The most violent week in years was halted after a ceasefire was reached between Israel and Hamas, and the political outcomes are now emerging. Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman resigned in protest and is calling for early elections to oust the ruling coalition over Israel’s policy toward Gaza. Plus, contradictory stories are emerging over what really happened on El Al flights before Sabbath.
Major Escalation in Gaza Conflict
A botched IDF special forces operation in the Gaza Strip last weekend that erupted into a firefight leaving an IDF officer and seven Hamas members including a battalion commander dead ignited some of the worst violence between Israel and Hamas since the 2014 war.
In the course of several days, hundreds of rockets and missiles launched from Gaza bombarded Israeli cities while Israeli airstrikes hammered the strip. A weeks-long period of calm at the Gaza border protests once again flared last weekend leaving at least one Palestinian dead and dozens wounded. Even though a cease-fire was reached between Israel and Hamas on Tuesday, the explosive exchange imperiled a long-term deal between the two factions that promised badly needed fuel imports and infrastructure development in the Gaza Strip in exchange for cessation of cross border violence.
Here is a summary of the violence earlier this week.
- More than 400 rockets and mortars were launched into Israel striking southern border communities and overwhelming Israel’s Iron Dome system which intercepted around 100 projectiles.
- 1 man, a Palestinian, was killed by a rocket strike in Israel and at least 16 people were wounded. Multiple homes were hit.
- The IDF struck more than 100 Hamas and Islamic Jihad military targets in the Gaza Strip and destroyed the Hamas TV station.
- Gazan Authorities said five were killed and 15 wounded in the Israeli strikes.
- Hamas hit a bus with an anti-tank missile critically wounding an IDF soldier and hit another bus with a mortar.
- The IDF believes that Hamas and Islamic Jihad have amassed more than 20,000 rockets and mortar shells.
- Around 170 Palestinians have been killed and thousands wounded at the Gaza border protests since March, including Hamas members, according to the Gaza Health Ministry.
The initial clash that sparked this escalation occurred after an undercover Israeli unit entered the Gaza Strip near Khan Younis but was identified and engaged by a Hamas unit. The ensuing firefight left casualties on both sides as the IDF team retreated under the cover of air strikes. The initial speculation of the intent of the mission varied from a targeted assassination to a routine intelligence operation gone bad. On Saturday, a Hamas official told the Hamas al-Aqsa TV station that the Israeli team was planning on installing a listening device before the mission was intercepted, according to Ha’aretz. Israeli officials have not publicly explained the purpose of the mission or what went wrong but denied that it was an assassination or abduction attempt.
Israeli Defense Minister Resigns
The failed operation and heavy exchange of blows between Israel and Hamas is also having political ramifications. Israeli Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman abruptly resigned last week and called for early elections on his way out.
Liberman explained over the weekend that his resignation was in response to the current Israeli administrations treatment of Hamas and security on Israel’s Gaza border, according to the Jerusalem Post.
“For the past two and a half years I have bit my tongue. I tried to change things from the inside, but the last two decisions — on the transfer of $90 million to Hamas over the next six months and the decision on the ceasefire — these two decisions were too much,” he said Friday.
He resigned shortly after the ceasefire was reached last week saying Israel had “capitulated to terrorism” and was “buying short-term quiet, with the price being severe long-term damage to national security.”
Lieberman also announced that Yisrael Beiteinu, his political party, would leave the ruling coalition and called on other parties to plan a date for an early election in a bid to oust the current administration headed by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Currently, elections are not due until November 2019 but reports indicate that an early election is very likely.
In a statement to the nation Sunday evening, Netanyahu said early election are the wrong move and would be irresponsible during a security crisis.
"We are in an intensifying battle, and in the middle of a battle we don't abandon our posts. In the middle of a battle we do not play politics. The security of the nation is beyond politics, and the security of the nation is also beyond personal concerns," Netanyahu said.
Ha’aretz reports that Netanyahu warned of creating a situation similar to elections in the 1990s that he says resulted in the Oslo accords and an intifada.
Netanyahu has reportedly been meeting with other influential party leaders in an attempt to convince them to keep the coalition together until elections in 2019 while asserting that he has a plan for responding to Hamas, though he has not said what it is. Government officials have indicated that they will announce whether or not an early election will be held by the end of the week.
El Al Flights Diverted for Shabbat, Debate Ensues
Contradictory stories of a violent commotion and peaceful unity are emerging after an El Al flight was delayed by weather and dozens of passengers on board became concerned that the delay would lead to them flying on the Sabbath.
The initial report, as seen in the Jerusalem Post described how “violent uproars broke out on two El Al airline flights scheduled to depart from New York to Israel when some of the ultra-Orthodox passengers claimed the airlines were attempting to desecrate Shabbat on Friday,” as reported by Israeli airline El Al.
This version of the story describes a crying stewardesses being pushed around by haredi passengers who threatened to rush the cockpit because they were worried about meeting the Shabbat deadline.
The flights were rerouted to Athens and Rome before Erev Shabbat, but after the Sabbath ended contradictory reports began to emerge alleging that El Al was exaggerating the incident and not taking responsibility for delaying the flights.
A first-person account by Benjamin Chafetz published on Aish.com tells a very different story. “At no time was there any physical threat presented by passengers concerned about Shabbos,” he writes. “These were Jews from all walks of life and varied backgrounds who were concerned about Shabbos.”
Chafetz claims that the flight delay was due to a late flight crew and that the passengers were lied to about departure time. He describes calm demeanor of passengers concerned about keeping the Sabbath and an eventual Sabbath of unity after the planes landed.
Another first-person account, however, reinforces El Al’s version of events. Roni Meital published photos and video on Facebook of the incident showing passengers crowded around flight attendants.
“After over 24 hours to reach Israel... I am broken... broken mostly from the lack of respect of believing people, Sabbath observant traditionalists that took the matter one step too far,” Meital wrote in a Facebook post which went on to describe delays and chaos that inspired onboard mayhem and reduced a flight attendant to tears. The onboard conflict illustrates the widening gap between Israel’s religious and secular.
This controversy is only the latest hit to El Al’s public image. Last month they were rated as one of the least punctual airlines in the world and last week investigators raided the airline's offices as part of a probe into suspected insider trading violations.