TIME Israel

Lebanese Rockets Hit Israel, Offensive Toll Reaches 95

In northern Israel, rocket fire struck near the Lebanese border and the military responded with artillery fire toward the source in southern Lebanon, military spokesman Lt. Col. Peter Lerner said.

(JERUSALEM) Gaza rocket fire struck a gas station and set it ablaze Friday in southern Israel, seriously wounding one person as rocket fire also came from Lebanon for the first time in the four-day offensive.

The attack on the gas station in Ashdod looked to be the most serious attack in Israel in the four days of fighting that has seen Israel deliver a heavy blow to Gaza’s Hamas leaders. The military have carried out more than 1,000 strike strikes against Gaza targets that have killed at least 95 people, including dozens of civilians.

The explosion in Ashdod sent plumes of smoke high into the air, leaving a trail of charred vehicles in its wake. Israeli health officials said the blast wounded three people, including one in serious condition. Rocket fire continued in earnest from Gaza toward various locations in southern Israel and around Tel Aviv.

In northern Israel, rocket fire struck near the Lebanese border and the military responded with artillery fire toward the source in southern Lebanon, military spokesman Lt. Col. Peter Lerner said.

The Lebanese military said three rockets were fired toward Israel around 6 a.m. (0300 GMT) and the Israelis retaliated by firing about 25 artillery shells on the area.

Lebanon’s state-run National News Agency said that one of those suspected of firing the rockets was wounded and rushed to a hospital. The Lebanese military said troops found two rocket launchers and dismantled them.

Southern Lebanon is a stronghold of the Shiite militant group Hezbollah, which has battled Israel numerous times. However, recent fire from Lebanon has been blamed on radical Palestinian factions in the area and Hezbollah has not been involved in the ongoing offensive.

A Lebanon-based al-Qaida-linked group, the Battalions of Ziad Jarrah, claimed responsibility in the past for similar rocket attacks on Israel.

Gaza militants already have fired more than 550 rockets against Israel in the four-day offensive. Israel’s “Iron Dome” defense system has intercepted most of those aimed at major cities but some have slipped through.

Frequent air raid sirens sounded across Israel on Friday, including for the first time in the northern city of Haifa. Israel has shot down at least 110 incoming rockets thus far.

Israel launched the Gaza offensive to stop incessant rocket fire that erupted after three Israeli teenagers were kidnapped and killed in the West Bank and a Palestinian teenager was abducted and burned to death in an apparent reprisal attack.

The military says it has hit more than 1,100 targets already, mostly what it identified as rocket-launching sites, bombarding the territory on average every five minutes.

In Gaza, an Israeli airstrike Friday hit the home of a well-known Islamic Jihad leader. Gaza health officials said five people were killed in the strike.

Lerner said the military was doing its utmost to prevent civilian casualties, calling inhabitants ahead of time to warn of imminent attacks. He said Israeli forces also fire “non-explosive munitions” at roofs as a warning and looks for people to leave before destroying a structure.

Lerner blamed Hamas for the death of innocent bystanders by firing from heavily populated areas.

Israel’s military “uses its weapons to defend its civilians. Hamas uses its civilians to defend its weapons,” he said.

Israeli leaders are mulling whether to launch a ground assault in Gaza to target Hamas. Such a move, though, would likely involve a rise in Palestinian civilian casualties and put Israeli troops at risk as well.

During a ground incursion in early 2009, hundreds of civilians were killed and both sides drew war crimes accusations in a United Nations report

Israel has mobilized more than 30,000 reservists to supplement the potential ground operation.

Amos Yadlin, a retired general and former head of military intelligence, said Israel has already re-established a deterrent factor against Hamas and should offer a cease-fire and aim to wrap up its campaign in the coming days.

“If the Israeli offer is turned down, Israel will refill its stock of legitimacy in such a way that will enable a significant expansion of the objectives and scale of the operation,” he wrote in a column published Friday in the Yediot Ahronot daily newspaper. “Hamas has taken severe blows since the start of the round of violence and has failed in almost every step it took. … However, one rocket that hits an Israeli population center will be enough to change the picture completely.”

Gaza militants already have fired more than 550 rockets against Israel in the four-day offensive. Israel’s “Iron Dome” defense system has intercepted most of those aimed at major cities but some have slipped through.

Frequent air raid sirens sounded across Israel on Friday, including for the first time in the northern city of Haifa. Israel has shot down at least 110 incoming rockets thus far.

Israel launched the Gaza offensive to stop incessant rocket fire against it. The military says it has hit more than 1,100 targets already, mostly what it identified as rocket-launching sites, bombarding the territory on average every five minutes. Israeli military attacks on Gaza have killed at least 95 people, including dozens of civilians.

