Kassam rockets fired from Gaza hit Israel

A Kassam rocket fired from Gaza struck southern Israel for the second time in two days.

Both rockets, one fired Monday morning and one fired Sunday afternoon, struck open areas in the Negev. No injuries or damage was reported.

The changing face of Israel’s war on terrorists

If Israel has its way, this is how future conflicts with Gaza-based terrorists will unfold: Israeli aircraft launch surgical strikes on rocket launchers; terrorist leaders are assassinated as necessary; Israeli civilians along the southern frontier are protected by advanced technology that shoots enemy rockets out of the sky; and the world, preoccupied with other matters, is too distracted to object.

The clashes last weekend weekend provide a glimpse of what this brave new world of war craft might look like. They were precipitated by the Israel Defense Forces’ (IDF) bombing of a car that carried Zuhair Qaisi, leader of the Popular Resistance Committees (PRC) in the Gaza Strip, and another top PRC terrorist released in the Gilad Shalit prisoner exchange.

As Israeli leaders expected, Islamist terrorist organizations responded with a barrage of mortar shells, Qassam rockets and Grad missiles aimed at the million or so Israelis living within firing range of Gaza. But Israel’s Iron Dome rocket defense system performed admirably, foiling dozens of deadly hits and providing Israel with cover to go after terrorists it considers valuable targets.

Israel also has been able to act decisively without causing widespread carnage and inviting a broader retaliation. As of March 12, Israel Air Force strikes had resulted in few civilian deaths among the more than 20 Palestinians killed — most of the casualties were members of terror groups. And with the world largely distracted by the violence in Syria and a looming confrontation with Iran, it seems that Israel’s leaders viewed this as an opportune moment to strike.

“The Americans are busy with presidential elections; Syria is involved in a civil war, which means that its proxy in Lebanon — Hezbollah — has been weakened; and Egypt is dependent on the U.S. and is in no position to do anything,” said professor Efraim Inbar of the Begin-Sadat (BESA) Center for Strategic Studies at Bar-Ilan University. “Most of the world would be relieved that Israel is tied down in Gaza and not planning an attack on Iran.”

On the Palestinian side, a different set of considerations is driving Hamas, the controlling power in Gaza, to refrain from taking an active part in the attacks against Israel and confronting more extremist organizations.

Hamas is keen to show it can ensure quiet in Gaza and avoid provoking Israel, but it also wants to preserve its position with Gaza’s young and radicalized population by avoiding a clash with the PRC and Islamic Jihad. Both groups are so-called muqawama, or rejectionist, terror groups, funded and backed by Iran, and oppose what they see as Hamas’ “pragmatic” approach. They advocate a commitment to violent struggle against Israel.

“Hamas is in transformation, moving away from its old alliance with Iran and Syria, and attempting to align itself with Sunni states such as Egypt and Saudi Arabia,” said Ehud Yaari of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy. “Hamas has a vested interest in showing that it is capable of maintaining stability in Gaza.”

The decision to pursue Qaisi was driven by the IDF’s belief that he was in the process of planning a terrorist attack from the Sinai Peninsula, a swath of land measuring 23,000 square miles that is only nominally under Egyptian control. Qaisi already had succeeded in launching such an attack, last August, which left eight Israelis dead. The ensuing fighting along the border also claimed the lives of three Egyptian soldiers, prompting thousands to storm Israel’s embassy and souring relations between Jerusalem and Cairo.

Avoiding such an eventuality appears to be shared on the opposite side of the border. Egypt, where President Hosni Mubarak’s autocratic regime has been replaced with a parliament controlled by the Muslim Brotherhood — an Islamist organization with close ties to Hamas — might be compelled to react in the face of widespread civilian deaths in Gaza, Yaari said. But given the country’s relative instability and lack of clear leadership, all factions of the country’s government would like to avoid a Gaza crisis and a further deterioration in relations with Israel.

Egypt’s intelligence chief, Murad Muafi, is playing a major role as a liaison between Hamas and Israel to bring about a cease-fire in Gaza.

Israel’s ability to act narrowly in Gaza — avoiding the threat of an Egyptian retaliation while reducing the likelihood of high civilian casualties that would have generated intense pressure for a wide-scale assault — was enabled by the technological wizardry behind Iron Dome, a potential game-changer in Israel’s continuing struggle against cross-border terrorism, even if it leaves the region’s underlying dynamics unchanged.

The technology, first deployed in southern Israel in March 2011, is capable of downing rockets with a range of between 2.5 and 43 miles. In the latest round of clashes, it has intercepted more than 90 percent of incoming rockets, according to the Jerusalem Post, up from 75 percent a year ago. So far, only one Israeli civilian has been seriously wounded — a 40-year-old worker from Thailand who was hit by shrapnel.

The much-reduced risk of civilian casualties on the Israeli side protects the political leadership from pressure to undertake a full-scale assault on Gaza, as happened during Operation Cast Lead, the 22-day military incursion into the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip that began in December 2008 and left 1,166 Palestinians and 13 Israelis dead.

“Under the circumstances,” said Yoram Schweitzer, a terrorism expert at the Institute for National Security Studies, “when the chance arose to take out Qaisi, we took advantage of it.”

Kassams land near mayor of Sderot’s house; Interfaith fellowship group denies missionary ties

Qassam Lands Near Sderot Mayor’s Home

A Qassam rocket fired from the Gaza Strip landed in a residential neighborhood of Sderot.

The rocket landed Sunday not far from the home of Mayor Eli Moyal, Ynet reported, and started a fire that was extinguished quickly by firefighters. No injuries were reported.

Defense Minister Ehud Barak ordered all Israel-Gaza border crossings closed Monday in response to the attack.

An Egyptian-mediated cease-fire between Israel and the terrorist Hamas-run Gaza Strip has been breached by rocket attacks more than 36 times in the past three months.

“Everything is all right at home,” Moyal told Ynet. “The problem here is not a personal one but a political one. People are under the impression that there is a cease-fire, but a few dozen rockets have been fired at Israel since the truce went into effect.

“During the months of the cease-fire the Palestinian groups have armed themselves with thousands of more rockets.”

Eckstein Denies Group’s Money Used to Missionize

Rabbi Yechiel Eckstein denied a report suggesting that some money raised by his interfaith group was used to missionize Jews.

The Israeli daily Ma’ariv reported Monday that Eckstein’s organization, the Chicago-based International Fellowship of Christians and Jews, gave $10,000 in 2007 to an evangelical group in Jerusalem that proselytizes Israeli Jews. It also reported that the fellowship sent money to a Protestant group in Massachusetts that Ma’ariv called “a controversial Christian cult.”

Eckstein, the fellowship’s founder and president who has raised tens of millions of dollars for Israel from American evangelicals, insisted the story misrepresented the facts. He said the report was simply a continuation of a smear campaign against him and the information was fed to the newspaper by a source with an axe to grind.

Eckstein said the fellowship used the Jerusalem group, King of Kings, to pass $10,000 to a church in Bethlehem to help provide humanitarian aid to local Christians before Christmas.

“We were informed last year about the dwindling Christian community in Bethlehem, which has been persecuted by the radical Muslims there to the point that most of them have left. And the Protestant church there and the people there needed funds for basic needs — food, clothing, medicine, heating fuel,” he said. “We didn’t hesitate to respond with a modest gift — at least for us. The only place that could deliver that was this group, King of Kings.”

As to the gift to the Massachusetts group, the Community of Christ in Orleans, Eckstein said it was a $750 donation by the fellowship to the group’s choir after canceling on an event there.

Briefs courtesy Jewish Telegraphic Agency