There’s always a discussion simmering somewhere about war between Israel and Iran — who will start it, what arms will be used and by whom, what retaliation will be exacted, what the effect will be on the rest of the region, and so on and so forth. The central question is usually, “When will the war begin?”
We’d all like to know how close Israel will allow Iran to get to the nuclear threshold before acting preemptively, but let’s not mince words here. Iran is already at war with Israel, and it is conducting that war through its local proxy, Hamas. The nuclear issue is important — of course it is. But you don’t need nukes to make life here difficult to impossible. Israeli citizens with the misfortune to live within striking distance of the Gaza Strip are already on a literal front line. They’re not anticipating a war; they’re living one.
Earlier this morning, Iranian-backed Palestinians in Gaza heavily shelled civilian areas inside sovereign Israel. Sha’ar Hanegev, Eshkol and Sdot Hanegev were bombarded with more than fifty rockets. Residents were ordered to remain inside their homes or in shelters. Two civilians were injured by shrapnel and taken to Soroka Hospital. “We are used to sporadic rocket and mortar fire, but this was not the daily show we are used to,” said Eyal Brandeis, a kibbutz secretary in the Eshkol Regional Council and the head of a local emergency response team. “When we heard the high number of explosions across the area, we knew this was not an ordinary attack.”
Hamas does what its sponsors tell it to do. The escalation of its war with southern Israel reflects both Iran’s emboldenment following the collapse of the Mubarak regime and its eagerness to test the limits of what it can achieve ahead of end-game nuclear conflict. Remember that this morning’s assault on Israeli civilians follows the interception by the Egyptians of an overland arms shipment from Sudan destined for Hamas, as well as the seizure by the Israeli Navy of a 179-meter-long cargo ship bearing 39 containers full of arms. Thirty-nine containers’ worth of arms is a lot: it puts this smuggling attempt in the ballpark of the Karine A. In one of those details that elevates incidents like this to the level of art, some of the arms came with instruction manuals in Farsi. That’s unreadable to most Gazans, but eloquence itself to the Israelis.
The containers were loaded onto the ship at the Syrian port of Latakia, which is the port at which those two Iranian warships (remember them?) docked last month. The arms included thousands of mortar shells, about 67,000 assault rifle bullets for AK-47s, and six C-704 radar-guided anti-ship missiles. Those missiles have a 35-kilometer range and a 130 kilogram explosive warhead capable of sinking 1,000-ton vessels. The Jerusalem Post notes that if those missiles had reached the Gaza Strip, the Israeli navy — which now operates just a few kilometers off the coast of Gaza — would have had to pull back. This, I need hardly say, would represent a serious blow to Israel’s defensive capability against a hostile western front.
Regarding today’s attack by Hamas: Israel lodged a formal complaint with the UN over the rocket bombardment of civilian areas and also hit Gaza with tank shells and helicopter strikes.
Expect condemnation shortly of Israeli aggression.