During the entire Operation Cast Lead, somewhere around three Israeli soldiers were killed by enemy fire. And in a single day yesterday, the IDF lost a major and sergeant who were killed by Palestinian militants during an infiltration incident. It is a serious blow to the IDF to lose any soldiers, but to lose two officers of such high rank in a single incident is almost unprecedented.
According to Ynetnews, a patrol detected several militants planting an explosive device along the border fence. The BBC report speculated that there may’ve been an attempt to kidnap an IDF soldier along the lines of what happened to Gilad Shalit. The commander of the Israeli force protecting the area decided to give chase into Gaza. During an ensuing firefight a bullet struck a hand grenade carried by the sergeant. It exploded killing him. The story doesn’t make clear whether the grenade also killed the major. Two Palestinians were also killed in the incident.
An alternative version is that an explosive device planted by the Palestinians detonated and that this caused some of the IDF casualties.
Hamas’ military wing took credit for the original incident though two other Palestinian groups claimed to have joined in once the IDF entered Gaza. Hamas also claimed the attack was actually an ambush, which might support the report by the BBC. The incursion takes place amid an atmosphere of increasing tension along the border with almost daily Qassam attacks into Israel. Clearly, Hamas, after honoring the Post-Cast Lead ceasefire for over a year, seems willing to let loose the dogs of war at least on a small scale, though one isn’t sure what the political calculation behind the attack is, if any. On the political front, with peace talks, even the proximity talks proposed between Israel and the Palestinians, at a standstill, this is the time of uncertainty and instability when militants attempt to seize the initiative. Israel’s complete stolidity in the face of Palestinian and U.S. demands for flexibility only enhance the power of the militants to wreck any forward momentum.
I don’t want to appear to be blaming Palestinian militants for the current impasse. They’re clearly at best opportunists taking advantage of prevailing conditions. The blame is entirely Israel’s and belongs to the Netanyahu government. Nor do I claim that the proximity talks were likely to lead to any positive developments.
When incidents like this occur involving major losses, the IDF and Israeli government react sharply and severely. I’d guess you can expect airstrikes against Gaza over the coming days. Actually, Ynetnews already reports increased Israeli aerial activity over Gaza’s skies. While Hamas leaders have gone into hiding.
All this is complicated by the tense environment in Jerusalem, in which Palestinians have been violently demonstrating against various provocative Israeli acts like the announcement of new housing construction in East Jerusalem, and the designation of Hebron shrines as national historic sites. Not to mention the terribly strained relations between Israel and the U.S. in the aftermath of Bibi Netanyahu’s failed visit to the U.S.
The Gaza incident could be merely a footnote or it could have a larger impact on an already incendiary political/military environment.