The Zionist Organization of America (ZOA) has called for Israel to take military action in Gaza in order to secure Israeli cities and towns like Sderot and Ashkelon from incessant Palestinian rocket attacks, following today’s hit upon Ashkelon by a Grad rocket fired by Palestinian terrorists from Gaza. Rocket attacks have been incessant upon Israel since Israel evacuated Gaza unilaterally in September 2005, but have increased in number and expanded to include cities like Ashkelon, which was struck today by a rocket fired from Gaza. Over 5,000 rockets, amounting to some five to fifteen rockets per day, have been fired into Israel in recent years.
Today’s Grad rocket hit the Hutzot Shopping Center, wounding dozens of people, several of them seriously. The rocket ripped through the roof of the mall, causing a large chunk of the roof to collapse in a huge pile of rubble and twisted metal. Four windows were blown out of the side of the building. The floor of the building, which bore the brunt of the attack, is where offices and clinics are located. A hospital official said a woman and her young daughter were seriously wounded, along with another child. Another woman was seriously wounded, and several other people were slightly wounded. Magen David Adom said 14 people were wounded three seriously, two moderately and nine slightly, adding that all the casualties had been evacuated from the site of the attack, including four people who were briefly trapped under the rubble. Witnesses said an early warning siren meant to give a few seconds for people to take cover did not sound before the rocket slammed into the mall. Two terror groups, the Islamic Jihad and the Popular Resistance Committees, claimed responsibility for the attack. Former Israeli Deputy Defense Minister, Ephraim Sneh, said that the Grad rockets from Iran: “It’s part of the Iranian war against Israel” (‘At least 14 hurt as Grad rocket hits Ashkelon shopping mall,’ Jerusalem Post, May 14, 2008).
Statements by senior Israeli government, defense and security establishment figures regarding Gaza:
· Former Labor Party leader and Defense Minister, Benyamin Ben Eliezer: “I admit and confess
I was with those who strongly supported [former prime minister] Ariel Sharon, and today I say with my head held high: We erred, we made a very big mistake … [such a withdrawal can only work when territory is] handed over to responsible hands and anchored in agreements and international guarantees. Here we have a precedent — a territory we left turns into a base for terror period
Israel must respond, what else? … Israel continues to say ‘I bind myself to ethical obligations,’ that no other country in the world binds itself to … There is a contradiction here between two disciplines … One nation is prepared to commit suicide and sees it as a mitzvah and an honor, and another wants to spare every ounce of blood” (Jerusalem Post, November 8, 2007).
· Former Israel Defense Forces (IDF) Chief of Staff Lt.-Gen. Moshe Ya’alon: “the unilateral approach that drove the disengagement plan has failed and Israel must abandon it. The disengagement is seen by the other side as Israel fleeing.” The IDF should launch a massive land deployment in Gaza in order to ‘cleanse’ the land of the rocket threat, without the need to establish long-term control or reoccupy the area. “The problem in Gaza will not solve itself and no one will solve it for us. It requires us to reach the terrorists and the areas in which they operate, and strike at the industry of terror. We did this during Operation Defensive Shield, and before that operation we were unsure about whether to proceed. Today, you must be blind not to realize the necessity of entering Gaza” (Haaretz, May 26, 2007).
· Shin Bet Director Yuval Diskin: “in another two or three years, it will be very difficult to deal with the problem called the Gaza Strip” (Haaretz, March 13, 2007).
· MK Yuval Steinitz (Likud) “The picture being drawn for us is grave … I call on the government to launch Operation Defensive Shield II, in the Gaza Strip” (Haaretz, March 13, 2007).
· Deputy Defense Minister Ephraim Sneh (Labor): the government made a mistake by withdrawing from the Gaza area without an agreement with a responsible Arab authority (Israel National News, November 15, 2006).
· MK Yuval Steinitz: the only way to keep Gaza from turning into southern Lebanon was to launch an “Operation Defensive Shield II” and to recapture the Philadelphi route, the border between the Strip and Egypt (Haaretz, November 14, 2006).
· Maj.-Gen. Dror Almog, OC, IDF’s Southern Command, 2002 -2003): “From a military point of view, there’s no question it was a mistake to leave [the] Philadelphi [corridor]” (Jerusalem Report, November 13, 2006).
· Pensioners Minister Rafi Eitan: “we need to sit on the Philadelphi Corridor for a long period of time” (Jerusalem Post, October 22, 2006).
· Industry and Trade Minister Eli Yishai: Israel needs to find a way to reassert control over Philadelphi Corridor (Jerusalem Post, October 22, 2006).
· Shin Bet chief, Yuval Diskin: Egypt has not combated World Jihad cells operating within Sinai and the peninsula is thus flooded with weapons smugglers (Haaretz, June 6, 2006).
· Current Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee chairman, Tzahi Hanegbi (Kadima) and former Officer Commanding Israel Defense Forces (IDF) Ground Forces, Maj.-Gen. Yiftah Ron-Tal, have acknowledged that last year’s Israeli unilateral withdrawal from Gaza was a mistake (Jerusalem Post, October 4 & 5, 2006).
· Col. (ret.) Moti Yogev, Ex-Gaza Division Commander: short-term offensives against Gazan terrorists are ineffective, the IDF must conquer both northern Gaza & the Egypt-Gaza border: “It’s true that in general military activity must be accompanied by negotiations … but in this case, the Qassem rockets are a direct result not only of the terrorists who fire them, but of the wantonness, lack of professionalism and irresponsibility of this government and its ministers
The government is not implementing the most basic effective measures to fulfill its basic responsibility to protect the citizens of Sderot and the western Negev” (Israel National News, April 25, 2006).
· Former Israeli Defense Minister, Moshe Arens: “The security establishment must not forget … that the Qassem [rockets] being fired on Ashkelon are being fired from areas that were abandoned as part of the Disengagement. The army must therefore return and conquer these areas, and only in this way will we be able to stop the rockets from being fired at us (Israel National News, April 25, 2006).
· MK Yuval Steinitz (Likud): “It is clear that our withdrawal from the Philadelphi Corridor and our reliance on the Egyptians has proven to be a failure. The Egyptians are not acting … in reality their behavior has drastically increased the amount of weapons smuggled into Gaza” (Jerusalem Post, January 10, 2006).
ZOA National President Morton A. Klein said, “The situation in Gaza has clearly continued to spiral out of control. It is past time for Israel to put an end to rocket attacks like today’s which, but for a miracle, could have resulted in hundreds of dead Israeli civilians and who knows how many wounded.
“It is inconceivable that the United States would tolerate even one day of rocket attacks upon Maine or Michigan from Canada, or upon Texas and Arizona from Mexico. In fact, no country on earth would tolerate what Israel has tolerated for years. It is clear now that, and even admitted by former supporters of the Gaza withdrawal, that something must be done to rectify the damage to Israel‘s security that stems from the withdrawal. Imagine the response if Israel launched 50 unprovoked rocket attacks per day into Jordan, Syria and Egypt.
“The ZOA has urged repeatedly that Israel undertake a major military operation in Gaza to deal with the consolidation of terrorist groups there and to stop the rocket attacks. We have particularly urged the retaking of the Philadelphi Corridor, along the Gaza/Egypt border, as the only effective means for Israel to end the smuggling of offensive weaponry into Gaza. Israel must also retake northern Gaza to put an end to the firing of rockets striking Israeli cities and towns like Ashkelon.”