A Grad rocket scored a direct hit in the yard of a Netivot home on Monday morning. There were no injuries from the rocket but some 20 people were treated for shock. Only half of the southern town's schoolchildren attended school as one rocket fell near a school earlier. A resident of the home that was hit told Army Radio that "it was a miracle" that nobody was killed.
Residents ran for cover all day as rockets hit Netivot, Sderot and other communities near the Gaza Strip. Israeli forces did not retaliate immediately on Monday morning, but overnight Sunday the Israel Air Force struck three static targets in the Gaza Strip, including a weapons factory. The Iron Dome anti-missile system intercepted two rockets over Ashkelon on Monday morning.
As internal pressure increases for a government solution to the continued rocket terror, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was set to meet with foreign ambassadors stationed in Israel to update them on the situation and, presumably, to prepare the diplomatic ground for a harsh Israeli retaliation. Netanyahu is to tell the ambassadors that the constant terror experienced by Israeli citizens was unacceptable and that the ambassadors' own constituents back home would also not accept such a situation. No country in the world would accept such a situation, Netanyahu will tell the foreign diplomats. Israel's foreign missions, meanwhile, have been instructed to inform their host governments that Israel's patience with the terror from the Gaza Strip has worn out, Israel Radio reported.
The question over whether to launch a massive ground operation against Gaza terrorists or suffice with escalated air power dominated the Israeli airwaves on Monday. Defense Minister Ehud Barak said it was entirely possible that operations against Hamas in Gaza would "expand and escalate." Education Minister Gideon Saar said that Israel "was in the last stages of preparing for a very wide military offensive in Gaza" and added that the diplomatic groundwork for the offensive was being laid.
All throughout Sunday and Monday, southern residents have been calling for the government to restore quiet to the southern frontier. Israel's newspapers have been filled with photos of residents in bomb shelters, and this is likely to increase the pressure on the government. It is however unlikely that the government will decide to launch a massive ground operation at this stage, but it is expected that the Israel Defense Forces will be ordered to strike the Hamas leadership in Gaza.
The IDF is expected to "gradually escalate" its response and not to send ground troops into Gaza, Israel Radio reported. The IDF will not accept a situation of "attrition" and is keen to change the balance, the radio reported.
However, Homefront Defense Minister Avi Dichter warned on Monday that there would be no recourse but to invade Gaza with ground troops. "There is no precedent in history of destroying terror by air power alone. It hasn't happened and it won't happen. Thus it is necessary to reformat Gaza altogether," Dichter, a resident of Ashkelon, said.
Tzachi Hanegbi, former chairman of the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee and a close associate of Netanyahu, also said Monday that Israel's patience had worn out. "Israel's deterrence against terror from Gaza, including Hamas and others there, no longer exists, and now we find ourselves in a countdown toward a large and aggressive ground operation in the Gaza Strip. Air power has run its course. They have obviously forgotten the lessons they learned from Operation Cast Lead. The terror organizations in Gaza want to drag us into a conflict there so that we take our attention off the real threat, which is from Iran," Hanegbi said. Hanegbi added that an IDF operation in the Gaza Strip, should it occur, would not resemble Cast Lead but rather Operation Defensive Shield, in which IDF forces took over several large Palestinian cities in the West Bank and rooted out the terror infrastructure there during the Second Intifada.
Labor party leader MK Shelly Yachimovich was just one of several Israeli politicians calling for the IDF to begin targeted assassinations of the Hamas leadership. Former IDF Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. (res) Dan Halutz said on Monday that there is "no difference between the military and political leadership of a terrorist organization, Hamas, and that we should start taking heads off."
On Sunday rockets fired from the Gaza Strip scored direct hits on a factory and a home in Sderot and lightly injured three people. Including the rockets on Monday, over 100 rockets have been fired at Israeli civilians since Saturday night, the IDF said.
The barrage began early Sunday morning as hundreds of thousands of pupils were on their way to their schools in cities and towns close to the Gaza border. Sirens were sounded and the Homefront Command decided to close schools for the day in areas close to the border, including Sapir College, the Shaar HaNegev regional council, Sdot Negev regional council and Sderot.
A home in Sderot sustained a direct hit but none of its residents were hurt. An Iron Dome anti-rocket battery intercepted a Grad rocket launched at Beersheba.
"The south is in the midst of a war of attrition, and Israel must put an end to this terrorism which is targeting a million of its citizens," Beersheba Mayor Ruvik Danilovich said.
"Residents of towns near Gaza have become sitting ducks," Avraham Shushan of Sderot said. "They give us pathetic excuses for not crushing the heads of the terrorists instead of taking the initiative and striking them mercilessly."
Avraham and Berta Ohana from Sderot were lightly injured during the barrage and taken to the Soroka Medical Center in Beersheba. "I saw my husband get injured and began to scream. I didn't even notice that I myself was injured as well until a soldier came to take care of me. This type of life is one big nightmare," Berta said.
On Saturday night, Israeli aircraft struck Gaza in response to several rocket salvos throughout the previous days.
Netanyahu said on Sunday he had no intention of escalating the latest skirmish but added that the world must understand that Israel will not sit idly by as attempts are made to harm its citizens. "We are prepared to respond more harshly if necessary," he said.
Defense Minister Ehud Barak said, "If we are forced to enter Gaza once again to restore security for Israeli citizens, we will not hesitate to do so."
Government officials pointed out on Sunday that a response to the attacks spearheaded by Hamas in the Gaza Strip is a complicated matter. Many believe Netanyahu would not want to launch a broad invasion of Gaza with elections coming up in January. He is also facing a new regime in Egypt that is attempting to end the violence through mediation, as well as pressure from the U.S., Germany and France to refrain from large-scale retaliation.
However, at a memorial marking the 56th anniversary of the Sinai Campaign, Knesset Speaker Reuven Rivlin warned that "Israel will not shy away from a wide-scale military operation just because of the election campaign." Rivlin
"Anyone who thinks we are going to let the lives of a quarter of Israel's residents grind to a complete halt is in for a crushing defeat; anyone who thinks we have forgot how to deal with incessant attrition is clearly wrong," Rivlin said.
A senior Egyptian official told Israel Hayom on Sunday that Israel and Hamas were close to a cease-fire agreement that may go into effect on Tuesday morning. A spokesman for the military wing of the Islamic Jihad group in Gaza however claimed, "There are no cease-fire talks. The Zionist enemy continues to harm our people and innocent Palestinians and must pay for its crimes."
Netanyahu is operating on two fronts: Internally, he declares that Israel will not stand with its hands tied behind its back in an attempt to convince Israelis that the government is taking a serious approach to the crisis. To the world, he says that he will not act until there is absolutely no alternative.