TIME Israel

U.S. Willing to Negotiate Israel Cease-fire

US-ISRAEL-OBAMA-NETANYAHU
US President Barack Obama(R) and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu hold a meeting in the Oval Office of the White House in Washington on March 3, 2014. Saul Loeb—AFP/Getty Images

President Barack Obama told Israel's leader that the United States is willing to negotiate a cease-fire between Israel and Hamas

WASHINGTON (AP) — President Barack Obama is telling Israel’s leader that the United States is willing to negotiate a cease-fire between Israel and Hamas.

Obama spoke with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (neh-ten-YAH’-hoo) on Thursday, as Israel was intensifying an bombardment of the Gaza Strip in an attempt to thwart rocket fire targeting Israel.

The White House says Obama condemned the rockets and said Israel has the right to self-defense. But Obama also urged both sides not to escalate the crisis and to restore calm.

Obama also relayed concerns about a Palestinian-American teenager who was detained and apparently beaten by Israeli authorities. Obama says Israel has worked to resolve that situation.

The two leaders also discussed Iran. Obama says the U.S. won’t accept any deal that doesn’t ensure Iran’s nuclear program is peaceful.

TIME Israel

Civilian Casualties Rise as Israel Hammers Gaza From the Air

Palestinian relatives of eight members of the Al Haj family, who were killed in a strike early morning, grieve in the family house during their funeral in Khan Younis refugee camp, southern Gaza Strip on Thursday, July 10, 2014.
Palestinian relatives of eight members of the Al Haj family, who were killed in a strike early morning, grieve in the family house during their funeral in Khan Younis refugee camp, southern Gaza Strip, July 10, 2014. Khalil Hamra—AP

Raising questions of how long air campaign can go on

Updated 7:06 a.m. E.T. on July 11

The death toll among Palestinians scrambling under a relentless Israeli air assault in the Gaza Strip passed 80 Thursday and edged close to 100 Friday, including at least 14 children.

Meanwhile, the barrage of rockets Gaza militants launched toward Israeli cities failed to produce a significant casualty on the third day of Israel’s offensive Thursday. A media report that a missile had critically injured someone in a car in Ashdod, a coastal city near Gaza, was withdrawn by smartphone alert 28 minutes later. An rocket fired from Gaza struck a gas station in southern Israel on Friday, seriously wounding one, as rocket fire also came from Lebanon for the first time in the latest fighting.

Everything about the latest offensive is moving fast, especially relative to the last round of fighting. That November 2012 air campaign — dubbed Operation Pillar of Defense by Israel — lasted eight days. Israel’s current offensive, Operation Protective Edge, has bombed more than half as many targets in Gaza in less than half the time — 860 in three days compared with 1,500 in eight days last time. The Israeli military said it destroyed more buildings in the first 36 hours of the current campaign than in all of Pillar of Defense. More people are dying too: the 80 fatalities reported so far is, once again, more than half the reported death toll from the longer bombing two years earlier.

All of it raised the question of how long the Israeli bombardment can go on.

Israel’s wars have a half-life, a variable that slides with circumstances and unscheduled events, but which is decided, to a significant degree, by how the world views the fight. So long as it sees a democracy defending its people against terrorism, Israel enjoys considerable leeway. And that’s how most of the Gaza wars start out: Gaza, a coastal enclave of 1.8 million Palestinians patrolled on three sides by Israeli forces, which also parcels out its electricity, water and food, is a hotbox for militants. Those militants want to hit Israel any way they can, and the way that works best is missiles. More than 500 rockets have roared out of Gaza since Tuesday. Each triggers a siren somewhere in Israel, and often sympathy from some parts of the world moved by photographs of panicked mothers scrambling to shelter their children.

That is the imperative Israeli officials cite at the start of the campaign. “This operation started because in spite of our efforts to get Hamas to give up launching rockets against innocent civilians in the lower half of Israel, Hamas ignored our message and decided to escalate the situation,” Yossi Kuperwasser, director general of Israel’s Ministry of Strategic Affairs, said in a conference call Thursday. “We have to make sure that we end this confrontation with a clear result, that Hamas stops the launching of rockets and terrorist attacks on Israel, and that it has no appetite to resume this kind of activities in the future. That is the goal of this operation.”

But the operation is a brutal one — 1,000 targets means 1,000 deafening explosions, bowel-shattering concussions in one of the most crowded urban centers on the globe — and there comes a point when the world’s perspective shifts. Israel tries to delay this shift as long as possible. Compared with any other military, its armed forces take exceptional care to avoid civilian casualties. If a house is going to be bombed, a call is placed to it announcing this fact, and explicitly warning civilians to get out. A pilot might also drop a “door-knocker” on the roof — a nonlethal sound bomb also intended to announce an impending attack. The real bomb that’s then loosed on the target is often a munition, sometimes quite small, specifically selected to contain damage to the target and spare the neighbors.

