Israel struck three targets in the Gaza Strip early yesterday and warned that an on-going crisis with Palestinian militants had not been resolved, despite a marked decrease in rocket-fire from the territory.
The Israeli military said its warplanes successfully hit a weapons storage facility in central Gaza and two rocket launching sites in the north of the coastal enclave. No casualties were reported following the loud, pre-dawn blasts.
Palestinian militants indicated they were ready for a truce with Israel late on Monday and only one rocket strike was reported in Israel by 10am yesterday.
However, Israeli Minister of Defense Ehud Barak told reporters the government was not prepared to forgive and forget following four days of violence, which saw Gaza’s Islamist Hamas rulers join smaller factions in firing more than 115 missiles into Israel.
“The matter has definitely not ended and we will decide how and when to act at the time when there will be a need,” he said after meeting regional military commanders.
“I do not want to talk about the time or the means, because it would not be right to allow the other side to have this information,” he added.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has convened a meeting of his inner circle of nine senior ministers later yesterday to decide what action to take, aware that public opinion is pushing for an end to the regular Gaza flare-ups.
He discussed possible attack scenarios with Barak and Israeli Chief of Staff Lieutenant General Benny Gantz on Monday night and some ministers have said the air force may return to a policy of targeted killings of senior Islamist leaders in Gaza.
Advocates say targeted killings are an effective deterrent without the complications associated with a ground operation, chiefly civilian and Israeli troop casualties. Proponents argue they also prevent future attacks by removing their masterminds.
Critics say they invite retaliation by militants and encourage them to try to assassinate Israeli leaders.
Defense officials, speaking on condition of anonymity to discuss confidential discussions, said the assassination of Hamas leaders is shaping up as the preferred response to the stepped-up rocket fire.
They have the backing of two former military chiefs with experience in the matter.
Opposition lawmaker Shaul Mofaz served as military chief of staff and defense minister when Israel carried out a wave of assassinations against Hamas and other militant leaders in the early part of the past decade. He and other former senior defense officials contend these assassinations left the Hamas leadership in disarray and put a halt to the rash of Hamas suicide bombings that killed hundreds of Israelis.
“I’m in favor of targeted killings,” Mofaz told Army Radio on Monday. “It is a policy that led Hamas to understand, during the suicide bombings, that they would pay the price should [the bombings] continue.”
Israeli Vice Premier Moshe Yaalon, the chief of staff at the time targeted killings surged, is convinced the practice worked.
“Clearly over these past 13 years there has been an ongoing war, but there have also been extended periods of calm,” Yaalon told Army Radio on Monday. “When I was chief of staff, the targeted killings against Hamas led to extended periods of quiet.”
Under Yaalon and Mofaz, Israeli aircraft struck at the commander of Hamas’ military wing, Salah Shehadeh, the movement’s spiritual leader, Sheik Ahmed Yassin, his successor, Abdel Aziz Rantisi, and dozens of other senior Hamas military commanders. Militants retaliated for some of the attacks, but eventually replaced the suicide bombings with years of rocket fire that still sends Israeli civilians running for shelters.
Leaders of Hamas met officials from the Islamic Jihad and other groups on Monday and said they would respond in future according to how Israel acted — a formulation they have used previously to signal their readiness for a ceasefire.
Israel has shown little appetite for a new Gaza war, which could strain relations with the new Islamist-rooted government in neighboring Egypt. The countries made peace in 1979.
However, Netanyahu will be reluctant to seem weak ahead of a Jan. 22 election that opinion polls currently predict he will win.
Additional reporting by AP