Rockets and mortars from Gaza targeting Israel’s southern communities found their mark and wounded three to four Israelis resulting in the most significant Israeli counter-strike since the 2014 Gaza War.
Rockets Wound Israelis, Gaza Combat Flares
In twenty-four hours over Saturday, 190 rockets and mortar shells were fired from Gaza at Israel - seventy-three projectiles hit open areas in Israel while thirty-seven were intercepted by the Iron Dome missile defense system, reports Ha’aretz. In response, the Israeli air force pummeled forty Hamas targets in Gaza.
Ha’aretz also reported that the three wounded Israelis in Sderot include a fifty-year-old male with wounds to his chest, a seventeen-year-old female with facial injuries and a twenty-year-old woman with wounded limbs. The Israeli strikes, which targeted Hamas military infrastructure, left fourteen Palestinians wounded and two dead, according to the Gaza Health Ministry.
An Israeli official told the Associated Press that the escalation was the result of the Hamas rocket attacks, violence along the border, and specifically the campaign of launching incendiary kites and balloons that have devastated Israeli farmlands and nature reserves.
The Israeli targets included a high-rise building in the northern Gaza Strip that was used as a Hamas urban warfare training facility and housed a tunnel under the structure.
International mediators including the UN and Egypt stepped in quickly on Saturday urging both sides to show restraint to prevent an all-out ground war. Following these efforts, Hamas and Islamic Jihad in Gaza announced a ceasefire late Saturday night. The legitimacy of it is in question as hours after the announcements the sirens went off again as more mortars flew in and the airforce again bombed Gaza.
The weekend’s violence wasn’t only in the skies. On the ground, the Gaza border protest, a simmering center of weekly conflict since March, continued leaving two Palestinians dead from Israeli gunfire, one killed while climbing the border fence, and one IDF soldier wounded by a grenade explosion.
The Hamas terror group that rules Gaza has encouraged border protests aimed in part at drawing attention to the Israeli-Egyptian blockade on Gaza imposed after Hamas took control of Gaza in 2007. Widespread economic hardship resulting from the blockade and Hamas rulership has led many to desperation. Over 130 Palestinians including Hamas members have died at the border protests, most from Israeli fire. Israel holds the stance that the protests are a cover for infiltration attempts by terrorists.
Netanyahu and Putin Face-to-Face Over Syria
In a rare meeting of state heads last Wednesday, Russian and Israeli leaders Benjamin Netanyahu and Vladimir Putin met face-to-face to discuss the encroaching presence of Iran in Syria.
For months, Israel has publically warned Iran to stay away from Israel’s northern border, a message emphasized with punchy airstrikes that wobble Iran’s military infrastructure in Syria. But despite Israel’s clear stance and willingness to take military action much to Syria’s chagrin, Iran hasn’t entirely backed off. Once, Iranian troops did pull back from their positions, but only to return to them in Syrian military uniforms. That is the problem - the Iranians are in Syria at the request of their ally, the Syrian government.
Iranian troops, advisers, and militia groups like Hezbollah are in Syria allegedly to help the government push back rebel forces, an utterly indiscriminately destructive campaign that is inching closer and closer to Israel’s northern border. All this is to say that to prevent a full-scale conflict that would drag Israel deeper into the Syrian tangle, Russia was consulted. Russia is the most powerful ally of both Iran and Syria and considering the volume of military, energy, and political control they have over their states, it is fair to say they pull a great many strings.
“Obviously, our focus is on Syria and Iran. Our opinion is known that Iran needs to leave Syria — that is not something new for you.” Netanyahu told the Associated Press. Not so coincidentally, the AP also noted that Ali Akbar Velayati, a senior adviser to Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, also left for Moscow on Wednesday for a meeting with Putin.
The Israel-Iran-Syria topic is also likely to be a discussion point during Monday’s meeting between Putin and U.S. President Trump in Helsinki.
“Jewish-Only” Law Brings Protests
Thousands of protestors demonstrated in the streets of Tel Aviv over the weekend against a proposed bill up for a vote in the Israeli Knesset that would effectively identify Israel as an exclusively Jewish state.
The protesters call the nation-state bill “racist and discriminatory,” according to the Jerusalem Post because of its apparent exclusion of anyone who is not Jewish in some areas, such as allowing religion-exclusive communities. These may already exist, but the difference is that they could now be enforced by law, a situation ripe for abuse, discrimination, and an end to democratic Israel, according to critics.
The bill would also make Hebrew the sole official state language demoting Arabic to a “unique status” among other symbolic identifiers that would be codified. The bill is supported by the ruling party led by Prime Minister Netanyahu and has led to intense debate within the Knesset.
Just before Monday, however, the ruling coalition submitted an amended version of the bill in response to the blowback. The new copy specifically altered the wording around the Jewish-only communities. The bill now reads, “The state sees developing Jewish communities a national value and will act to encourage, promote and establish them.” as opposed to the prior wording that allowed groups to establish separate communities, “on the basis of religion and nationality.”
The bill will be put to the vote on Monday.