On Wednesday, Israel’s patience finally broke down. After months, and even years of incessant rocket fire from Gaza towards communities in the south of Israel, the government finally decided that enough is enough. A pin-point assassination was launched against the military leader of Hamas, Ahmad Jabari. In addition, air force planes were sent in to target the longer-range missiles stationed in the Gaza Strip waiting to launch attacks on the densely populated areas of central Israel. Operation Pillar of Defense hit the road, and is now already into its fifth day.
It is not only that Israel has the right to defend herself and her citizens against these attacks. The imperative is a great deal stronger. The Israeli government and the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) have the responsibility that requires them to do so. Israelis and foreigners alike seem to understand this. The only criticism that is being levelled against the government by Israelis in the wake of the latest operation, is that it came too late. For now, even the most dovish of the international leaders have at least expressed a level of understanding at Israel’s decision to launch this operation. It is clear that none of these leaders would tolerate one missile being fired at their civilian populations, let alone the thousands of missiles that have been fired towards Israel over the past few months. It should be clear that this is a war of necessity, and not one of choice. The aggressor is Hamas, while the IDF is taking the role of simply defending the nation that it is responsible for keeping safe, and out of harm’s way. Israel has no desire to kill, hurt or injure Palestinians. Israel also has no interest to take control of the Gaza Strip. The only objective of this operation is simply to stop the rocket fire which threatens Israeli citizens on a daily basis.
Even though we have unfortunately seen this more than once or twice, even in the recent past, the reaction of the Israeli nation is astonishing. Now that I am a parent of two young soldiers in the IDF, I am able to see things from a slightly different angle than was previously the case. The more I see, the more proud I feel. Our young men and women in uniform are the most incredible asset to our country and to our people. Even though they are merely children, they understand the responsibility that falls to them in this hour of need, and they are happy to accept this burden and to defend our country. They are nervous as they make their way to their bases, knowing full well what awaits them when they get there. They don’t disclose their nerves to the outside world and, when the moment comes, they do their job with pride and purpose. The State of Israel and the Jewish people owe everything we have to these young soldiers.
They are not alone. When the call went out to the reserve forces to begin their preparations and to move to their bases, the response was overwhelming. Some were called out in the middle of the night and on Shabbat. Many of them are husbands and fathers to young children. Some are entitled to defer the call to duty for justifiable reasons. Many run sole proprietor businesses. And yet, they moved to bases in a green swarm without a hesitation. Roads were congested with buses and cars as thousands of reserve soldiers travelled to their staging points. The patriotism and the incredible sense of pride and enthusiasm with which they defend their country never ceases to amaze me. I feel sure that the grandparents and great-grandparents of these soldiers, many of whom lived during the period of the Holocaust and through anti-Semitism in Middle Eastern countries and who were unable to defend themselves without a Jewish army, would feel immense pride if they had the merit to witness this activity. They are the true embodiment of modern-day heroes.
For Israel, by far the most important story of the war so far is the success of Iron Dome. Iron Dome is the anti-missile defense system which was developed entirely in Israel, by Israelis for the defence of the State of Israel. Iron Dome has the unique capability of being able to respond to extremely short-range missiles, to shoot them down before they hit their targets. The sophistication and accuracy of Iron Dome is such, that it only deploys itself when missiles are launched in the direction of populated areas. At times, there are only 15 or 20 seconds available to detect the incoming rocket, and launch an Iron Dome anti-missile missile to destroy the rocket. Over the past five days, almost 750 rockets have been fired from Gaza into Israel. Approximately one-third of these have been intercepted and shot down by Iron Dome. About 30 rockets have hit targets in Israeli populated areas. This indicates two things. Firstly, a very high proportion of the rockets from Gaza are purposefully being launched towards densely populated areas in Israel. Secondly, the Iron Dome success rate has been remarkable. There was one reported Iron Dome miss yesterday, and the missile crashed into an apartment building in Ashdod. One cannot even begin to imagine the devastation that may have been caused if Iron Dome was not in existence, and not doing the unbelievably effective job that it is doing.
For a war of this level of intensity, the casualties have been relatively few. This is no thanks to the tactics that have been adopted by Hamas. On the contrary, they have been doing all that they can to maximise the casualties. The IDF has aimed its attacks at almost 1,000 targets across the Gaza Strip. Some of these attacks have been aimed at individuals who are instrumental in orchestrating and carrying out attacks on Israeli civilians. Including the targeted assassination hits, there have been approximately 70 deaths on the Palestinian side. Considering that war inevitably has “collateral damage”, particularly when missiles are being fired from residential neighbourhoods in Gaza, this is remarkably low even though each civilian killed is regrettable, and should be avoided at all costs. Israeli deaths have been limited to three people killed on Thursday in Kiryat Malachi. This is thanks to a fantastic job by Iron Dome, and excellent support by the Home Front Command which has ensured that people know how to stay out of harm’s way even when the rockets do hit. It is nothing short of miraculous that we have managed to avoid further loss of life and serious injury when the Palestinians have shown such great determination in trying to create as much death, destruction and havoc as possible. This says a great deal about the type of enemy that we are fighting against. There is no hesitation to launch missiles from within their populated areas, risking the lives of their own citizens. There is no hesitation in targeting the most densely populated areas of Israel with massive missiles. Israeli citizens have much to be grateful for in terms of the fantastic protection that has been afforded us by our army, and by our anti-missile defense systems.
The name given to the operation in Hebrew is “Amud Anan” (עמוד ענן). Although this has been translated into English by the IDF as “Pillar of Defense”, in reality it is a biblical term which really means “pillar of cloud”. It refers particularly to the divine cloud which guided the Israelites through the desert, and shielded from those who might do them harm. It is a perfectly chosen name, as we pray that our soldiers and civilians will be guided and protected by the amud anan in the same way that it guided and protected the Israelites in the desert.
Our forces are gathering in large numbers on the borders of Gaza in anticipation of a ground invasion. The backup systems have gone into high action to make sure that everything is done behind the scenes to support this to the best of our ability. We are immensely proud of our boys and girls in uniform who are unflinching in their commitment to protect our country, and our right to exist in freedom. We wish all our soldiers Godspeed in the coming days, and it is our prayer that the operation to rid Israel of the attacks from its enemies will be effective and swift in its execution. May all our soldiers be protected in all that they do. The will and prayers of an entire nation are with them.