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Israel Steps Up Counter-Rocket Tactics

With volleys back and forth across the northern Israeli border with Lebanon throughout the weekend subsiding somewhat as a UN-sponsored truce holds, Israeli action in Gaza took a new, aggressive turn. Israeli reaction to rocket attacks from northern Gaza into Israel has to-date been reactionary in nature and most often after-the-fact. Artillery shelling of open fields and buildings used as the launch points of choice primarily by Palestinian Islamic Jihad and Popular Resistance Committees terrorists has been the norm.

This time however, an IDF special unit was on the ground in Gaza and called in strikes on terrorists readying their rockets before they could fire, marking significant change in the timeline of Israeli action from reactionary to pre-emptive.

Whether this was a one-time intelligence source developed or a sign of the pace to come is not yet clear. But IDF neutralization of the attackers and their rockets before they could launch is a significant pre-emptive success and noteworthy.

To the north, Israel has vowed a far harsher response than that seen this weekend if rocket attacks and border attacks into Israel from Lebanon continue. It is believed that Israel has reiterated in no uncertain terms directly to the Lebanese government that they need to assert control and take responsibility for attacks launched from within their own territory, as Israel clearly intends to hold that government responsible, whether the attacks come from Hizballah across the frontier or from PFLP rocket positions within Lebanon’s southwestern borders. Lebanese officials were said to be working feverishly to bring the Hizballah and PFLP attacks to a close after Israel warned that Beirut would be a target of Israeli reprisals, clearly a punishment for lack of control.

In other developments, the IDF arrested a would-be suicide bomber and his ‘handler’ near Nablus as they attempted to discard a 15-pound suicide bomb belt when IDF troops approached.

Also, just as the 3,000-man Hamas militia was withdrawn into bases to ease tensions between Hamas and Abbas’ Fatah Police Forces, Hamas has put the new force back onto the streets of Gaza. As tensions with Israel rise on all fronts, Hamas looks to gain some popular support back.

This is evidenced by the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP) offering to join the Hamas government, which it has refused to do to date. This is a needed assist to Hamas, who saw Abbas wield popular clout in calling for a referendum vote on dealing with Israel. But as tensions soar, Hamas likely expects to regain what it may perceive to have lost amid the financial crisis since taking office.

Meanwhile, four Hamas officials in Jerusalem – three ministers of parliament and the Minister for Jerusalem Affairs - have been ordered by Interior Minister Roni Bar-On to renounce their membership to Hamas or be forced to leave East Jerusalem. The Hamas members have refused, saying they have done nothing to violate Israeli law. Said Khaled Abu Arafa, “We are not studying all the legal aspects of this matter. We will fight the decision and will defeat it via legal means.”