Missiles from Israel’s Iron Dome defense system shot into the sky to intercept rockets launched, for the second straight day, at Tel Aviv, the country’s commercial capital. Some were also aimed at Israel’s Dimona nuclear plant, 80 km (50 miles) from Gaza, but were either shot down or landed in open country.
With cries of “Allahu akbar” (God is great), Palestinians in the Gaza Strip cheered as rockets streaked overhead toward Israel, in attacks that could provide a popularity boost for Islamist Hamas, whose rift with neighboring Egypt’s military-backed government has deepened economic hardship.
“We have decided to intensify even further our attacks on Hamas and other terror organizations in Gaza,” Netanyahu said in a text message, as barrages of rockets from Gaza reached as far as 88 miles (142 kilometers) into Israeli territory. “The military is prepared for all options.”
Intelligence and Strategic Affairs Minister Yuval Steinitz spoke explicitly of a possible ground offensive and reoccupation of Gaza, which Israel evacuated in 2005 after 38 years. Authorities yesterday authorized a call-up of 40,000 reservists, and tanks are massed along the border with Gaza.
President Shimon Peres, whose role is largely ceremonial and is not involved in setting policy, said in an exclusive interview with CNN’s Becky Anderson that he believed a ground offensive “may happen quite soon” unless Hamas stops firing rockets at Israel.
“We warned them. We asked them to stop it,” Peres told Anderson. “We waited one day, two days, three days and they continued, and they spread their fire on more areas in Israel.”
While Peres was speaking on his own and his position may not outline an official government policy, Israeli Intelligence Minister Yuval Steinitz earlier told CNN that a ground operation “might become necessary.”
The Israeli army on Wednesday intensified its offensive on the Hamas-run Gaza Strip, striking Hamas sites and killing at least 14 people on the second day of a military operation it says is aimed at quelling rocket fire against Israel.
The offensive has set off the heaviest fighting between Israel and the Islamic militant group Hamas since an eight-day battle in November 2012. Militants have unleashed rocket salvos deeper into Israeli territory than before, and Israel mobilized thousands of forces along the Gaza border for a possible ground invasion into the Palestinian territory.
Israel’s defense minister warned the offensive would be long-term.
“The operation against Hamas will expand in the coming days, and the price the organization will pay will be very high,” Defense Minister Moshe Yaalon said.