Operation Pillar of Defense
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|Martin Barillas||November 17th 2012|
Cutting Edge Senior Correspondent
The Israeli military has shut down the main roads around the Gaza Strip, a sign that it is poised to launch a ground offensive on the Palestinian enclave that could explode into an all-out war. Israeli airstrikes on the Gaza Strip early Saturday, November17, destroyed the Hamas Cabinet headquarters. Hamas leader Ismael Haniyeh was not in the building at the time of the strike. Also on November 17, Israel's missile defense system destroyed a Hamas missile over the skies of Tel Aviv.
The strikes followed an exchange of rocket fire on the previous day between Israel and Palestinian Hamas terrorists in Gaza with one Palestinian rocket landing in a field outside Jerusalem. Hamas claimed responsibility for the unprecedented attack on the holy city. Hamas' rockets also struck in the vicinity of Tel Aviv. Israel responded by calling up thousands more military reserves for a potential force of 75,000 reservists. Overnight on November 16-17, Israel stepped up its airstrikes and destroyed at least 120 missile batteries and 20 tunnels. This brought the total number of targets to 830.
Palestinian officials say 38 people have died in Gaza since the Israelis began the airstrikes earlier in the week. Three Israelis are reported to have been killed by Hamas rockets. Among the wounded is an Israeli infant.
Tunisia's foreign minister visited the Gaza Strip on November 17. Rafik Abdesslem was the second high-profile visitor to Gaza since the latest wave of violence. Egyptian Prime Minister Hesham Kandil visited on November 16, while Israel honored a temporary ceasefire while he was conferring with Hamas leadership in Gaza. Hamas took the opportunity to launch rockets into Israel during the presidential visit.
Kandil said Egypt “will make sacrifices and every effort to achieve a truce.” In Cairo, Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi called the Israeli assault a “blatant aggression against humanity.”
President Barack Obama telephoned the Egyptian president on November 16 to discuss the situation. The president also spoke with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. The Israeli leader, who has had a prickly relationship with Obama, thanked the U.S. for helping Israel develop the Iron Dome missile defense system that he says has knocked out hundreds of rockets, saving Israeli lives. According to the Israeli defense ministry, Hamas has fired more than 700 missiles into Israel since the conflict began. However, only about 30 of the missiles struck populated areas. Israel says that the Iron Dome system has destroyed approximately 90 percent of the missiles hurled at Israel. A fifth Iron Dome system was put into place on November 17 in the central Gush Dan region of Israel, having been taken from testing and put online in the battlefield.
It was on November 14 that an Israeli missile killed the top military commander of Hamas in Gaza. Israel says the killing was in direct response to the almost daily rocket attacks on Israel from Gaza. Hamas vowed revenge and warned that Israel had opened up what it calls “the gates of hell.” Israeli Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Benny Gantz has instructed the military to intensify its strikes on terrorist cells and missile sites in Gaza. Opponents of Prime Minister Netanyahu in the Israeli parliament are demanding to know what his government has in mind for an exit strategy.
Cutting Edge Senior Correspondent Martin Barillas is also the editor of Speroforum.