Thursday, November 15, 2012

Will Hamas target Tel Aviv with missiles?

From Haaretz: Israel holds its breath for Hamas' decision: Target Tel Aviv?
Bradley Burston 
Tel Aviv is holding its breath. This war is the same war, fought for years far to the south, out of sight and firmly out of mind. But abruptly, without warning, it threatens to become Tel Aviv's war.

And the decision rests with Hamas.

In one fiery stroke - the Wednesday Israeli air strike that killed Hamas' most influential and powerful military mind, Ahmed Jabari - the rules of the Holy Land's oldest established permanent floating chess game were, for the umpteenth time, utterly changed.

Rocked by the assassination, Hamas, its strategic hierarchy shredded, now faces a fateful choice. Pressed by a broad coalition of Gaza militants to retaliate and exact revenge, Hamas could order the launch of the Iranian-developed Fajr-5 missile, straight north.

For the first time since the waves of suicide bombings in Israeli cities during the Palestinian uprising, Hamas could target Tel Aviv.

The decision will not be a simple one, however. Hamas has always been hair-trigger sensitive to Palestinian public opinion, particularly in its birthplace and power base, the Gaza Strip. Gazans at the grass roots level have already made it known that they fear a reprise of the devastation and severe loss of civilian lives which Israel's Operation Cast Lead wrought on the Strip four years ago.

Israel, meanwhile, has made it plain that Tel Aviv is the trip wire.

"Today we attacked strategic Hamas targets with precision," Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told the press late on Wednesday. "We significantly harmed its capability to launch rockets from Gaza to the center of the country."

Defense Minister Ehud Barak added, "Most of the Fajr missiles have been hit."

There was a warning in their words, to Hamas. But there was an implied, if unintentional, threat to residents of Tel Aviv, as well. Hamas can still hit them, should it choose to do so.

Mindful of the significance of a possible attack on Tel Aviv, Israeli leaders spared no effort to head it off. Immediately after the Jabari assassination, the next phase of the newest war was unleashed, an onslaught to destroy Gaza launch bunkers housing Hamas' Fajr-5 missiles.

Wave after wave of Israeli air strikes were launched. Dozens of Fajr launchers were hit.

But not all of them.

As Wednesday night wore on, IDF civil defense officials began to be asked about whether Tel Aviv residents should take special precautions ("There have been nationwide drills, and citizens will know how to respond," one replied). Police and ambulance crews were placed on heightened alert, Israeli media reported.

And, perhaps inevitably, analysts noted the timing of the Jabari assassination, in the thick of an Israeli election campaign in which both Netanyahu and Barak are intent on holding on to their jobs.

As both well know, past wars - Cast Lead among them - have demonstrated that the longer, more complex, and more unresolved a military operation becomes, the more likely it is to claim its initially victorious initiators, among its victims.

Tel Aviv is the trip wire, as well, for candidates Netanyahu and Barak. If Israel's financial, cultural, and media capital is successfully attacked, much of the political capital accrued by the prime minister and his defense minister, will suddenly, literally, go up in smoke.

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