Israel fears Tel Aviv is next target

By Anshel Pfeffer, November 3, 2011
Israelis and Palestinians mourn the deaths of friends and relatives killed in the latest round of fighting

Israelis and Palestinians mourn the deaths of friends and relatives killed in the latest round of fighting

The violent escalation around the Gaza Strip last weekend and the launching of Grad rockets at Israeli cities by Islamic Jihad have raised concerns that Tel Aviv may be soon be a target.

"Hamas in Gaza already has dozens of missiles capable of reaching Tel Aviv," said a senior defence official, "and to a lesser degree, Islamic Jihad has similar capabilities. So far they have not crossed the red line by using missiles at such ranges, but it can't be ruled out in the future."

The latest round began last week on Wednesday night, when Islamic Jihad launched a Grad missile that hit the Lachish area, without causing damage or casualties.

The past few weeks, leading up to and immediately following the Shalit prisoner deal, have been peaceful around the Gaza Strip.

Hamas has held fire in recent months; it has been more interested consolidating its control over Gaza and reaping the benefits of the Shalit deal, which has boosted the movement's standing among the Palestinian public.

Islamic Jihad, which has officially objected to Hamas's policy of restraint, has also been kept in check since the escalation which followed the terror attack north of Eilat in August.

The missile on Wednesday was launched to commemorate the assassination of the movement's founder, Fathi Shkaki, in 1995. In retaliation, Israel carried out limited attacks against Islamic Jihad that night. The next two days were calm until Israel carried out an air attack on a group of Jihad fighters near Rafah on Saturday afternoon. Five were killed, including a member of the group's military council.

BBC fact failure

A BBC web report on last weekend's violence detailed fully the Israeli offensives but left out the Palestinian rocket attacks. In addition, the BBC article gave the impression that the Israelis had initiated the exchange, when in fact it was kick-started by Islamic Jihad when it launched a missile at Ashdod on Wednesday last week. The report mentioned only Palestinian casualties. A story posted later by the BBC reported the attacks on Israel, including the initial assault.

According to Israeli military sources, the group had been planning longer-range missile launches against Israel. The attack sparked off an escalation in which over 40 rockets and mortar rounds were fired into Israel over the next three days. One Israeli was killed and three wounded.

In subsequent Israeli attacks on missile crews in Gaza, another five Jihad fighters were killed. An unofficial ceasefire was achieved on Monday, through Egyptian mediators.

Israeli defence sources said that the IDF's attacks were directed at preventing further missile launches. Senior ministers said on record that a wider campaign in Gaza against Hamas and Islamic Jihad is "inevitable".

Meanwhile, the smuggling of advanced missiles into the Strip continues unabated, including arms looted from the Libyan army. In addition to missiles directed at Israeli cities, there is growing concern over shoulder-launched anti-aircraft missiles, which has led to the decision to equip all Israeli passenger airliners flying to Eilat with defence systems.

Last updated: 2:22pm, November 3 2011