Close to a million Israelis in southern Israel are currently experiencing something reminiscent of the blitz on a daily basis, as Hamas and other Palestinian armed groups in the Gaza Strip fire rockets indiscriminately at their homes. The rest of the county is following rocket by rocket via round the clock TV and radio broadcasts and social media.
This is what you see when you turn on the evening news or switch on the radio in Israel. Correspondent follows correspondent based in Sderot, Beerhseva, Ashkelon and Ashdod. They report on the last time the sirens sounded and how many explosions they heard. They try to distinguish the noise of an incoming rocket being intercepted by the Iron Dome missile defence system, and the noise of a rocket making impact. Then they promise to report back with news of any casualties, and it's on to the next town. We might see the same reporter twenty minutes later outside a damaged building, often interviewing shocked residents or police, marvelling at the fortune of their survival. Sometimes the news is more tragic, as an in a house in the town in Kiryat Malachi where three Israelis were killed by a direct hit on Thursday.
Frequently the live report will be interrupted by the siren sounding whilst the reporter is in mid-sentence, causing them to make their hasty excuses before running for cover. Then the anchor will introduce reports made earlier in the day. Footage of kindergarten children huddled in bomb shelter; security officers pulling the twisted remains of an Iranian supplied artillery rocket out of the ground; angry residents within the 40 km range of the rockets asking when the government is going to sort out the problem. During peak periods of rocket fire schools close completely, and if kids can't go to school, many of their parents can't go to work.
This is not just the reality of the last twenty four hours or even just the reality since Saturday, when armed groups in Gaza triggered the latest escalation with a guided anti-tank missile which injured four Israeli soldiers patrolling the border. There have been periodic escalations like this with increasing frequency for more than a year, instigated by various armed extremist groups in the Gaza Strip. Indeed rocket fire at Israeli towns close to the Gaza, with varying levels of intensity, has been a reality since 2001. Lately, Israelis have got used to seeing the evening news open with the dreaded words, 'haslama b'darom' ('escalation in the south').
The public pressure on the Israeli government to act in such circumstances has been considerable during each escalation. But the government has been reluctant to launch a major military operation until now, restricting their responses to targeting those firing the rockets and limited strikes on weapons storage sites. The last major operation against armed groups in the Gaza Strip, Operation Cast Lead, a three week campaign that began at the end of December 2008, temporarily established Israeli deterrence and brought a period of calm to Israel's south.
But that operation came at a considerable diplomatic cost, and with the advent of the Arab Spring, Israel's diplomatic position in the region has become even more difficult. The rise of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt has left relations between Israel and Egypt hanging by a thread, and has emboldened Hamas in the Gaza Strip.
Israel's deterrence has slowly eroded, rocket fire gradually increased and normal life for residents of southern Israel deteriorated again. Typically it has been smaller factions starting the escalations, but Israel holds responsible Hamas, which has overall control of the Gaza Strip, and Hamas has shown increasing readiness to get involved with the firing directly.
Under such circumstances a major Israeli military operation was only a matter of time. Israelis living within forty kilometres of the Gaza Strip will hope it is completed soon, and returns some degree of normality to their lives, after years of living under threat.
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