But even surgical strikes involve a great deal of blood, and mistakes are inevitable. Israeli officials chose to declare an end to the 2012 offensive two days after eight members of the Dalou family, including four children, were killed by an Israeli bomb. The day’s total civilian death toll of 31 was more than the four previous days’ combined. Israeli officials insisted they won that war, but the World Press Photo of the Year was of Palestinians carrying dead children.

So it was that the U.N. Security Council convened in an emergency session on Thursday, at the request of the Palestine Liberation Organization. PLO chairman Mahmoud Abbas, who also heads the Palestinian Authority that nominally governs Gaza, had labeled Israel’s campaign “genocide.” The hope is to activate international public opinion on the side of the dead. “Absolutely,” said Xavier Abu Eid, a PLO spokesman. “If [Israelis] don’t stop, we have an experience [in] 2012, we have an experience [in] 2009, in 2006, of what kind of things can happen.”

But in his remarks Thursday, U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon put equal emphasis on the missiles coming out of Gaza, and Israeli officials said they expected to prevent an admonitory resolution from the full council.

“This is not a classic Arab-Israeli conflict, where it goes on for a couple of weeks and then the great powers intervene,” said Dore Gold, a former Israeli U.N. ambassador who now heads the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs. Hamas, he noted, is not only listed by Europe and Washington as a terrorist organization, it also lacks backing in the Arab world, which is preoccupied with sectarian divisions and leery of its Muslim Brotherhood roots. Its political weakness moved the militant group to make the concessions required to complete a long-promised unity government with the secular Fatah faction led by Abbas, but the deal has failed to produce any evidence at all that “bringing Hamas in to the tent” would moderate its behavior. “They’re not acting like a terror group on its way to governing,” Gold said. “They’re behaving in the worst possible way.”

The U.S., which has been urging restraint in the conflict and brokered a cease-fire in 2012, has not called on Israel to halt air strikes in Gaza and refrained from doing so again during a phone call Thursday between President Barack Obama and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

“The President reiterated the United States’ strong condemnation of continuing rocket fire into Israel by Hamas and other terrorist organizations in Gaza and reaffirmed Israel’s right to defend itself against these attacks,” the White House said in a statement describing the call. “The President expressed concern about the risk of further escalation and emphasized the need for all sides to do everything they can to protect the lives of civilians and restore calm. The United States remains prepared to facilitate a cessation of hostilities, including a return to the November 2012 ceasefire agreement.”

Indeed, Israel’s military says Hamas is promoting civilian deaths in Gaza, not only by operating from private homes but through posters and slogans actually urging people to cluster around targets as human shields. In one instance Tuesday, by numerous accounts local residents ran toward a building that had just received a phoned warning it was about to be bombed, apparently counting on their presence to protect. And it might have worked: an Israeli military spokesman said an effort was made to divert the incoming missile, but it was too late.

“It is a tragedy indeed,” Lieut. Colonel Peter Lerner told reporters Thursday, “and not what we intended.”

— Additional reporting by Zeke J Miller

TIME Israel

Israel Says 6 Rockets Fired at It Every Hour

But Israel has hit approximately 800 targets in the Gaza Strip during recent conflict

+ READ ARTICLE

Over the last three days, 401 rockets have been fired into Israel from the Gaza Strip, according to a military spokesman.

Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) spokesperson Peter Lerner told TIME that since 8pm local time Monday, rockets have been entering Israel at a rate of around six every hour.

In response, Israel has ramped up its assault on Gaza, striking 60 targets since the early hours of Thursday. “Israel has hit approximately 800 targets since the operation began,” a second IDF spokesperson told TIME. “These include underground terror tunnels, terror infrastructure and military compounds.”

The Palestinian Ministry of Health said Thursday that 81 Gaza citizens have been killed as a result of the recent conflict. Included in this toll are 15 women and 22 children.

Israel has suffered no reported fatalities and only a few injuries. The IDF credit this in part to their Iron Dome defense system which their spokesperson called “a literal lifesaver”. Iron Dome has intercepted 70 rockets since the beginning of the operation.

The ongoing conflict between Israel and Palestine has intensified this week after the bodies of three Israeli teenagers, missing for over two weeks, were found dead on June 30. Israel has blamed Hamas for their deaths but the Islamist group has neither confirmed nor denied the charge.

In apparent retaliation, a group of Israeli men abducted and killed Palestinian teenager Abu Khdair on July 2. His death sparked days of violent protests between the Palestinian youth and Israeli police.

