From staff and wire reports
Gil Elan has a gut feeling that the current exchange of rocket fire between Israel and the Gaza Strip may be a prelude to an attack on Iran in a few months.
“I’ve got a feeling,” said Elan, president/CEO of the Southwest Jewish Congress and a former Israeli Defense Forces member. Last week’s deployment of 75,000 IDF troops, he said, “May be more than is needed.”
Many of those troops, Elan said, are training in the north of Israel, while the rockets from Gaza are hitting primarily the south of Israel, though Tel Aviv and Jerusalem have been the targets of some attacks since Operation Pillar of Defense began Wednesday, Nov. 14. Those rockets either fell in empty spaces or were intercepted by Iron Dome batteries, according to Israeli news sources.
By Monday, Nov. 19, the conflict had claimed three Israeli fatalities — from a missile strike on an apartment building in the town of Kiryat Malachi — and dozens of injuries. In Gaza, about 100 Palestinians were reported dead and more than 600 injured.
“Iran had said that they would attack from Gaza and Lebanon,” Elan said. “They would also try to block shipping from the Straits of Hormuz.”
Israel will not begin a ground attack in Gaza until the aerial mission is complete, Elan said, and he believes that will take the rest of this week.
Cease-fire talks may not be too successful, Elan said. Israel wants Hamas and the Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ) to stop firing missiles, while those in the Gaza want Israel to stop targeted assassinations.
“That’ll never happen,” Elan said.
Among Elan’s other points:
• The assassination of Hamas military leader Ahmed Jabri was “equivalent to the United States killing Osama bin Laden,” he said. His successor, Marwan Abed al-Khareem Issa, was killed Sunday.
• The fact that Israeli action began last week, even though Hamas and the PIJ had been firing at Israel for months, may have been the result of a deal between Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and President Barack Obama. Israel would hold off on attacking until after the U.S. presidential election, and Obama would support an attack on Iran, “which we all know will happen in February or March,” Elan said.
Meanwhile, the Jewish Community Relations Council of the Jewish Federation of Greater Dallas issued a set of talking points that included:
“The purpose of this surgical operation was to severely impair the command and control chain of the Hamas leadership, as well as its terrorist infrastructure. Any attempt to see moral equivalence in the actions of the two sides must be rejected. Hamas has directly targeted Israeli citizens while Israel has gone to great lengths to try to avoid civilian causalities in Gaza.”
Chabad of Dallas had a special prayer service last Thursday night, and numerous local synagogues and Jewish organizations have said special prayers for those in harm’s way and the safety of Israel.
Last week wasn’t the start of this round of tensions, Elan said. It began when Israel attacked a transit site in Khartoum, Sudan, in late October. That site is a way station for Iranian rockets, which are sent by container to Gaza, he added.
Meanwhile, in the latest news available at the TJP’s early holiday-week press time Monday, as Hamas’ leader in exile, Khaled Mashal, brushed off a halt to bombings, Israeli airstrikes hit a Gaza media center and killed several leaders of Islamic Jihad.
The Israel Air Force’s strike — the second on the center in two days — killed Ramaz Harab, a top leader of Islamic Jihad’s military wing, the Al Quds Brigades. At least three other Islamic Jihad leaders were in the building when it was hit, according to the IDF.
Hamas’ main television station, Al Aksa, is located on the top floor of the high-rise building.
In Cairo, meanwhile, Mashal said during an hourlong news conference Monday, “Whoever started the war must end it.”
He told reporters that Netanyahu requested a cease-fire, a claim that Israel has denied, according to reports.
Mashal said there is a new spirit of cooperation among Palestinian factions due to the Israeli operation, which began on Nov. 14.
“Israel is the common enemy. Confrontation with the enemy is our moment of truth,” he said. “We must end the political divide and unite around common institutions and around resistance to Israel. Our enemy cannot be treated with words, but only by force. No concessions should be made with Israel, given the new atmosphere in the Arab world.”
Also Monday, a rocket from Gaza directly hit an empty school building in Ashkelon, Israel Hayom reported. Classes in Israel’s south have been canceled since the start of Operation Pillar of Defense Nov. 14.
More than 120 rockets were fired from Gaza into Israel Sunday. On Monday, the Iron Dome missile defense system intercepted three of four rockets fired at Ashkelon.
Israel Defense Forces Spokesperson Brig. Gen. Yoav (Poli) Mordechai said the IDF attacked 40 arms smuggling tunnels between the Gaza Strip and the Sinai Peninsula.
Meanwhile, hackers attempted to launch more than 1 million cyberattacks against Israeli government websites over a 24-hour period from Sunday to Monday, with more than 1,000 sites being hacked, Israel Hayom reported.
The most prominent attacks were against military industry websites, during which hackers apparently tried extracting information about the Iron Dome missile defense system, as well as other military systems.
The Israeli government’s teleprocessing unit, which operated on emergency alert status, also reported an unprecedented number of cyberattacks. Finance Minister Yuval Steinitz visited the unit’s control center, where he was told that since the onset of Operation Pillar of Defense, more than 44 million attempts to disrupt government websites were detected.
Steinitz said just one hacking attempt was successful on a site he did not want to name, but it was up and running after 10 minutes of downtime. While the attacks have come from around the world, most have been from Israel and the Palestinian territories.
The United States has voiced strong support for Israel. Obama said that Israel has every right to defend itself, though he urged caution before beginning any ground activity. The Jewish Federations of North America — and by extension, the Jewish Federation of Greater Dallas and the Jewish Federation of Fort Worth and Tarrant County — has committed $5 million toward support of Israeli citizens affected by the attacks and has gathered an emergency delegation to travel to southern Israel.
At press time, no local people are part of the delegation.
Tensions are not limited to southern Israel, as the nation remains subject to the Syrian civil war’s continued spillover into the north.
The IDF said Israel responded to gunfire aimed at its troops in the Golan Heights by firing into Syria Sunday. Syrian soldiers may have been killed in the incident.
“There was small-arms fire [at Israeli forces], there was a response, and from what I hear over Arab media, it appears Syrian soldiers were killed,” IDF Spokesman Brig.-Gen. Yoav Mordechai told Army Radio.
Mordechai said Israel is trying its best not to be dragged further into the Syrian civil war.
TJP managing editor Dave Sorter, the Jewish Telegraphic Agency and JNS.org contributed to this report.