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WAR REPORT
Israel lawmakers: Assassinate Gaza chiefs
by Staff Writers
Tel Aviv, Israel (UPI) Nov 13, 2012


New Israeli warnings on Gaza after rocket fire
Jerusalem (AFP) Nov 13, 2012 - Defence Minister Ehud Barak warned Tuesday that a flare-up in violence with Gaza was "not over," after Palestinian militants fired two more rockets and Israel carried out air strikes overnight.

The violence that began on Saturday appeared to have slowed considerably, hours after militants said they would commit to a ceasefire if the Jewish state did the same.

Israeli warplanes carried out air strikes against several targets overnight, causing no injuries, although medics in Gaza said Tuesday a seventh person had died in the violence, succumbing to wounds he sustained on Saturday.

Palestinian eyewitnesses on Tuesday afternoon reported new shelling in Jabaliya, in northern Gaza, where AFP reporters saw damage to a house.

They also reported an Israeli air strike elsewhere in northern Gaza, although the military said it had no information on either incident.

Barak, meeting Israeli military chiefs, warned that the current round of confrontations was ongoing, adding that Israel would decide how and when to respond to the rocket fire.

"It is certainly not over and we will decide how and when to act if necessary," he said in remarks communicated by his office.

"We intend to reinforce the deterrence -- and strengthen it -- so that we are able to operate along the length of the border fence in a way that will ensure the security of all our soldiers who are serving around the Gaza Strip," he said.

"At this time... it is preferable to act (in a timely fashion) rather than just talk."

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told community leaders in southern Israel that he would decide when to retaliate.

"Anyone who thinks that he can harm the daily lives of southern residents and not pay a heavy price for it is mistaken," a statement from his office quoted him as saying during a meeting in the city of Beersheba.

"I am responsible for choosing the right time for exacting the most heavy price and that's how it will be."

On Monday night, Israeli planes struck three sites in Gaza, which the military identified as a weapons facility and two rocket launch sites.

And the following morning, the army said militants fired two rockets into Israel, causing no injuries, with local media reporting one of them was a longer-range Grad rocket, which landed near the coastal town of Ashdod.

In Gaza, medics said 20-year-old Mohammed Ziad, a member of Hamas's armed wing, the Ezzedine al-Qassam Brigades, died Tuesday of wounds he sustained on Saturday, after the flare-up began when militants fired at an Israeli army jeep.

That attack injured four soldiers and prompted a quick escalation in violence, with Israel carrying out air strikes and shelling that killed six other Palestinians and injured more than 30.

Gaza militants fired 123 rockets into southern Israel, lightly injuring four people. The military said 19 rockets were fired on Monday, four of which were intercepted by its Iron Dome system.

Despite Barak's comments, and a series of bellicose statements from Israeli politicians on Monday, other officials sounded a more cautious tone on Tuesday.

"I don't think it will be necessary to enter the Gaza Strip," former military intelligence chief Amos Yadlin told Israel's army radio.

"The army has at its disposal a series of measures that it has not yet used, it can raise the level of its response without resorting to a ground operation."

Egyptian-led efforts are still under way to secure a ceasefire, with Gaza's main militant groups, led by Hamas and Islamic Jihad, on Monday saying they were ready for a ceasefire if Israel "stops its aggression" against the territory.

"The response of the resistance depends on whether the Zionist aggression against our people is continued," they said at a Gaza City news conference.

Some Israeli lawmakers, including former military chief of Staff Shaul Mofaz, are pressing the government to authorize the assassination of Hamas leaders in the Gaza Strip amid an escalation in clashes on the Jewish state's southern border.

There's already growing speculation that Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu is leaning toward unleashing a new invasion of the Palestinian coastal enclave, along the lines of the massively 22-day Operation Cast Lead launched in December 2008.

A major problem is that either military option, in response to an escalating series of rocket and mortar barrages from Gaza in recent weeks, could have serious political ramifications.

The most dangerous would be to incense Egypt's new Islamist government and place Israel's landmark 1979 peace treaty with its southern neighbor in deep jeopardy. The treaty, the first between Israel and its Arab foes, has been the centerpiece of Jewish state's security policies for more than three decades.

The rocket barrage that began Saturday eased by Tuesday but Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak declared when he inspected the border zone, "It's still not over."

After meeting military commanders, including the battle-seasoned head of Southern Command, Maj. Gen. Tal Russo, Barak said that Palestinian militants "are absorbing heavy blows in Gaza as a result.

"This clearly isn't over and we'll decide how and when to act the minute there will be a need to do so."

He declined to elaborate but Israeli anger and anxiety is mounting, not just about the growing rocket threat from Gaza but the much wider, and infinitely more perilous, threat from more destructive ballistic and other medium-range missiles from Iran, its ally Syria and their powerful proxy in Lebanon, Hezbollah.

Israeli military planners say these adversaries could sustain a massive and unprecedented bombardment of Israeli cities involving up to 200-300 missiles a day for as long as two months.

Officials have said this multi-front conflict, which would target population centers to a degree unseen since Israel was founded in 1948, would probably result in an estimated 500 civilian fatalities.

But many suspect the death toll will be far, far higher and the option of pre-emptive strikes to curtail such an eventuality, is widespread, in particular against Iran's nuclear program which Netanyahu views as an existential threat.

Israel's military and intelligence services have long engaged in assassinating the leaders of countries and organizations attacking the Jewish state but this carries great risks and dead leaders have always been replaced.

The Jerusalem Post observed that various political figures from several parties are "explicitly or implicitly calling for returning to targeting Hamas leaders as a way of returning deterrence and quiet to the south."

Most Israelis have no qualms about killing the leaders of militant Palestinian groups. Indeed few of Hamas' original leaders are still alive. But the Post questioned whether killing Hamas' political leaders now is legal.

The daily noted that U.S. forces used decapitation operations to eliminate Iraqi leadership cadres in the 1991 and 2003 wars.

Israel halted assassinating Hamas political chiefs amid the global outcry after Operation Cast Lead.

But the Post said that "real confusion arises regarding Hamas leaders who are sitting in an office somewhere nowhere near the battlefield, who do not participate at all in an attack, but may have ordered the attack or could only be vaguely connected because they are leaders of Hamas and known Hamas' policies against Israeli civilians."

Israel used to be widely criticized for its "targeted killings" of top Palestinian militants. But the Post concluded that al-Qaida's suicide attacks on the United States Sept. 11, 2001, "created a new paradigm."

On Monday, Israelis got a reminder of the many assassinations carried out over the years by the Mossad intelligence service and the army's elite Sayaret Matkal unit.

Barak commanded the unit in the 1970s. Netanyahu served under him. They both took part in rescuing hostages aboard a hijacked Belgian Sabena airliner at Tel Aviv airport May 8, 1972. All four hijackers from Palestinian Black September were killed.

The reminder was a television documentary that showed how in the 1970s the Mossad, busily engaged in trying to undermine Iraq's anti-Israel Baathist regime, tried to assassinate Saddam Hussein with a book bomb.

Saddam didn't open the package but a high-ranking official did and was killed.

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