Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Rocket Barrage Eases in Southern Israel

After five days of rocket fire from Gaza into Southern Israel, the attacks have begun to subside and Israelis expect to return to normal life in the coming days. Since Friday, when Israel Defense Forces assassinated two major terrorists, more than 200 rockets have been fired into Israel’s south, threatening more than 1 million people.

“When we heard news of the killing of two mega terrorists, everyone in Israel knew we needed to get ready for a reaction. When something like this happens, we are facing rockets attacking our cities,” said Sigal Ariely, Ashkelon resident and JFNA's director of the Ashkelon-Baltimore Partnership. “Luckily, this was only a very short period of tension. I hope that it ends, and we won’t have to feel that again in the next few days.”

Ariely spoke during a teleconference hosted by The Jewish Federations of North America earlier today, alongside Israel Defense Forces Lieutenant Colonel Avital Leibovitch, head of the International Media and Communications Branch of the IDF Spokesperson's Office. More than 150 participants from Jewish Federations listened in to the call, which was moderated by Saby Behar, JFNA’s Israel and Overseas Committee Chair, for an update on what has become the most intense rocket assault on Israel since Operation Cast Lead in 2009.

“It’s tense but nevertheless relatively quiet, compared to yesterday,” said Leibovitch, adding that Israel’s Home Front Command has recommended children return back to school, starting tomorrow.

Both speakers credited Israel’s Iron Dome Defense System, which intercepted nearly 60 rockets, for keeping Israelis safe in the southern cities of Ashdod, Ashkelon and Be'er Sheva. “The Iron Dome is a huge success,” said Leibovitch, adding that the system’s success rate of intercepting rockets ranges between 80 and 90 percent. “The Islamic Jihad is very frustrated due to their lack of achievements because of the success rates of Iron Dome.”

Ariely said the Iron Dome made “a huge difference” in Ashkelon. “We heard sirens, but thank G-d, there were no falling rockets. It’s not comforting to hear the sirens, but when you see that nothing happens, it makes you feel safer.”

Leibovitch also gave an update on the IDF’s targeted assassinations in Gaza that killed Palestinian Popular Resistance Committee (PRC) leader Zuhair Qaisi, PRC member Mahmoud Hanami and 22 other terrorists.

 These assassinations were imperative, said Leibovitch, “to save the lives of Israelis.” The PRC, she said, “has a very radical Islamic doctrine. They have the goal to execute as many terror activities as they can against civilian targets inside Israel, and they have been active in launching rockets into Israel.”

Almost all of the terrorists killed were identified as belonging to the Islamic Jihad, the second-largest terrorist organization in Gaza after Hamas. The Islamic Jihad has been “challenging Hamas” as an increasing threat to Israel in the last year and half, said Leibovitch, and “initiates many terrorist activities against Israel.”

Leibovitch said the Israeli air strikes did not kill a 15-year-old Palestinian, as has been reported in the press, but instead pointed to terrorists’ own rocket fire as the likely cause. “Overall, inside Israel, there were 166 rockets that fell. Of course, [the terrorists] launched a larger number than this, but 10 to 15 percent of those rockets actually fell on Palestinian land.”

Although the violence appears to be subsiding, both Leibovitch and Ariely said that any alleged cease-fire is hardly a reason to celebrate. Leibovitch counted five rockets that had been launched since the cease-fire, and noted that in 2011, there were 627 rocket attacks on Israel – an average of two per day. “It was never really quiet.”

As technology advances, more Israelis are in the line of fire each day. “In 2000, the range of an average rocket from Gaza reached between four and six kilometers, and there were 30,000 people in danger,” said Leibovitch. “Now, the range is 40 to 45 kilometers, and the number of Israelis in danger is one million.”

Ariely agreed that these risks remain a way of life for all Israelis in the southern region. “Unfortunately this is part of our reality,” she said. “Yet this is not normal life. This is not a way for children to live, and for us as parents. Every time there’s a siren, we have to stop and look for shelter, think about where our families are and wonder, ‘are they in a safe place?’ Then we must go back to living life as normal as possible. This is part of how we live.”

The partnership between Ashkelon and THE ASSOCIATED: Jewish Community Federation of Baltimore, has helped lift the spirits of many Ashkelon residents during the recent turmoil. Ariely said many in the Baltimore community have sent notes, gifts and prayers to show their support, and on past occasions, have raised funds and sent aid when Ashkelon residents were in distress. "The fact that we know we have family in Baltimore makes us feel stronger and shows us that we are not alone."

Still, she added, “For me, as a mother, it’s very difficult to see what these sirens are doing to these young kids. We are trying to raise our kids to understand that this conflict is part of our reality. Until we have peace, this will happen every few months.”

For more information, listen to the full recording of the call. JFNA also issued several recent briefings to alert Jewish Federations of the situation.

Israel's South Under Fire (March 11, 2012)
Israel's South Under Fire (March 12, 2012)
Southern Israel Update (March 13, 2012)

JFNA will continue to provide new information and updates as the situation demands.


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