After last weekend’s significant escalation in Gaza involving Israeli airstrikes on 40 targets, which reportedly killed two teens and wounded over a dozen others, and over 30 rockets launched by Hamas toward southern Israel, all signs are currently pointing toward a broader outbreak of fighting as in new comments the Israeli defense minister is preparing the public for “a large and painful military operation” to come.
Israeli officials and media have broadly referred to this latest flare-up of hostilities as the biggest attack since Operation Protective Edge in 2014, and now Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman is warning that Israel is prepared to go to war if Gazans don’t cease releasing incendiary kites and balloons in attempts to set communities and farmlands in southern Israel ablaze.
Liberman issued the warning at a press conference in the town of Sderot, which lies close to Gaza and is considered constantly under threat by Hamas rockets. The defense minister said, “We see in the newspapers that you don’t go to war over kites and fires. However, any reasonable person who sees a natural grove burned or thousands of dunams [1,000 square meters] of agricultural fields scorched understands that this situation is unreasonable.”
“We are trying to be considerate and responsible, but the heads of Hamas are forcibly leading us to a situation of not having a choice, to a situation in which we will need to carry out a large and painful military operation — not something that’s just for show, but a large and painful military operation,” he said.
Liberman added further, apparently in reference to the international criticism Israel routinely receives over the indiscriminate nature of Palestinian civilian casualties that result from its offensives: “I think that the only people responsible for this are the heads of Hamas, but unfortunately all the residents of Gaza will be forced to pay the price.” And while referencing the 2014 Gaza war, he indicated Israel is now prepared to “carry out an operation that is of a much wider scope and much more painful than Operation Protective Edge.”
Defense Minister Liberman’s ominous words follow reports that the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) held a large-scale military drill simulating a ground incursion into the Gaza Strip early this week, which The Times of Israel described as follows:
The drill in the country’s Negev region, which involved infantry and armored corps, included exercises in urban warfare, with the city of Beersheba serving as a surrogate for Gaza’s cities, Channel 10 news reported. The drill began Sunday and will continue on Tuesday, and exercises include the simulated capture of Gaza City, officials said.
Parts of the exercise were also filmed by local media in order to “send a message” to Hamas, according to IDF officials.
Meanwhile, the army has erected additional Iron Dome Missile Defense systems in central Israel ahead of any potential military escalation. One IDF infantry commander told local media: “We are ready and speaking in terms of war [that could come] tomorrow, it occurs to me that this drill could become a real entry into the Strip.”
Israel has grown increasingly concerned at the trend of Gazans using explosive and incendiary devices released along the Israeli-Gaza border fence to target farmlands in southern Israel.
Large kites or collections of balloons will typically be floated across the fence while carrying burning items attached by a long cord. They’ve also been dubbed ‘Molotov cocktail kites’ and have become the latest improvised means of getting around Israel’s high-tech air defense systems, and have reportedly floated into Israel in the thousands since the ‘Great March of Return’ protests, reportedly destroying thousands of acres of land.
Israeli authorities have specifically attributed over 400 fires which burned more than 6,000 acres to the low-tech incendiary devices, according to a spokesman for Israel’s Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee. Last week, just prior to the Israeli air offensive, local authorities counted 21 fires originating in a single day due to burning kites launched from Gaza, impacting mainly farmlands in southern Israel.
Protests along the Israeli-Gaza border fence have now reached over 100 days, with tensions exploding after an incident last Friday wherein Israeli forces shot dead a 15-year-old Palestinian who approached the fence.
Video which circulated widely on social media purportedly shows Israeli forces shooting dead the Palestinian teen once he began climb one of the outer barriers separating Gaza from Israel.
The IDF said that one of its soldiers was moderately wounded during last Friday’s protest, and in official statements have sought to justify all lethal force in response to Palestinian attempts to penetrate the fence.
With this week’s uptick in IDF military preparations to invade Gaza, and with Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman latest warning for “a much wider scope and much more painful than Operation Protective Edge,” it is very likely that we could witness a return to all out war in the Strip by month’s end.