Has Israel’s Assault on Gaza Made Tel Aviv Vulnerable?

Israel claims to have destroyed the missiles of Hamas they feared most--or at least the ones they know of. But the assault on the Palestinian coastal enclave may go on for weeks.

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MARCO LONGARI / AFP / Getty Images

A Palestinian man calls for help as he and others try to save a man trapped under his car just after an Israeli air raid on the area of Twaam in the northern Gaza town of Beit Lahia on Nov.15, 2012.

It’s hard to get much speed on Gaza City’s cramped streets, so the sedan carrying Ahmed Jabari was easy to track from overhead as it slid past a minivan and edged into the intersection where the Israeli missile reached it at a few minutes after 4 o’clock Wednesday afternoon.  The fireball singed the trees on either side of Omar al-Mukthar Street,  killed the head of Hamas’ military wing and announced an Israeli military campaign that in terms of tactics began as a thumping success.

First there was a feint.  In the hours before waves of warplanes and drones began firing into the Gaza Strip , Israel’s civilian  and military leaders had pretended great interest in a border 200 miles to the north. The Golan Heights was where errant Syrian shells had landed earlier in the week, prompting the first exchange of fire since 1973. In Gaza, the Jewish state was assumed to be observing the latest cease-fire brokered to end the latest round of missile launches toward Israel’s southern communities, and Israeli answering with fire into Gaza. Though the tempo had quickened in recent weeks, the call and response was a rhythm both sides had grown accustomed to over the five years Hamas has ruled the coastal enclave. As the shadows lengthened on Wednesday afternoon, there was surely  tension in Gaza – the buzz of Israeli drones makes tension an audible thing. But the shocked first reactions of Hamas leaders to the Jabari hit told Israeli eavesdroppers that the surprise in Gaza was profound.

What followed was certainly stunning:  a lightning flurry of 20 more Israeli airstrikes, each targeting launch tunnels and storage depots for Fajr-5 missiles. An Israeli military official tells TIME that the strikes destroyed seven of the Iranian-made missiles – the entire known inventory the Israelis knew to be inside Gaza.  The Fajr-5 has been Hamas’ most prized and closely guarded weapon, the only rocket capable of reaching Tel Aviv, and thus altering the agreed-upon terms of the conflict. In a matter of minutes, the Israelis may have removed – or greatly reduced – the opportunity for Gaza militants to expand the frame of the existing  war, or, more significantly, a future one:  The medium-range missiles could also have been launched in retaliation for any possible future Israeli attack on nuclear facilities in Iran, which provided the Fajrs in the first place.

(PHOTOS: A New Gaza War: Israel and Palestinian Militants Trade Fire)

However, there clearly were more than seven: a Fajr landed in a suburb of Tel Aviv late Thursday afternoon, and shortly after dark the reverberations of a large explosion drove people indoors at Jaffa’s ancient port, located well inside Tel Aviv city limits. An addled-looking man on the bicycle path below Kedem Street told TIME the rocket landed in the sea directly in front of where he was casting, standing in ankle-deep water atop the shoals immediately north of a public beach near the Peres Center for Peace, at the city’s southern border. He dropped his pole and complained he was unable to find it in the dark. The last time Tel Aviv has been hit by such an attack was in 1991, by an Iraqi Scud rocket launched by the regime of Saddam Hussein.

The wail of sirens shook Tel Avivans and was was almost certain to sharpen the Israeli assault.  Israeli defense minister Ehud Barak vowed “the other side will pay a heavy price for this escalation.” The Israel Defense Forces were preparing to mass ground forces that officials say they hope will not be used. But air and tank strikes — which exceeded 200 after 24 hours, according to the Israeli military —  will continue to target military storage sites, revisit previous targets, and continue pursuing prominent militants in what a campaign a senior Israeli officer describes as “attrition.”  “It won’t be a few days,” the officer tells TIME. “It might even be two or three weeks.  This won’t end quickly.”

