Rocket fire from Gaza at Israel is ongoing at the time this report was filed.
By Jonathan Hessen and Erin Viner
Air raid sirens sounded throughout southern and much of central Israel today as the Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ) terror group launched multiple rocket barrages toward Israel’s most densely populated towns and cities, including Tel Aviv.
The PIJ and other terror groups had pledged to retaliate for the killing of three of its leaders in yesterday’s surprise attack by the Israeli Air Force (IAF), that clearly caught the second-tier leadership of the Iranian-proxy unprepared.
Israel announced the start of Operation Shield and Arrow yesterday against the PIJ exactly one week after the PIJ fired 104 rockets and mortar shells at Israel’s southern communities. In a relatively limited response at that time, Israeli Air Force (IAF) fighter jets launched two waves of 16 aerial strikes on targets operated by the PIJ and the Islamist Hamas rulers of the Palestinian enclave.
At at 11:46 AM today, an IDF Unmanned Aerial Vehicle successfully struck a terror squad headed toward a launch site in the city of Khan Younis in the southern part of the Gaza Strip. Later, following intelligence the PIJ was preparing to launch rockets at Israeli population centers, the IDF launched a preemptive aerial attack targeting over 40 rocket launchers throughout the Hamas-controlled territory.
Despite holding back from overnight attacks, salvoes of missiles were fired from Gaza at southern Israeli towns and cities, including Ashkelon and Ashdod. The majority of the incoming projectiles and mortar shells either exploded in uninhabited areas or were intercepted by Israel’s aerial defense array, although some did strike residential neighborhoods including a house in Sderot. No one was injured as the family was not at home at the time.
During a telephone conversation with mayors and community leaders in southern Israel, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu highlighted Jerusalem’s resolve, and stressed the possibility of further expanding the military campaign against the PIJ.
Earlier, the Israeli leader convened a meeting of his Security Cabinet that was also attended by Defense Minister Yoav Gallant, IDF Chief of General Staff Lieutenant General Herzi Halevi and ISA Director Ronen Bar.
Many details related to Operation Shield and Arrow were unveiled at a following press conference.
“We are at the height of an operation. In the next several days we will all be required to exercise fortitude and resilience. When we took the decision to initiate Operation Shield and Arrow a week ago, the Defense Minister and I instructed the IDF and the security establishment to prepare for any scenario of escalation, and it may include more than one front,” stated Prime Minister Netanyahu, warning Israel’s enemies, “Any escalation by your hands will be met with a decisive response by us.”
The PIJ attack on Israel “was not only an act of terrorism, but also a clear challenge to our presence in this country,” stated Defense Minister Gallant.
ISA Director Bar identified two of the assassinated PIJ commanders, Tareq Izzeldin and Jihad Ghannam, as “the primary terror orchestrators in Judea and Samaria” who “acted unopposed from within the Gaza Strip.” Izzeldin, said the intelligence chief, was “the driving force behind the terror group’s activities” and “personally directed over 20 terror cells aimed at murdering Israelis.” He branded the third targeted leader, Khalil al-Bahtini, as “the chief mastermind of rocket fire toward Israel’s Gaza Periphery communities.”
While the public remains unaware of ongoing daily and nightly operations in the hearts of Palestinian cities against terrorist networks, the Director Bar stressed that his agency, acting in cooperation with the IDF and Border Police National Counter-Terrorism Unit (INCT or Yamam), eliminated a rocket manufacturing cell in the Nablus refugee camp that had represented “a dangerous precedent.”
“In recent months, many Islamic Jihad operatives have been arrested. They were responsible for a large number of terror alerts. Their arrest effectively thwarted these attacks and saved lives. However, we have no intention to wait defensively for the attackers. Rather, we will always act offensively against their handlers,” Bar went on to say, stressing, “It is important to note that Palestinian Islamic Jihad is an organization that is fully funded by Iran. The hands may be Palestinian, but its entirety and essence is Iranian. The same Iran which, with its other hand, supposedly seeks peace with the Arab and Western worlds.”
Warning that “we will not allow Iran to operate by means of proxy organizations,” the Shin Bet Chief underscored that Israel “will strike and foil all of its attempts to destabilize the security’s stability and harm Israeli civilians.”
Whereas the IDF made every effort to minimize harm to uninvolved people, a challenge was difficult to overcome due to the deliberate positioning by terror organizations in highly populated civilian areas of Gaza.
2.3 million Palestinians live in the 365 square kilometer (140 square mile) Gaza Strip.
While Islamic terrorists intentionally endangers the lives of Gaza residents while seeking to kill Israelis, pointed out Gen. Halevi, Israeli forces “do everything in our power to avoid harming civilians on their side.”
The military leader stressed that Operation Shield and Arrow is aimed at sending an unequivocal message to the nation’s enemies, that “whoever fires a barrage of rockets toward Sderot, whoever acts relentlessly to kill Israeli citizens from Gaza and via directives from other places, is not immune.”