Israel Update for November 2006

David Dolan
David Dolan

With the Middle East reeling from escalating violence stretching from Lebanon to Iraq, Israel's military battle with radical Palestinian Muslim groups intensified in November as Kassam rockets poured down in unprecedented numbers on Israeli towns near the Gaza Strip. Two civilians were killed in the daily attacks-which increased up to an average of ten per day-and several others were wounded, including Defense Minister Amir Peretz's personal bodyguard who lost both legs when shrapnel struck him. The escalating Kassam attacks prompted Israeli leaders to warn that a major new military campaign was imminent if the Palestinians did not halt their offensive forthwith.

Under increasing pressure from his Palestinian people to secure a halt to heavy counteraction from Israeli military forces, overall Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas announced on November 25 that a ceasefire had been agreed upon with Israel. He said this was made possible because of an internal accord forged with all Palestinian factions to stop Kassam attacks upon Israel-at least for the time being. Israeli Prime Minster Ehud Olmert immediately froze all IDF military operations, but warned that his government would feel free to respond if further Palestinian attacks were carried out. However he held his fire when nearly a dozen more rockets fell after the ceasefire went into effect.

The ceasefire came just one day after the Hamas movement threatened to launch a new anti-Israel attrition war within six months if government officials in Jerusalem do not agree to their suicidal demand that the radical Muslim group be allowed to set up an independent state with Jerusalem's sacred Old City as its capital. Israeli Mideast analysts said the bellicose announcement, made by overall Hamas leader Khaled Mashaal, signaled that the radical group only intends to use the new timeout to prepare for the next round of Hamas attacks, which could well include Kassam rocket assaults upon Jerusalem. After the ceasefire went into effect, Mashaal said he would now allow Israel one entire year to meet his demands.

Warclouds Linger In The North

Despite the Israeli-Palestinian ceasefire, military tensions remained high in southern Lebanon, where Hizbullah militia forces were reportedly receiving fresh weapon supplies via Lebanese commercial trucks crossing the international border from Syria. The nightly convoys were said to have boosted the Shiite group's deadly arsenal to near pre-war levels.

Time Magazine reported in late November that the weapons, including short and longer range rockets, are being flown every day from Iran to Syria. Iranian Revolutionary Guards stationed in the Arab country then make sure that they are hidden underneath commercial goods in trucks passing back into Lebanon. Although the action is a blatant violation of the August UN ceasefire resolution that officially ended the war, Israeli officials were said to fear that any major IDF military strikes to curb the rearmament action could spark UN attempts to impose international sanctions against the small Jewish state.

Hizbullah's aggressive attempts to topple the elected anti-Syrian Lebanese government-which included the mass resignation of all five Shiite cabinet ministers during November-were also being closely watched in Jerusalem. Concerns over the destabilizing Hizbullah-Syrian designs soared after the November 21 gangland-style murder of Pierre Gemayel, a prominent Maronite Catholic cabinet minister and nephew of assassinated President Bashir Gemayel. Israeli analysts agreed with most Lebanese observers that the murder was carried out by Syrian agents, working with Hizbullah to overthrow the pro-Western Lebanese government.

Meanwhile, Iran-the regional country doing the most to stoke the raging fires in Gaza, Lebanon and Iraq-issued new vows to destroy the world's only Jewish-led state. This prompted Israeli leaders to issue their clearest declarations yet that they are prepared to launch military action to curb the Shiite theocracy's ominous nuclear program. Radical Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad told his cabinet ministers on November 12 that "Israel is destined for destruction, and will disappear soon." The Shiite leader went on to maintain that "the Zionist regime is a contradiction to nature, and we foresee its rapid disappearance and destruction."

During his trans-Atlantic flight to meet with American officials in Washington mid-month, PM Olmert alluded to the likelihood of Israeli military action if Iran's threatening nuclear program is not quickly halted. He told reporters on board that "Iran will only agree to a compromise on the issue of its nuclear program if it has a reason to be afraid." In a subsequent interview with Newsweek magazine, Olmert added to his thinly veiled warning of possible Israeli military action. Noting that Iranian leaders were brazenly ignoring a United Nations call for an immediate halt to their uranium enrichment program, the Israeli leader sternly warned that "The government and the people of Iran must understand that if they do not accept the request of the international community, they're going to pay dearly."

Sobbing Sderot

Just before the Israeli-Palestinian ceasefire was announced in late November, Israeli military leaders were busy at work on a new plan of potential action. It was designed to stem the rising tide of Palestinian rockets raining down on Israeli communities, especially upon the long-besieged northern Negev town of Sderot. The need for a wide-scale operation became apparent to most Israeli leaders after two civilian residents of the town-Fatima Slutsker, a middle-aged woman of Moroccan Jewish ancestry, and Yaakov Yaakobov, a Russian immigrant factory worker and father or two-were killed in the space of less than one week by Kassam rockets exploding in the town. Analysts said the fact that a new major military offensive was being prepared was the most likely reason that radical Palestinian factions agreed to halt their rocket attacks late in the month, at least for the time being.

Public demands to deal forcefully with the increasingly untenable security situation in Sderot and surrounding areas grew when the 12 year old son of the slain factory worker spoke to reporters after his father's traumatic funeral. With tears pouring down from his tender eyes, the bereaved boy asked reporters why Palestinian militants had taken his father's life just one month before his scheduled bar mitzvah, set to take place in the town which has come under nearly constant Palestinian rocket bombardment for over six years.

His father's untimely death came just one day after three siblings between the ages of four and nine narrowly escaped injury when a rocket blasted in the windows of their Sderot home as they were preparing to leave for school. Another rocket landed next to a Sderot primary school just minutes before scores of children were scheduled to begin arriving for their daily classes. Later the same week, several rockets exploded while dozens of foreign ambassadors were visiting the town to examine the situation firsthand.

The new Israeli army plan is still expected to be presented to government leaders despite the November 25 ceasefire. Analysts said this would give cabinet ministers a reserve plan of action in case intensive Palestinian rocket fire resumes. They added that the plan's existence will also provide Palestinian leaders with a strong incentive to abide by the ceasefire.