For Israel, the assault on Gaza has multiple aims.  The most immediate is to intimidate the Islamist militants who operate out of the coastal enclave.  Hamas, which has governed the 1.6 million Palestinians there since 2007, is an Arabic acronym for Islamic Resistance Movement.  The message from Israel is: “Resistance is futile.”  The defense doctrine of the Jewish state boils the phrase down to a single word, “deterrence,” and its restoration was the essential point of Operation Pillar of Defense, as the Israeli military dubbed the campaign in English.

It’s a delicate business, however.  Israeli officials make clear they do not want to destroy Hamas, which though categorized as a terrorist organization is nonetheless the most moderate group currently operating in Gaza.  It has launched missiles only rarely since the last offensive Israel launched, in December 2008, in which 1,400 Palestinians were killed, at least half of them civilians.  Since then, most rockets are fired by other militant groups, such as the Iranian-backed Islamic Jihad, and an assortment of Salafist groups like the Army of Islam.

(MORE: Facing Hamas, Israel Rolls the Dice: Will There Be Another Gaza War?)

Hamas actually worked hard to prevent the launches – most of the time.  Occasionally it looked the other way, and on rare occasions even joined in the firing, mostly to demonstrate it hadn’t gone pacifist.  Since surprising even itself by winning parliamentary elections in Gaza and the West Bank in 2006, notes Benedetta Berti, a researcher at the Institute for National Security Studies in Tel Aviv, “Hamas has always had the same dilemma, and they’ve always dealt with it the same way: In order to stay in power, they need to deal with Israel, they need stability, so they have to make sure things are almost quiet. But if it’s entirely quiet, they lose credibility and people defect from the Iz ad-Din al-Qassam Brigades,” the military wing of Hamas.

“Up until yesterday we had pretty clear rules of the game,” says Berti, who recently co-authored a book on Hamas and Hizballah.  “Hamas through the Iz ad-Din al-Qassam Brigades basically was policing the border for Israel 90% of the time. Then every few months we had these short-lived escalations ended by a cease-fire, then we had a few months of relative calm.”    In recent months, however, the escalations became more frequent, and the calm more relative.  The increase in attacks reflected a change in policy within the organization.  The number of rockets launched into Israel — where a million civilians were vulnerable, running to shelters when sirens sounded —  increased after Hamas’ longtime political chief, Khaled Meshaal, failed to persuade a majority of the leadership to set aside violence and join forces with Mahmoud Abbas, the leader of the secular Fatah movement and head of the Palestinian Authority, which governs the West Bank, the other Palestinian territory.  Abbas, also known as Abu Mazen, argues for ending the 45-year Israeli occupation through nonviolent means, including a current effort to win recognition as a state from the United Nations General Assembly on Nov. 29.

Hamas covets legitimacy as well  but appears trapped in its own militancy.  Israel’s new offensive is clearly intended to demonstrate the wiser course is to mature into a wholly political entity. But as Berti observes, that’s no easy task. “The question is if you can really get the organization to decide who they are with military force,” she says. “It could backfire.”

The dangers grow the longer the Israeli offensive goes on.  On Thursday, three Israelis were killed when a Gaza rocket exploded on the apartment balcony where they stood.  Another of some 250 missiles fired out Gaza since Wednesday wounded three Israeli soldiers. (Israeli casualties are greatly reduced by the Iron Dome missile interception system, which knocked down 100 missiles in the first day.)  Inside the Strip, the Palestinian death toll stood at 15, including the three people in Jabari’s car.  The total will surely rise if Israeli forces move on to targets closer to civilians. Gaza is among the most densely populated places on the globe, and on Thursday Israeli planes were dropping leaflets warning Gazans to steer clear of militants and locations associated with them.

The militants themselves were lying low.  Israeli intelligence, which has many informants across Gaza, noted that Hamas’ leaders stayed away from Jabari’s funeral on Thursday, a telling level of wariness for a command that had been caught unawares repeatedly in the previous 24 hours.  “They didn’t know they’d reached the stage where they forced us to strike,” an Israeli military official tells TIME. “They were also surprised by how exposed they were – both Jabari, and the Fajrs.”

