Quote of the day:"This cyclical ritual of bloodletting always prompts two questions: "Who started it?" and "Whose is bigger?" It's as if both questions were straight from some preschool playground."--Haaretz commentator Gideon Levy on the current escalation of violence between Israel and Gaza.
The main story in today's Israeli papers was the escalation of violence between Gaza and Israel with much pride over Israel's Iron Dome anti-rocket and missile system and much discussion about how Hamas will maneuver out of the violent quandary. On the sidelines, Haaretz reported on efforts to renew the Israeli-Palestinian peace negotiations and also revealed that a top IDF lawyer accused the head of the military's Civil Administration of the West Bank of allowing settlers to steal private Palestinian land. Meanwhile, extreme right-wing activists planned to demonstrate in front of the home of an Arab MK and former Mossad chief Meir Dagan made people in the prime minister's office angry with an interview he gave to 60 minutes airing tonight.
The papers all blamed the weekend barrage of Palestinian rocket attacks on Israel's assassination of Zuheir Al-Qaisi, the Sec. Gen. of the Popular Resistance Committees (a militant group in Gaza that shoots a lot of rockets and is not to be confused with the non-violent popular resistance committees in Palestinian villages across the West Bank that demonstrate on Friday's against Israel's separation barrier). However, some reported that Al-Qaisi's death was necessary because he was allegedly planning another attack on the Egypt-Israel border. Israel's Iron Dome intercepted many of the over 100 rockets shot into Israel, but it also had some technical problems. (Israel Hayom has an explanation of Israel's Iron Dome system along with a video here.) Fifteen Palestinians were killed by the IDF missile attacks on Gaza. The IDF said the dead were all militants, but Ynet reported that one was a teenager. Some 200,000 Israeli children did not go to school today (no one reported on whether Gazan children went to school) and many Jewish families in the south celebrated Purim in bomb shelters, the newspapers reported.
A couple weeks ago the IDF changed its decision to deploy an Iron Dome battery near Tel-Aviv and instead kept it near Gaza. According to Yedioth's military affairs correspondent Alex Fishman, the current escalation in the Gaza region "was planned in advance. The IDF in fact set up an 'ambush,' while the Southern Command prepared thoroughly days ahead of the current flare-up."
The big question is over how Hamas will deal with the violence. Fishman writes that "Israel is presenting Hamas’ government with a leadership dilemma: In an era where Hamas wishes to portray itself as a pragmatic political party in the eyes of the world, will it have the power and desire to restrain Islamic Jihad fire that also threatens Hamas’ own hegemony in the Strip?" Maariv says Hamas is in a trap: "Either call for opposing Israeli military attacks or avoid warfare." Maariv reports that Gazans are angry at Hamas for staying neutral while locals - including its own members - are being buried and noted that after Hamas politburo member Izzat Al-Risheq wrote on his Facebook page that "all the options are open in order to defend the Palestinian people," someone commented: "I know that those in power are finding it difficult to respond, however instead of shooting rockets, are you satisfied with a verbal condemnation?" Hamas solved its conundrum by turning to Egypt to negotiate a truce, wrote Yedioth and Haaretz. Yesterday Hamas Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh asked Egypt for help to bring a cease-fire between Islamic Jihad, 'the main source of the rocket fire,' and Israel and today senior Hamas official Mahmoud Zahar traveled to Cairo with the same goal. Sources told Yedioth that Islamic Jihad's military power is almost equivalent to that of Hamas now. Asking Egypt for help is the most comfortable option for Hamas because Egypt will ask both Islamic Jihad and Israel to stop shooting and both will have difficulty telling Egypt no. Moreover, Hamas won't be accused by its supporters as opposing the fight against Israel, write Yedioth's Roni Shaked and Yuval Karni. Haaretz quoted a Maan news agency report that both Hamas and Islamic Jihad are committed to the Gaza cease-fire. But Israel Hayom's commentator Dan Margalit wrote "It is safe to assume that the Islamic Jihad is operating at Iran’s behest...also to express Iran’s dissatisfaction with Gaza’s Hamas government." The IDF estimates the rocket fire on the south will continue in the coming days because the Shin Bet says it obtained intelligence that justifies continued Israeli strikes on Gaza.
The top representatives of the MidEast Quartet are set to meet at UN headquarters Monday to try to work out a way to renew long-stalled Israeli-Palestinian peace talks. Their meeting will take place ahead of a special UNSC session on the Arab Spring. Quartet Envoy Tony Blair and EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton will participate via video link.
Haaretz has a fascinating article revealing that a top IDF lawyer has criticized the head of the Civil Administration (the military body that deals with civilian matters in the West Bank) for allowing settlers to steal (the euphemism 'encroachment' is used) Palestinian land.
The attack on Gaza must be bittersweet for Arab Israeli MK Hanin Zouebi, known for her support for Gazans. Over 1000 right-wing activists planned to demonstrate in front of her home in Nazareth today, Maariv and Haaretz reported. Tension was rising ahead of the protest rally as Arabs from the north planned to make a counter-protest. Police were needed to make sure clashes did not ensue, but due to the escalation with Gaza, the police cancelled the rally saying they had to transfer forces to the south.
Once again, the former Mossad chief Meir Dagan made public his belief that an attack on Iran is a bad idea - this time to a US audience. And once again he got people in the prime minister's office very upset. Dagan told '60 Minutes' that the Iranian regime is 'very rational' and is 'considering all the implications of its actions.' Dagan said the best course of action is to foment regime change. The whole interview will air tonight in the US.