- The Washington Times - Monday, June 19, 2006

In Israel’s ongoing war with Islamofascism, one of Prime Minister Ehud Olmert’s top national security challenges today is stopping the continuous rocket fire from Gaza into neighboring Israeli towns. Since Israel withdrew from Gaza last summer, more than 500 rockets have been fired at Israeli civilian targets from Palestinian Authority-controlled Gaza, hitting schools, kindergartens, farms, private homes and factories.

Schools have been shut down, the wheels of business have ground to a halt and residents debate whether to move or send their children to live in less dangerous parts of the country. In Sderot, an Israel town several miles from the Gaza border, an estimated one-third of the children suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder as a result of the near-daily rocket barrages from Gaza, where Hamas is now in charge.

The situation has grown worse over the past 10 days, after Hamas announced it was ending a “ceasefire” it had declared with Israel. (This was in essence a period in which Hamas refrained from attacking Israel, limiting its role to providing money and logistical support to smaller terrorist groups who do the dirty work.) Late last week, however, Hamas announced it was open to renewing the ceasefire, after Israel sent the terrorist organization a warning through third parties. The message was as follows: If the rocket attacks continue, Israel is prepared to target senior officials in the Hamas-dominated Palestinian Authority leadership.

Since the Israeli warning, Hamas rhetoric has become somewhat less strident, but the rocket strikes on Israel, which briefly subsided, resumed over the weekend. Yesterday morning, Gaza-based terrorists fired rockets that struck a school and a utility pole, knocking out electricity in Sderot for several hours. The entrance to the town will be blocked for one day to protest the the inability of the government to protect residents from the rocket attacks; during this period, no Israelis are permitted to leave or enter the town, including Defense Minister Amir Peretz, the Labor Party leader who is a longtime resident of Sderot.

As the rocket barrages continue, Israel’s security establishment is wrestling with the question of how to re-establish its deterrent capability vs. a Hamas-run Authority. The Israeli government wants to avoid reoccupying Gaza except as a last resort. Its current policy consists of targeted killings of terrorist leaders and attacking rocket-launch sites in Gaza. But, as we have seen in recent weeks, Israel’s capability of staging such raids on densely populated areas is severely limited by the risk of civilian casualties.

Like Israel, Egypt has serious problems with Hamas, which it accuses of training two suicide bombers who blew themselves up in Sinai two months ago, and Cairo is reportedly threatening to block Hamas officials’ freedom of movement through the Sinai unless Hamas changes its behavior. Security threats emanating from Gaza have been further exacerbated by the fact that weapons smuggling from Egypt has increased dramatically following Israel’s pullout last year.

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