With reporting by Aaron J. Klein/Jerusalem

MORE: Mahmoud Abbas: Palestine’s Stateless Statesman

108 comments
SrinathSrivatsa
SrinathSrivatsa

"Resistance" is not by Hamas/Hezbullah against ISRAEL but is the other way - 

Remember ISRAEL gave the entire SINAI-PENINSULA to Egypt;

Pulled out of South Lebanon there-by paving way for the Hezbullah To Take Control From The South Lebanese Army;

ISRAEL gave THE GAZA STRIP to the palestines.

What more can the Arabs expect from ISRAEL wen their motive is to destroy it.

MohammadRafiqKhawaja
MohammadRafiqKhawaja

Childrens of Ghaza never had peaceeep i agree with you because they are living under occupation but children of Israel do not live under occupation and they do not have same experience as palstenian till now and they know now what is it like to live under fear.

MohammadRafiqKhawaja
MohammadRafiqKhawaja

In reply to my comment some one said Israel will continue to become stonger and nothing has hold back israelis in last 40 years.

All true but have children of Israel had peacefull good night sleep since then ask them.

adnan7631
adnan7631

Excuse me, did you say 3 Israelis were killed? Did you also say that 15 Palestinians were killed? That is a casualty rate of 5x. How does that make sense? How is that fair? Is one Palestinian now worth the life of 5 Israelis? 

Martian_14
Martian_14

Who needs muslins?

If they are not killing themselves, they want to destroy Israel and the Western civilization....

muslims are the most backward, violent,  blood thirsty lunatics in the face of the planet. The world would be way better without those fanatic fundamentalists.

LuizSeraphim
LuizSeraphim

Netaniahu tried a risky political gambito. I guess it will not work.

LuizSeraphim
LuizSeraphim

The message from Israel is: “Resistance is futile.”

I guess the palestinians aren't getting that mesage.

JohnDahodi
JohnDahodi

If people of California and Texas will call thousands of armed Latinos from Latin America, just to take back their previously owned territories, what America will DO? Just smile and handover the States or eliminate the armed thugs using all means?

JC
JC

That's true -- I absolutely wouldn't tolerate living under fear of such barrages, and if I were an Israeli, I would want strikes against those launching the rockets. On the flip side, I also wouldn't tolerate being locked up in a surrounded city in Gaza or living under military occupation in the West Bank while my land is being continuously settled. The fact is that both populations - Israelis and Palestinians - are suffering because of the choices of their governments. The Palestinian leadership, especially Hamas, should just cut its losses, accept they've lost most of their land and they're not getting it back, and try for peace. The longer they keep this conflict going the more land they are going to lose. On the other side, Israel needs to halt settling activities if it wants peace. Although they're continually gaining land by keeping the current situation going, they're destroying their relations in the region, especially with Turkey. It will not be worth it in the long run.I fear the most damaging part of this war is that the recent comments by Abbas where he signaled his acceptance that there wouldn't be a 'right of return' for Palestinians - formerly a huge impediment to a final peace deal - will be totally forgotten. He came under enough fire from the more radical people after making those statements, and now those who are criticizing him will be more emboldened because of the conflict. Additionally, like the article states, the recent push by some moderate Hamas leaders to unite with Fatah and follow a path of nonviolent resistance did not succeed and will also be significantly set back. Finally, Netanyahu will gain more support from the right-wing Israeli coalition he needs for elections and governing so will see this war as a net-gain politically. I don't see much hope for peace anytime soon.

sacki
sacki

Vick's background at the Washington Post, one of the most violently anti-Israel papers in the Western world clearly shows. His article is full of half-truths, personal opinions and nonsense. What will he write if the next missile hits the Al Aksah Mosque? He will blame Israel, as he always does. Vick, you should go back to the Post, theer you are welcome. Not in Israel!

