Israel is preparing personnel other than its air force to respond to the growing threat of missile and rocket attacks from Gaza — which have reached as far north as the outskirts of Jerusalem — a top military spokeswoman said Thursday.
“The ground option is on the table, we are not ruling it out just yet,” said Lt. Col. Avital Leibovitch in a conference call with international media. “There are other options as well since we have other branches of the military that are still not participating [in the offensive.] We are taking it one step at a time, measuring our achievements and then going to the next steps.
“We have infantry units in the area and reserve units ready. A ground operation is definitely an option.”
Leibovich spoke to reporters a few hours after three civilians were killed by a rocket in the southern town of Kiryat Malachi and four soldiers were injured in a separate attack on the Gaza border, and just 30 minutes after missiles landed harmlessly in the Tel Aviv suburb of Rishon LeZion.
(On Friday air raid sirens sounded in Jerusalem and rocket strikes were reported in the Gush Etzion area.)
“We have been under rocket fire for the past 24 hours, with more than 200 rockets fired from Gaza, mostly directed at the largest and most populated cities in southern Israel: Ashdod, Beer Sheva and Ashkelon, which each have about 200,000 people,” Leibovich told the reporters.
She said interceptors from the Iron Dome defensive batteries, deployed with U.S. cooperation, have stopped more than 80 rockets coming from Gaza as of the time of the call, which was organized by the U.S.-based advocacy group The Israel Project.
Israel on Wednesday responded to increasing rocket attacks with surgical strikes against Hamas military targets from the air, including an airstrike that took out the terror group’s leader, Ahmad al-Jabari, and another man believed to be his son. Leibovich said Israel has particularly targeted an arsenal of Fajr-5 missiles developed by Iran and given to Hamas, destroying a large portion of that supply. The operation has been titled Pillar Of Defense.
“Jabari was one of the arch-terrorists, he had a lot of Israeli blood on his hands and I believe Hamas got loud and clear the message when we targeted the vehicle he sat in,” said Leibovitch. “The goal of the operation is … defending 1 million Israelis and, if the Fajr-5s are activated, as many as 3 million.
Israel’s last major incursion into Gaza following the 2005 disengagement ordered by then-Prime Minister Ariel Sharon was in December, 2008, following the election of Barack Obama. The operation, dubbed Cast Lead, was meant to root out Hamas elements and free captured soldier Gilad Shalit. Shalit, however, was not freed until last year in a prisoner exchange.
In response to a question about whether Hamas has support from elements on the Egyptian side of the Sinai border, Leibovitch said Hamas “still has a terror capability. This is a joint venture not only by Hamas but also in Gaza by Islamic Jihad.” She said Hamas was aided by a “smuggling industry” utilizing some 400 tunnels going into the nine-mile long Gaza Strip.