Huge psychological impact as conflict hits Israeli metropolis
JUST BEFORE 7pm local time yesterday, sirens rang out across Tel Aviv and Israel’s worst nightmare became a reality.
The rocket, fired from Gaza, exploded without causing any injuries. Military officials were quick to clarify that the projectile did not actually hit the ground.
However, the psychological impact was immeasurable and the Gaza conflict, for so long confined to the south, suddenly hit Israel’s largest metropolis – the city that never sleeps. After 7pm the mood of the Israeli public changed: the feeling was that the whole country was at war.
A warning had come only a couple of hours earlier, when a rocket landed in the city of Rishon Lezion – only 12km south of Tel Aviv.
Already Israel’s leadership had indicated that the initial stage of operation Pillar of Defence had come to an end, and future developments depended on Hamas. As plans to send more infantry and mechanised units to the Gaza border went into top gear, prime minister Binyamin Netanyahu expressed the hope that Hamas had “got the message”.
Paradoxically, it was the rocket reaching Tel Aviv, rather than Israeli threats, that may open a window of opportunity for tentative truce contacts. Neither side wants to sign on to a truce from a position of weakness.
But Israel’s response to the Tel Aviv attack appeared to be a hardening of its position, and there were clear warnings that the air strikes on Gaza would intensify.
When a ceasefire is eventually reached it is likely that, as in previous rounds of fighting, it will be brokered by Egypt.
The old maxim that it is easy to start a war but difficult to end one rings true in this part of the world. The key will be timing: a deal will only be possible if both sides can claim some level of success. Mr Netanyahu , who faces a general election in two months’ time, needs to convince the Israeli public that he has restored the country’s deterrence and brought quiet to the long-suffering residents of the south.
Hamas and the other militant groups need to able to boast that the Israel’s undeniable military might failed to subdue them, and that they not only continued to fire hundreds of rockets but managed to hit Tel Aviv for the first time since Saddam Hussein’s Scud attacks during the 1st Gulf war in 1991.