MohammadRafiqKhawaja
MohammadRafiqKhawaja

There will be peace once Tal Aviv becomes like Ghaza and Israily feel like Palstenians when they are attacked by Israilis.

kanoman
kanoman

This story is biased, Israel is only atacking because of the Israelian elections. 

i.e.rutner
i.e.rutner

regretfully, most of the world today is blind! manipolated by money comes from oil from arabs and by it letting to extremist   make  those brutal attack on israel to anormal thing . people in europe indeed whom support in the palastines don't understnad one thing - today its israel which absorb most of the radicals attack- tommorow its europe , if usa and uk were been boombarded by terorist they would have kill them as fast as they were launching targets. but as allways its easy to blam israel and jews in the worlds problemes. read it very clear !!- islamics radicals are like cancer which slowly expends in the hart of europe , and turning it to its new home as part of the fandomental islamistics ideas of the new- DAR EL ISLAM- new home for muslim in europe by occupation -which they are being doing for more than  a decade!  and anther thing - if you havent understand it earlier - as a jew -  we had been allways a will of extinction by many people  , we are still today and perhaps maybe ever , but one true thing we allways survive by the helpe of the lord and by the fact that all israel is united!! even the christian world knows it for sure that its necessary that israel will be strong and a live! there is a famous quoting from 2 ww - " when they came to take the jews i silent  when they took the gepsey i didn't speak , when they took the clergy i ignored , but when they took me there were no one to stasnd out for me..." wake up befor its get late!!

BillPearlman
BillPearlman

I know that Julius Streicher was hung at Nuremberg and isn't available anymore but is Karl Vick really the best that Time can come up with

TedLeavensworth
TedLeavensworth

PAY ATTENTION :  when Iran and Syria get in trouible they demand  action for money they pay to Hamas. Hamas and their smaller helpers eke out a living by staging a perpetual fight for "Palestinian cause". No one knows for sure what is "Palestinian casuse"  It may sound something like " free palestianian lands" - what exactly it means no arab knows . Who will clear "those lands" and how is always a mystery. No arab is willing to die for it - only a handfull of scared kids drugged into unconsiosness by olders who are on payroll from Iran and Syria. So when all meaningfull and profitable  work in Gaza is lobbing rockets into Israel = we have what we have = degenerate population stupid enough to belive in Hamas / Iran / egypt .......slogans which lead the  crowd straight to doom      

BillPearlman
BillPearlman

This wouldn't have happened if Romney had got in. Obama gets a second term. Hamas knows that they will have backing from Washington and Cairo now. And they make their move. Israel needs to strike hard and above all fast before Obama and his sidekick Hillary drop the net and save their friends.

KTPi
KTPi

No mention of the death of the islamic military leader, no mention of the confirmed deaths of children in Gaza as a result of Israeli bombings. This is such biased reporting. Who at Time is in Gaza providing even-handed information to the people of the USA?

valmach
valmach

“If I were an Arab leader, I would never sign an agreement with Israel. It is normal; we have taken their country. It is true God promised it to us, but how could that interest them? Our God is not theirs. There has been Anti - Semitism, the Nazis, Hitler, Auschwitz, but was that their fault ? They see but one thing: we have come and we have stolen their country. Why would they accept that?”. Ben Gurion  Terrorist, Zionist, Racist, Israeli Prime Minister. 

em4rtz
em4rtz

"crop dust the entire middle east with marijuana... calm that area down"

poliphobic
poliphobic

Assault on Gaza: How Long Will War Last?

Think that rather depends on you, America - Israel is your protégé . 

i.e.rutner
i.e.rutner

@MohammadRafiqKhawaja  no because of hammas and . and this the cause for the fact that the gazan children wont have a pleasent night as well - eye under eye!

yangmas192
yangmas192

@Martian_14 wipe put of natives, WW 1? WW 2 ?, nuclear bombs in Hiroshima, Nagasaki?, slave trading, Civil war?, 

adnan7631
adnan7631

@Martian_14 

We are also your doctors, your engineers, and your lawyers. 

(Of my soap box)

adnan7631
adnan7631

@LuizSeraphim 

The Palestinians are trying to explain that Resistance is all they've got. 

Furthermore, WHY ARE THE PALESTINIANS RESISTING?

Then come the come big questions:

Should they resist?

What should they do if the choose not to resist?

Which side is really in the wrong? 

Belisarius86
Belisarius86

@JohnDahodi 

Obviously, we would eliminate the armed thugs. The important difference between these two situations is Power. Israel has it, the Palestinians don't. The US has it, the hypothetical armed thugs don't.

