When Israelis awoke on Monday morning to the news that a house in Moshav Mishmeret, in the centrally located Sharon region, had been reduced to rubble by a long-range Hamas rocket from Gaza, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had just arrived in Washington, D.C., to attend the annual AIPAC conference and meet with U.S. President Donald Trump.
In a repeat performance from 11 days earlier, after two Iranian-made rockets landed in Tel Aviv, Hamas claimed that the launch had been unintentional. It was the fault of clumsy maintenance crews. Or the weather.
Representatives of Islamic Jihad and other so-called “Palestinian factions” in Gaza had a slightly different version of events. The rocket fire, they reportedly said, was “in retaliation” for the treatment of their brethren at the hands of the Israel Prison Service.
On Sunday evening, Hamas terrorists at the Ketziot prison in the Negev stabbed two guards who were conducting searches to locate and confiscate mobile phones. The crackdown—crucial to put a stop to communication between incarcerated terrorists and their counterparts outside plotting the slaughter of innocent Israelis—sparked a riot in which several terrorists were injured. It was a continuation of the violence the previous week at the Ramon prison, where Hamas inmates set fire to 14 beds, causing a blaze in their wing.
Hours after insisting that the rocket attack on the house in Mishmeret had been accidental, Hamas released a statement against the “continuing policies of suppression” towards its operatives in the Ketziot prison.
“Our struggling Palestinian people, its forces and resistance stand behind [the prisoners] and will not give up on their duty in defending them and supporting them until they are liberated,” the statement read. “The movement calls on our people, its factions, and elites to immediately support [our prisoners] in a large way with all means and tools and to quickly take action with all parties and institutions to protect them.”
Netanyahu reacted to the hit on Mishmeret as he had to the March 14 rockets on Tel Aviv, by greenlighting a strike by the Israel Defense Forces on strategic targets in the terrorist enclave. This time, however, he took the additional step of deploying the reserves along Israel’s southern border to prepare for a potential ground incursion into Gaza. He also gave an interview in which he said that it would be a big mistake for Hamas to imagine that the looming Knesset elections are going to keep him from taking whatever drastic measures he sees fit.
Then he announced that he was cutting his U.S. trip short and returning home to deal with the escalating situation. This meant having to forfeit a private dinner at the White House with Trump on Tuesday and deliver his speech to AIPAC via video call from Tel Aviv.
But he rightly stayed in D.C. long enough to take part in the ceremonial signing of Trump’s proclamation recognizing Israeli sovereignty over the Golan Heights. After all, the historic act provides a critical boost for Israel in the face of Iranian presence along the Syrian and Lebanese borders, and serves as yet another signal to the Tehran-backed terrorists in Gaza that Washington will give Netanyahu free rein when it comes to the use of military force against Israel’s enemies.
And therein lies the rub.
Netanyahu must answer the security needs of Israel’s Gaza-border communities, which have been bearing the brunt of Hamas and Islamic Jihad rockets, fire bombs, terror tunnels, incendiary balloons and riots. Many of these war-weary residents say that they are sick and tired of hearing that the government’s way of “restoring deterrence” is to “bomb a bunch of empty buildings, while allowing Qatari cash to flow in to Gaza.”
Ironically, this is also a slogan that is being used by Netanyahu’s electoral rivals from the left, who vehemently oppose Israel’s reoccupying of Gaza, on one hand, and assert that they would do a better job of achieving peace, on the other.
Then there are those Israelis who react to every new attack by calling on the government to blitz the Hamas-controlled enclave “into oblivion.”
The IDF certainly has the capability to do this, but no Israeli leader—neither Netanyahu nor any potential replacement—is going to approve what would amount to the indiscriminate mass murder of Gazans. If the Israel Prison Service refrains from eliminating the terrorists in its jails, even when they revolt and stab guards with makeshift daggers, there is no way that the Israeli government would give the go ahead to kill women and children. This is why, ahead of each Israeli airstrike in Gaza, the IDF warns residents to move out of the line of fire. Such is the blessing and curse of being a democracy.
Most of the Israeli public is aware that Netanyahu is not to blame for the asymmetric warfare imposed on the Jewish state by immoral forces bent on its destruction. Whether this is reflected at the ballot box on April 9 remains to be seen.
What is certain, however, is that when his key challenger, Blue and White Party chairman Benny Gantz, was asked on Monday by Channel 12’s Yonit Levi how he would confront the Gaza problem differently from Netanyahu, he stammered incomprehensibly. This is because the only policies he has been promoting are ones that Netanyahu has already adopted and implemented. You know, such as forging friendships with regional and international powers.
Which brings us to Egypt—one of a growing number of former enemy states with which Netanyahu has developed a strong working relationship.
Hamas knows full well that, unlike Israel, Egypt is not governed or constrained by democratic principles, and its military does not proudly aim for “purity of arms.” Its leadership understands that if a Palestinian rocket were to land near Cairo, Gaza would be would be pummeled to a heap.
At the moment, then, the best hope for quiet along the Gaza-Israel border—aside from a necessary new round of IDF airstrikes on Gaza, hopefully against key Hamas leaders—is Egyptian intervention.
Recently, Cairo not only has been pressuring Hamas to cease all of its anti-Israel activities, but earlier this month expressed a loss of patience with the terrorist organization’s “double game.”
A temporary truce is not a long-term solution, of course. But as Netanyahu has shown, buying time in a Middle East beset with shifting alliances has been the wisest course of Israeli action.
Ruthie Blum is an Israel-based journalist and author of “To Hell in a Handbasket: Carter, Obama, and the ‘Arab Spring.’ ”