Israel and Hamas are on the brink of all-out war as the IDF pounds targets in Gaza in and rockets rain down on Israel. What’s happening over there, and why is this hot spot boiling over right now?
Here’s what you need to know.
1. Israel Blew Up a Top Hamas Leader
In response to increased rocket fire coming from Gaza, Israel took violent and decisive action on Wednesday, beginning with the airstrike assassination of top Hamas military commander Ahmed Said Khalil al-Jabari as he was riding in a car. On Thursday, hundreds of people took part in Mr. Jabari’s funeral procession as it wound its way from Mr. Jabari’s home to a mosque as Israeli warplanes dropped bombs close by. Jabari is thought to be responsible for a number of recent attacks and Israeli soldier Gilad Schalit’s kidnapping in 2006.
2. Three Israelis Are Dead
Today the Palestinians retaliated with increased rocket fire from Gaza, landing in southern towns and cities in Israel, killing three Israeli citizens in the town of Kiryat Malachi, marking the first Israeli deaths since the airstrike on Wednesday. A long-range missile hit a suburb eight miles south of Tel Aviv, the nation’s largest city, which hasn’t been hit by a rocket since the 1991 Gulf War.
3. Some 15 Palestinians are Reportedly Dead
They’re mostly militants, but also some children, including the 11-month old son, Omar, of the BBC Arabic picture editor, Jihad Masharawi.
4. Israel Tweeted News of the Gaza Strike
Israel utilized Twitter to break the news of their airstrike on Gaza, with Israeli Defensive Force (IDF) international press spokesperson Avital Leibovich, making the announcement:
In addition to warnings on Twitter, which was probably among the first times that an official government organization used Twitter to announce a military attack as it happened, the military distributed leaflets throughout Gaza warning residents to stay away from Hamas operatives and facilities, and suggested that Hamas members ought to stay out of sight in the coming days.
5. Egypt Backs the Palestinians
President Mohamed Morsi of Egypt spoke on Thursday and denounced Israel’s aggression in Gaza, claiming he spoke with President Obama about ways to end the escalating violence in the area. Egypt, the first Arab nation to sign a peace treaty with Israel, has often played an important role in mediating between the Israelis and Palestinians, but newly elected Islamist Morsi vows to take a harder line on Israel than his predecessor, the now overthrown president Hosni Mubarak. Egyptian Prime Minister Hisham Qandeel also plans on visiting the embattled Gaza Strip on Friday.
6. Israel’s Offensive is Named ‘Operation Pillar of Defense’
‘Operation Pillar of Defense’ began with the airstrike that killed Ahmed al-Jabari and was followed by the Israeli air force striking direct targets just before sundown yesterday. It continues today with Israel’s Iron Dome missile defense system intercepting 80 of the 160 rockets fired at Israel today, raising the total number of rockets to at least 245 since the start of the operation, and around 800 attacks this year. Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak said that they destroyed most of the long range rockets Gaza militants use and is now working to destroy installations where rockets are made.
7. Israel Has Apparently ‘Opened the Gates of Hell’
Hamas is claiming that Israel has now “opened the gates of hell” with their attack yesterday. Islamic Jihad followed suit and declared that “Israel has declared war on Gaza and they will bear the responsibility for the consequences.”
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu stated that the country is prepared to extend this operation against Hamas in Gaza. He has claimed that Israel will do “everything in its power” to avoid civilian casualties, noting that Hamas deliberately targets children and civilians, and places their rockets near their children. Netanyahu and Israeli defence ministry spokesman Joshua Hantman say they will do whatever is necessary to defend itself, including a potential ground offensive.
9. The Last Gaza War was 4 Years Ago
Israel’s Operation Cast Lead in 2008-2009 began with a week of airstrikes, followed by a land invasion of the coast, blockaded at sea by the Israeli navy. Some 1,400 Palestinians were killed, with hundreds killed on just the first day of Israel’s operation. Thirteen Israelis also died in that conflict.
10. It’s a Well-Timed Attack by Israel
As the US is busy damage controlling the Petraeus scandal, they recently finished off a combined military exercise with Israel called the “Austere Challenge.” A day after the US forces left Israel, the IDF dropped bombs on the Gaza Strip. Israel was sternly warned by the US not to act on their threats on Iran’s nuclear program, and the chaos in Syria, spilling over into Lebanon, is currently occupying Iranian Hezbollah. That, along with upcoming Israeli elections in January, suggests that the current attacks may be part of Israel’s attempt to flex a little military muscle in the only available target, Gaza. What’s more, last month the Israelis are suspected to have raided an Iranian weapons factory in Sudan that held long range rockets. These strikes in Gaza are believed to be a follow-up to that move: eliminating all long-range rockets that are a threat to Israel’s population centers.