I can't blame the Palestinians for their reaction. The UN truly wronged them by "giving" the Jews land already populated by different people. But Israel has the upper hand militarily, and will for the foreseeable future. The Palestinians will either keep fighting and keep losing land to settlers a little at a time, or they can admit defeat and get what they can.

It is unjust and terrible for the Palestinians, but this is still the way the world works.

sacki
sacki

@JC Isarel halted settlement activity because Abbas said he would come to the negotiating table if Isarel would do so. Isarel announce a 10 months freeze. And did Abbas come to the table?? Did he? He came after 9 of the 10 months had passed, knowing full weel that no deal could be struck within a month. All he wanted was a longer freeze, without anything in return. so THE SETTLEMENTS ARE NOT AN OBSTACLE TO A SOLUTION, THE ARABS ARE!!

Belisarius86
Belisarius86

@MohammadRafiqKhawaja 

Then there will be no peace. And Israel will continue to become a better and stronger nation. Has the continued animosity of the Arabs done anything to significantly hold Israel back for the past 40 years?

i.e.rutner
i.e.rutner

one more - how can u explain that while israel in most of the case target miltery site- which have been chosen by hammas and by the agreement of the people of gaza near to people's homes and pray house, and hammas target israeli homes  .. believe me that if we want to target gaza's homes gaza would have been eraesed from the map , but we are not doing it as being peacefull people not as hammas .

i.e.rutner
i.e.rutner

@MohammadRafiqKhawaja you are mistaken ! hammas started this time! its very easy to say things with out making sure that they are true - and its indeen israel sull right to defance its people as any ather state...

sacki
sacki

@kanoman no, of course Israel is not attacking because of 12000 missiles in 12 years. What country in the world would do such a thing? Unbelievable, how dare those Isarelis, all of this because of 12000 missiles?

i.e.rutner
i.e.rutner

@kanoman rubbish we attack because we have been launched for more than 500 rocketes a week! i invite you to shouth israel to watch to alarm and to try to get a shelter in less than 15 secondes - and this is in residantal areas!

fp581
fp581

@KTPi no child died in that attack and it was way more then 30 rockets lunched to Israel

the Hamas news is worth nothing, its 99% lies. most of the time they fake pictures or  using old ones that have no connection to any attack from Israel or any other country. they are killing there own people and blaming us for everything. 

plz tell me how can the same baby die 10 times in 30 year? or how can a wounded man walk out of the ambulance a sec later with no wounds at all? or how dead people are moving? is it the zombie apocalypse or more lies to get every news site on your side?

this one shows the Hamas Kills It's own People in GAZA in 2007 

they don't need Israel to kill people in gaze they are doing it them-self  

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WW8Sl6efuKc

TaylorGk
TaylorGk

@KTPi oh ye, mister big terrorist has died. who cares? another terrorist will replace him..

 it was a response to 30 rockets at a random morning that was aimed at a big israeli city

shahak
shahak

@valmach don't worry for us, we stood for 65 years, 7 wars, up to 5 armies each war - we will stand.

this is our land, and the sooner youll understan that the dividing of this land is the way the better.

we will fight for the land, and as I showed just 1 line above - we are better soldiers. we will defende our civilians.

most of us agree to withdraw the west bank as we did from the Sini, as we did from south Lebanon, as we did in the Gaza strip, and we will, but we will have to ensure that it wont become a terror base 5 min' from Tel Aviv. Hamas,the Antisemite organization, wants not only Gaza and the west bank, it also wants Tel Aviv, Haifa, Beer-Sehva. 

the minute they will recognize Israel and 1967 borders as a base for agreement we'll be half way.

and for your citing of Ben Gurion - I really don't know when and why he said so - but there are those voices even today - this is how DEMOCRACY works. I promise you many people in Gaza believe there needs to be a compromise between us and them, but they wont dare saying that on public.

