Sunday 21 August 2011

The Scourge of Terrorism in Southern Israel

During the course of last Thursday when a series of terror attacks were taking place in the south of Israel, the country was following the news on a minute-by-minute basis hungry for updates of the latest situation. This brought back reminders of a few years ago when buses, restaurants and coffee shops were being targeted by terrorists intent on killing innocent Israelis. Thursday's events served as a reminder that, despite a number of years having passed since the last Intifada, those intent on destroying Israel and her people will never rest.

Now that Thursday's sequence of events are better known, it is clear that this was a well coordinated onslaught on the State of Israel and her citizens. According to the press reports, a cell of about 20 operatives from the Popular Resistance Committees (PRC) tunnelled their way from Gaza into the Sinai Peninsula. From there, they crossed the border fence from Egypt into Israel and set up a series of ambushes near to the border fence. In the first attack, light arms were used to fire on a bus travelling towards Eilat from Beer Sheva. A number of soldiers travelling on the bus were injured in this attack, and only the presence of mind of the bus driver saved further loss of life. Despite his bus coming under sustained fire, and bullets passing narrowly over his own head during the attack, he did not stop until he saw Israeli security vehicles that had been dispatched in response to the attack. A short time after this, another bus was fired upon. Although this bus was empty, the bus driver was shot and killed in the attack. When the security services gathered at the sites of the attacks, an ambush was launched on the soldiers and police who were gathered there. The skirmish that followed resulted in the death of an Israeli soldier.

The attack that resulted in the greatest loss of life on Thursday, was made on a civilian vehicle that was travelling towards Eilat. An anti-tank missile was fired at this car, and instantly killed the four middle-aged occupants who were innocently travelling from central Israel for a holiday in Eilat. Another car was also hit by a rocket-propelled grenade as part of the series of attacks, resulting in a further death. An attack on an Israeli security patrol along the Egyptian border later in the day saw a further security officer killed in the crossfire. In all during the course of Thursday, 8 Israelis were killed and many more injured. Some of the terrorists were also killed in the response to these incidents, but most of the cell escaped back towards Sinai. Egyptian soldiers found themselves in the middle of the crossfire between IDF soldiers and the terrorists. It is reported that 3 Egyptian soldiers were killed, seemingly by IDF fire.

Israel had received intelligence of an imminent attack in the area where the attacks took place. The nature of the attack was not clear, but the warnings were sufficiently serious for the Israeli military to decide to deploy a unit of crack Golani soldiers in the area. In addition to the Golani soldiers, the security services had also deployed a unit of Israel's highly specialised anti-terrorism police (known by its Hebrew acronym Yamam) in the area of the attacks. The special units were expecting an infiltration from across the border in order to try to kidnap another IDF soldier. They were not expecting the chain of attacks that actually took place. Their presence in the area and their quick responses to the locations of the attacks, however, almost certainly prevented greater casualties.

Responsibility for this series of attacks falls to Islamic Jihad and the PRC based in Gaza. While Hamas has been cautious not to get directly involved, the fact that these attacks come from Gaza while Hamas is ruling the strip means that Hamas has at least some indirect responsibility. There are those who claim that Hamas had the power to stop these events from taking place. So, although the attacks were not from Hamas, the rulers in Gaza are responsible for not stopping them. Israel's response to the attacks was swift and pin-pointed. The first strike eliminated the PRC operatives who were responsible for planning the attacks and giving the authorisation to proceed. Further Israeli air force strikes hit smuggling tunnels in Gaza as well as other terror locations.

The IDF strikes, in turn, precipitated further rocket attacks from Gaza. Up to the time of posting this blog on Sunday evening, more than 100 missiles have rained down on Southern Israel from Gaza since Thursday. The two"Iron Dome" batteries that have been deployed around major cities in the south have successfully shot down a number of missiles. Despite this fact, 1 person has been killed and many others injured in the barrage that has fallen in the south. Schools, homes and other buildings have been destroyed and damaged. The IDF has intensified its reaction to the bombing, which simply continues the tit-for-tat exchanges which endanger human lives every day. This could also result in an all-out war, something which has happened in the past. At the time of writing this, the Egyptians have offered to mediate a truce between Israel and all Palestinian factions involved. Although a ceasefire was understood to have come into force at 9pm Israeli time this evening, two missiles were fired after this time. One was intercepted by an Iron Dome missile, and another fell in open area. It seems as though no ceasefire is being adhered to.

The irony about these terror attacks is that, only hours earlier on Thursday morning, Israel was negotiating with Hamas for the release of captured Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit. These negotiations, also brokered by the Egyptians, ended without result. It is hardly surprising that this was the result, when Hamas is allowing terror attacks to be launched from within its territory against Israel. Hamas seems to have no intention of coming to any agreement with Israel. Continuing to negotiate over the release of Gilad Shalit is simply speaking with "forked tongue" in its truest sense. Having evacuated Gaza and turned it over entirely to the rule of the Palestinians, what is it that Hamas really wants of Israel? Perhaps these actions represent Hamas acting true to its genuine beliefs that it will not rest until the Jews have no homeland in the world.

What is more frightening is that the world is looking towards Israel ahead of a possible UN vote on Palestinian statehood less than a month from now. Surely, the world can never expect Israel to co-exist alongside those who behave in this way. To make it quite clear, the excuses that Hamas and other Palestinian factions give for this behaviour are simply excuses. The violence will not miraculously stop if and when the blockage on Gaza is lifted, or when a Palestinian state is created. Rather than stop the violence, these events are more likely to escalate the violence, with the Palestinians having greater forces and weapons at their disposal.

At this critical juncture when Israel has shown willingness to release hundreds of Palestinian prisoners in exchange for one capture IDF hero, or when debates are taking place regarding Palestinian statehood, the Palestinians have unfortunately (or perhaps fortunately for Israel) shown their true colours once again. I was one of the people who wanted to give them a chance to allow them to prove that they are prepared to live in peace alongside a Jewish country. I have, however, given up all hope of this. It will not happen in my lifetime, despite the best efforts by many in the Israeli peace camp. Once, about 15 years ago, the majority of Israelis would have voted in favour of a peace treaty. Now, it seems to me that a small number would give peace a chance under the current circumstances.

Even as the Palestinian leadership tries to convince the world that its intentions of having a Palestinian state are honourable and trustworthy, the Palestinian street has shown the true intentions of these efforts. They cannot, and should not be trusted. There can be no Palestinian state and there can be no peace treaty unless something fundamental changes in the Palestinian camp. In the meantime, Israel has no choice but to fight fire with fire.

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