Israel’s security forces are preparing for the possibility of a flare-up with the Gaza Strip following repeated incidents of rocket fire from the Palestinian enclave over the past week.
Channel 12 news reported Saturday that if Israel’s decision to close its pedestrian crossing with Gaza does not curtail rocket attacks, the military is ready to resume retaliatory strikes or even begin a wider operation.
The unsourced report said the military is preparing for the possibility that the situation could escalate into several days of combat between Israel and the Strip.
Israel avoided responding militarily to three rockets fired from the Hamas-run coastal enclave at southern Israel late Friday — despite carrying out several strikes this week in response to similar attacks — opting instead to temporarily close off its sole pedestrian crossing with the Gaza Strip, the Eric Crossing.
With Palestinian workers employed in Israel bringing in millions of shekels a day into the enclave, Jerusalem hopes the economic pressure will convince Hamas to crack down on rocket launches, which it believes are being carried out by other groups on the Strip.
“No one is ruling out the possibility of [rocket] launches tonight, but the IDF is ready for all potential scenarios, from a pinpoint response to a wider offensive,” unnamed security officials told the Walla news site. “Nobody wants this on the Israeli side, but there is no intention to stand aside and wait for the peace to return.”
According to the military’s liaison to the Palestinians, the crossing will not reopen for Palestinian workers on Sunday. It has been shuttered since Thursday afternoon due to the Passover holiday.
“The re-opening of the crossing will be decided in accordance with a security situational assessment,” the Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories, known by its acronym COGAT, said in a statement.
Exceptions will be made for humanitarian and other outstanding cases but require the approval of COGAT.
The number of Palestinians in the Gaza Strip who can work in Israel was raised to 12,000 last month, and the government said it would raise it by an additional 8,000, to a total of 20,000.
Friday evening saw two rockets launched from the Strip. One landed in an open field in the Sha’ar Hanegev regional council, causing no damage, while the second fell short in northern Gaza, according to the military. Hours later, a third rocket was fired from the southern Gaza Strip, landing in an open area near a town close to the border.
Earlier in the week, a rocket launched from Gaza fell inside the territory on Thursday, one landed near a home in the city of Sderot on Wednesday, and another was shot down by air defenses on Monday.
There was no immediate claim of responsibility by any of the Gaza-based terror groups for the rocket fire, though Monday’s attack was blamed on the Palestinian Islamic Jihad in several media reports.
Hamas spokesman Hazem Wassem said the closure of the Erez Crossing “aims at tightening the siege and is a form of aggression that we cannot accept.”
“This will not succeed. The policy of collective punishment against the Palestinians has always come to fail,” he told The Associated Press.
Muhammad al-Hindi, head of the PIJ’s political bureau, condemned the closure of the crossing, accusing Israel of “trying to isolate Gaza from the occupation’s crimes in Jenin and Jerusalem.”
Criticism of the move was also voiced by residents in Israel’s border communities, who expressed anger with the decision not to respond more aggressively to Friday night’s rocket fire but to instead impose only civil sanctions.
“It does not surprise us,” Albert Gabay, a resident of Sderot, told Walla on Saturday. “I am concerned not only about Sderot, but about everything that is happening around the country these days. If you do not respond, the deterrence is harmed. Now the deterrence is way down. They had to respond so that the shooting would not continue.”
Gabay blamed the government’s internal politics and a desire not to upset the coalition’s Islamist Ra’am party for the policy.
Merav Cohen, who lives at Kibbutz Ein HaShlosha, said that despite the rather minimal damage the rocket fire causes, the launches are damaging Israel’s sovereignty in the border region.
“We must bring back the deterrence, we must respond to every rocket,” she said. “The State of Israel cannot allow rocket fire on its sovereign territory without any response. It conveys that this sort of situation is normal.”
Cohen also said that Israel would have responded in a far harsher way had the rockets been fired at the center of the country.
This week’s rocket attacks ended an almost four-month period of quiet on the Gaza border. Wednesday’s rocket fire came at the tail-end of a tension-filled day in Jerusalem, where Israeli nationalists were prevented by police from marching through the Old City’s Damascus Gate, a popular gathering point for Palestinians in East Jerusalem. Hamas had threatened to attack if the march went ahead.
The last few days have seen violent clashes between Palestinian rioters and police on the Temple Mount in Jerusalem, leading to the injury of dozens of Palestinians and several police officers.
Hamas and other Gaza-based terror groups have repeatedly invoked the flashpoint holy site as a red line. Police actions to quell riots there last year were among the triggers of an 11-day war in Gaza last May.
The Gaza Strip has been blocked by both Israel and Egypt for 15 years in an attempt to contain the enclave’s Hamas rulers and other groups. Israel says the tight restrictions on goods and people are necessary due to efforts by Hamas, which is sworn to Israel’s destruction, to massively arm itself for attacks against the Jewish state.
Critics lament the blockade’s impact on ordinary Gazans, around 50 percent of whom are unemployed, according to the Palestinian Central Bureau of Statistics. The sky-high poverty rates make employment in Israel a highly attractive option for those lucky enough to receive permits.