JohnDahodi
JohnDahodi

@Belisarius86 @JohnDahodi  

Thanks for your sensible and humane reply. It is not true that day by day using her all mights, Israel will grab the entire Palestine and nothing will be left for Palestinians. The fact is that only after a few more years, Palestinians will demand for a single state called Israel with equal rights to all, and no nation on this civilized globe will SAY NO. At that time, Jewish State will be dead or eliminated from the map (as Iran is dreaming) and new freely secular democratic nation of ISRAEL or Palestine with Palestinians majority will emerge. Not only Israeli Jews will cry but all the world Jewry will cry loudly for their own mistake. Still, time to resolve the issue with considering 1967 borders and  swap of some refugees.

SmoothEdward1
SmoothEdward1

@sacki Listen to the assumption in your remarks. The Palestinians are supposed to come bowing and scraping to the Israelis to get the Israelis to stop settling on land that is supposed to be reserved for their state? Israel is the one in the wrong - they’re not supposed to be there in the first place. They have violated every UN resoultion on the issue and have maintained an occupation for forty-years. Israel has been using the peace process to gain more time to take more land, that is painfully obvious. Unless Israel comes to a just settlement with West Bank Palestinians soon, they will only drive them into an alliance with the militant Hamas in the Gaza Strip.

JC
JC

@sacki So you're saying settlement activity is fine? Settlement activity should be halted permanently, because it's simply stealing land. I'm quite sure Abbas said often they wanted a full stop to settlement activity before negotiation, not only temporary halts.

i.e.rutner
i.e.rutner

@Belisarius86 @MohammadRafiqKhawaja i really not sure but as an israeli who has arab freind in israel-israeli arabs whom we live and work with- i can tell u that with palastinian a real peace isnt seem and i don't think that it will be manly because of the fact that they don't want to live next to a jewish state.. 

pwaramzan
pwaramzan

@i.e.rutner gaza/palestine has been earsed from the map, israel is clever it is killing the people family by faimly and then it is saying that it is attacking the militants area? the israelis r going to keep going until there are no more palestinians left!!but dnt u worry the palestinians have egypt, iran, iraq, pakistan, and saudi so try it israel i cnt wait till israel is wiped off the map!

kanoman
kanoman

@sacki  Who cares about 1000 missiles á year who hardly make any deaths. You sound like it is some cruel achievement, but thats no achievement, really.

An real achievement is from Israel in 2008: who killed in less then 3 weeks 1300 Palestinians in Gaza while the world was looking away. 

1300 Palestinians had to die because the Israel government had to win the elections which would be taken place in a month. 

kanoman
kanoman

@i.e.rutner @kanoman Rubbish ? The last big war against Gaza, 2008,  was also before the Israelian elections, 4 years ago.

i.e.rutner
i.e.rutner

@pwaramzan history will prove u that u r wrong!!   people of israel by the help of our lord will ever be a live-  radical islam is a cancer made by iran , egypt and hammas as well and their end is well known i suggest u to open an byblical book the thora and reas some - the lord will punish u for killing children and for spreading hate all over the world !

i.e.rutner
i.e.rutner

@kanoman @sacki no they have died because hammas was settled in their houses in the main hospital of Shiffa in the gaza strip , in kindergarten as well as mosques . the public voted for hammas while knowing the remification that this kind of move can emerge from the ground.. im asking why arent you criticaizing syria , and trying to stop the killing of children their - ??? its has been easy and a trend to to hit with israel while once's trying to protect it self... if hammas was so care about its people it wouldnt launching israel every day...

fp581
fp581

@kanoman @sacki  OK so gaza kidnap our people, lunch missiles every day on our homes (thank god they have really bad aim with that crap),  suicide on our civilians, broadcast lies after lies to the news (http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=MWSuWFbiYGM and that is only a small part of your BS), threaten our country every single day and burning our flag! and for that  we gave gaza food, medicine, electricity, and a place to live. because no other country will take them.

so yes after a few yours we are annoyed and had enough of that, we deserve to live in peace and quite, to know that our children can go to school tomorrow and be assured they will come back home safe. 

even when we attack you we are telling you where and when so you could take you family away from there to a safe place.

so please leave use be and we will let you live your life in peace and quite.