Air Raid Sirens Sound in Tel Aviv

Editor’s Note: In an interview with John Hockenberry on The Takeaway, Natan Sachs discusses the situation in Israel and Gaza. Read an excerpt below.

John Hockenberry: Is the situation in Israel and Gaza at a crossroads right now? Is Israel poised for a land invasion of Gaza once again and our militants in Gaza poised to fire longer range rockets into Tel Aviv itself? Since the fighting began at least 20 Palestinians and three Israelis have been killed, the Israeli Army has begun an initial draft of 16,000 reservists. Natan Sachs follows Israeli foreign and domestic policy at the Saban Center for Middle East Policy at the Brookings Institution in Washington DC. Natan Sachs, welcome to the show.

Hockenberry: Two things – First, how would you characterize the mobilization of Israel at this point, and what of the tactics of militants in Gaza do you find most alarming at this point?

Natan Sachs: Israel is preparing for the possibility of even a ground invasion and the call-up of reserves, thousands of reserves, is clearly preparation for that. But the decision to launch a ground operation has not been made yet. Israel would prefer to stop at this point – it scored a tactical victory from its point of view – in the killing of the head of the Hamas military wing Ahmed Jabari at the beginning of this operation, and also in the destruction of most of Hamas’ medium and longer-range missiles known as Fajr missiles, those are the ones that can hit Tel Aviv. But on the Hamas side we have already seen attacks this morning – missiles that hit Tel Aviv though they did not cause casualties there – but sirens were heard again in Tel Aviv today. We are seeing an ability by Hamas to fire many rockets, hundreds of rockets into Israel, mostly short range rockets, but now we are also seeing longer range ones.

Hockenberry: But doesn’t the timing of this escalation and the campaign against the Hamas leadership you just referred to play into arguments like these – here is Mustafa Barghouti, a member of the Palestinian National Legislative Council, who says the escalation in Gaza must be stopped, and is political in nature, . Listen to Barghouti: “This Israeli government has escalated the situation purposefully, and we think that Netanyahu the Prime Minister of Israel is using Palestinian and Israeli blood for his election campaign. We had a truce, the truce could have been confirmed on the 12th by the Egyptians, and the Israelis broke it.” What do you make of that argument, and does it find resonance there in Israel and among the Palestinians?

Sachs: It certainly finds resonance among the Palestinians. Among Israelis it finds little resonance. And the reason is that in recent months the world press has not paid all that much attention but Israelis have focused very strongly on the rocket fire on Israel. Today we heard about Tel Aviv, but in truth, many towns and cities nearer to Gaza have been suffering rocket attacks for weeks, and the Israeli press and the Israeli public pay a lot of attention to it. It is worth remembering that Israel is a very small country, and this was actually a significant proportion of the population that was under fire. The cease fire – Israel broke what seemed to be a short term cease fire brokered by the Egyptians – it did so mostly because it evaluated that Hamas had changed its tactic since four years ago. Four years ago was the previous involvement when Israel invaded the Gaza Strip, it was called Cast Lead in Israel, and after that Hamas largely refrained from firing rockets itself, but other groups – such as the Islamic Jihad and other factions did this, but Hamas either stayed aside or stopped them from doing it to keep the kind of deterrence that existed between Israel and Hamas. That has changed recently. Hamas was arming itself, and getting involved itself directly in firing rockets at Israel. This is a fundamental change.