For a second successive day, an emboldened Hamas trained its rockets on Tel Aviv, testing Israel’s resolve to invade Gaza, and confront new realities that have emerged after the triumph of the Arab Spring.
Air raid sirens also rang out in Jerusalem on Friday, and a missile fired from Gaza landed in an open area southeast of the city 75 kilometers from the border of the coastal strip. The attacks on both Tel Aviv and Jerusalem have sharply escalated a sense of insecurity in Israel—a country that has always elevated security on the top of its national agenda.
Relying heavily on air power, Israel has swiftly responded to the audacious strikes, but has stopped short of mounting a ground invasion. Israeli fighter jets have devastated the Hamas government headquarters in Gaza city. The four storey building that housed the office of Hamas Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh had only few hours ago hosted Egyptian Prime Minister Hisham Kandil. Israeli aircraft pounded 186 locations in Gaza overnight. Israeli missiles have already targeted the Interior Ministry, and an empty home of a senior Hamas commander has also been hit. A generator building near Mr. Haniyeh’s residence was struck, signaling Israel’s inclination to accost the Gaza’s civilian leadership.
Not only has Hamas demonstrated its military boldness by mounting a spirited counter-attack with its rockets, it has also shown emphatically that it no longer is isolated. Egypt, Israel’s de facto ally during the Mubarak era, is now Hamas’ trump card. On Friday morning, a smiling Ismael Haniyeh—the Hamas leader in Gaza-- posed for pictures with Mr. Kandil, the visiting Egyptian Prime Minister—the visual mirroring a dramatic turnaround in the region’s geopolitics in the aftermath of the Arab Spring. "This visit reflects post-revolution Egypt's solidarity with Gaza," said Mr. Haniyeh at a joint press conference. On his part, the Egyptian premier vowed not to "remain silent" in the face of the ongoing Israeli violence against the Gaza Strip and its people.
Mr. Kandil is being followed in Gaza on Saturday by Rafik Abdesslem, the foreign minister of Tunisia—the first country to remove a pro-western dictatorship in late 2010 and set the template for a much larger revolt in Egypt that blew away Hosni Mubarak, Egypt’s strongman for 29 years. The 120-nation Nonaligned Movement, the largest bloc at the United Nations also hammered Israel for “escalating its military campaign against the Palestinian people, particularly in the Gaza Strip”. Turkey and Qatar are also backing Hamas, while an Iranian Fajr-5 rocket was apparently used by Palestinian militants to target Tel Aviv on Thursday.
The attacks on Jerusalem and Tel Aviv, a metropolis of 400,000, and the commercial and political heartbeat of Israel, have landed the country’s right-wing leadership on the horns of dilemma. If it invades Gaza, as it did in 2008, Israel may risk its vital relationship with Egypt, anchored in the 1979 peace treaty. .
But if Mr. Netanyahu decides to steer away from the conflict, and lump the strikes on Tel Aviv and Jerusalem, he risks a domestic firestorm, which would be grossly untimely ahead of a looming parliamentary elections just nine weeks away.
As it grapples with a thorny situation, Israel has decided to keep all its options open. The Israeli military has summoned 16,000 army reservists; most of whom belong to the military’s engineering corps.
Their role would be vital for imparting mobility to tanks and other heavy vehicles, should the armed forces be ordered to move into Gaza.
The Israeli news website Ynetnews is reporting that Palestinian rockets were slamming several cities and towns including Beersheba, where a residential building was hit, and Ashkelon where a parking lot became the target.
With violence, triggered by the assassination on Wednesday of Ahmed Al-Jabari—a top Hamas commander--- still on an upward spiral, the chances of an early ceasefire appeared remote. Yet Ban Ki-moon, the UN Secretary General is travelling to Jerusalem, Cairo and Ramallah, the West Bank headquarters of the Palestinian Authority, over the next few days. The Americans have also signalled their intention to defuse the crisis, but want Hamas to stop firing rockets first.