(March 15, 2019 / JNS) Israeli war planes struck more 100 Hamas targets overnight on Thursday, reprisals for two long-range Fajr missiles fired from Gaza that soared over Tel Aviv earlier that evening, triggering warning sirens that sent residents of Israel’s second-most populated city scrambling for bomb shelters.
The attack, which occurred at 9:10 p.m., marked the first time that rockets were fired at Tel Aviv since the Israel Defense Forces’ “Operation Protective Edge” in Gaza in 2014.
No injuries were reported, though five people were treated for shock.
While Hamas denied issuing the attack, Israeli Air Force missions against terror targets were conducted throughout the night, including a Hamas drone center in southern Gaza and a base for Hamas naval commandos. Despite dozens of airstrikes, no casualties were reported by the Hamas-run Gaza Health Ministry.
Some reports indicated that the Palestinian Islamic Jihad could have launched the attack on Tel Aviv, and that it is known to have Fajr missiles in its arsenal. The terror group denied any involvement.
Following the rockets being launched from Gaza, warning sirens were triggered three times in Jewish communities along its border with Israel, with nine rockets reportedly fired at Israel—six intercepted by the Iron Dome air defense system, two landing in an open field and one failing to exit the Gaza Strip.
No injuries were reported inside Israel; however, rocket fragments were discovered at a children’s school in Sderot.
The dramatic escalation took place a little more than a month before Israelis are scheduled to go to the polls for national elections, and just two months before Tel Aviv is expected to host the international Eurovision song contest.
The city of Tel Aviv ordered bomb shelters opened and aired out, but did not issue any special instructions, encouraging residents to go on with life as normal.
Palestinian media reported that Hamas leaders went into hiding, and military posts were evacuated in anticipation of Israeli reprisals. Additional reports indicated that the IDF also ordered an Egyptian delegation in Gaza to leave immediately, in preparation for their bombing runs.
During “Operation Protective Edge” in 2014, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu issued orders from the IDF Kirya headquarters in Tel Aviv in coordination with then-Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon to then-IDF Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Benny Gantz. Gantz and Ya’alon are now leaders of the Blue and White political party, which is considered the primary opponent to Netanyahu’s Likud Party.
‘The time has come to defeat Hamas’
As Netanyahu made his way to the Kirya on Thursday night, the Union of Right Wing Parties called on the prime minister to issue a “disproportionate response” in order to “restore security and national honor to the State of Israel.”
Yisrael Beiteinu chief Avigdor Lieberman, whose resignation due to Netanyahu’s ceasefire agreement with Hamas sparked the upcoming elections, took to Twitter to chastise the government for transferring funds to Gaza just this week, saying “protection money does not bring quiet. On the contrary, it instigates further provocations.”
New Right Party co-chair and current Education and Diaspora Affairs Minister Naftali Bennett said “the time has come to defeat Hamas once and for all. No more shooting at sand dunes with causing injury to the enemy, but time for an uncompromising pursuit and systematic neutralization of Hamas’s leaders.”
Longtime journalist Caroline Glick, now a New Right Knesset hopeful, added that “Gantz and Ya’alon who didn’t even want to destroy the Hamas tunnels just won’t do,” and said Bennett should receive the Defense Ministry position.
Blue and White No. 2 Yair Lapid said “whoever fails to act with strength against Hamas in the Gaza envelope will get missiles on Tel Aviv. In our government, there will be zero tolerance for fire on Israel, and we will respond forcefully to any violation of the security of the state and its residents.”
At Sunday’s cabinet meeting, Netanyahu said “I heard people from Gaza saying that since we are in an election campaign a wide-range operation is out of the question. I posit to Hamas—don’t count on it,” he added. “We will do everything necessary to restore security and quiet to the area next to the Gaza Strip and to the south in general.”