit by a rocket. First reports of an attack in Beersheba today. Channel 2 says three rockets landed in the city, with no injuries.

The Knesset has canceled a ceremony scheduled for Monday  marking the 35th anniversary of Egyptian President Anwar Saddat’s 1977 visit and address to the Israeli parliament, Maariv reports.

Knesset Director-General Dan Landau says it would be inappropriate to hold festive events under the current situation and adds he will find another occasion to mark the date. Landau says he has given instructions to instead host children from southern communities at the Knesset, where they can enjoy specially organized activities and tours.

Ma’an news reports that a Jordanian medical team is en route to Gaza via Egypt.

National Union of Israeli Students Chairman Itzik Shmuli shakes hands with Shelly Yacimovich as he joins the Labor Party, on October 17, 2012 (photo credit: Yossi Zeliger/Flash90)

Former social protest leader and National Student Union head, Itzik Shmuli, a strong contender for a spot on the Labor Party list for Knesset in the January elections, just received an emergency reserves call-up, a “Tsav-8,” and will not be participating in any further events in the lead up to the Labor Party primaries, set for November 27.

There is speculation that the current military operation may push back the national Knesset elections, currently set for January 22, 2013.

Jews across Australia rally to show their support for Israel by wearing red as a symbol of the “Color Red” missile alert that warns of incoming rockets from Gaza. Demonstrators gathering in Sydney, Melbourne, Perth and Canberra call for an end to the Hamas rocket attacks on Israel.

Melbourne's Jewish community demonstrating against Hamas rocket fire by wearing red, a hint at the Color Red missile alert warnings, November 18, 2012. (photo credit: Netta Even Tzur)

The Jewish Agency says it will give financial assistance to those injured in rocket attacks or whose homes were damaged by direct hits. Each family will receive 1,000 dollars as part of a benefit drive funded by the Jewish Federation of North America.

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