Amidst these deaths, Islamist groups increased rocket fire into Israel, prompting the Israeli military to retaliate. The escalating conflict has ended years of relative calm in the region.

TIME Morning Must Reads

Mornings Must Reads: July 10

Capitol
The early morning sun rises behind the US Capitol Building in Washington, DC. Mark Wilson—Getty Images

In the news: Israeli air strikes in Gaza; Elusive Ukraine peace talks; Chinese hackers in U.S. computer networks; President Obama's border speech; VA reform; what's prettier in print

  • Israelis in Tel Aviv Remain Defiantly Blase as Barrages From Gaza Bring Conflict Closer [WashPost]
    • “Israeli air strikes killed eight members of a family including five children in a pre-dawn raid on Gaza on Thursday, Palestinian officials said, while Hamas-led fighters launched rockets at Tel Aviv and other Israeli cities.” [Reuters]
  • Patchwork Makeup of Rebels Fighting Ukraine Makes Peace Talks Elusive [NYT]
  • “Chinese hackers in March broke into the computer networks of the United States government agency that houses the personal information of all federal employees…They appeared to be targeting the files on tens of thousands of employees who have applied for top-secret security clearances.” [NYT]
  • U.S. Military Sends Scouting Party Into the Twitterverse [TIME]
  • “President Barack Obama called on Congress to swiftly approve nearly $4 billion in supplemental funding to deal with the influx of unaccompanied minors at the Southwest border Wednesday, saying lawmakers need to set aside politics to solve the problem.” [TIME]
    • Fleeing Gangs, Children Head to U.S. Border [NYT]
    • GOP Divided Over $3.7 Billion Bill [Hill]
  • “As Democrats and Republicans start mobilizing efforts to prevent highway projects from stalling next month, they are struggling to keep legislative efforts from running off the road.” [WSJ]
  • Specter of Gilded Age Tarnishes VA Reform [National Journal]
  • Prettier in Print
TIME Israel

Israel Escalates Aerial Offensive on Gaza, Family of 8 Killed

Military spokesman Lt. Col. Peter Lerner said Israel struck more than 320 Hamas targets overnight, focusing on underground tunnel networks and rocket launching sites

+ READ ARTICLE

(JERUSALEM) — Israel dramatically escalated its aerial assault in Gaza Thursday hitting hundreds of Hamas targets, and the Palestinians said a family of eight was killed in a strike that destroyed their home. Israel’s missile defense system once again intercepted rockets fired by militants at the country’s heartland.

Military spokesman Lt. Col. Peter Lerner said Israel struck more than 320 Hamas targets overnight, focusing on underground tunnel networks and rocket launching sites. That brought the total number of targets hit to 750 in three days of the massive offensive. At least 75 Palestinians have been killed.

Lerner said Israel has already mobilized 20,000 reservists for a possible ground operation into Gaza, but for the time being Israel remained focused on maximizing its air campaign. A ground invasion could lead to heavy civilian casualties on the Palestinian side while putting Israeli ground forces in danger.

Neither side is showing any sign of halting their heaviest fighting since an eight-day battle in late 2012. Israel says that Hamas must cease rocket fire from Gaza for Israel to consider a truce. Militants have fired hundreds of rockets, striking across the length of Israel and disrupting life across the country. No one has been seriously harmed as the “Iron Dome” defense system has intercepted at least 70 of the projectiles destined for major population centers.

“The ground option needs to be the last option and only if it is absolutely necessary. It is a carefully designed plan of action,” Lerner said.

Palestinian medical officials said a strike early Thursday struck a home in the southern Gaza city of Khan Younis, killing eight members of a family. The Israeli military also said it struck a car in Gaza carrying three Islamic Jihad militants involved in firing rockets. The militant group confirmed that its men were killed in the strike.

At least 20 civilians have been among the 75 deaths reported by the Health Ministry in Gaza, though the exact number is not known.

Israel accuses militants of deliberately endangering civilians by using homes and other civilian buildings for cover. The military has also directly targeted the homes of known militants that it says are used as command centers, though it says it contacts the families first to evacuate.

Yigal Palmor, an Israeli Foreign Ministry spokesman, said Hamas is firing rockets from “within houses and streets and neighborhoods which are populated with civilians … exposing these civilians to retaliation and to backfire.”

After an overnight lull, militants resumed their barrage toward central and southern Israel. Remnants of a long-range rocket fired from Gaza landed in a gas station in south Tel Aviv after being shot down by Israel’s “Iron Dome” defense system.

The longer range of the rockets fired from Gaza has disrupted life across southern and central Israel, where people have been forced to remain close to home, and kindergartens and summer camps have closed.

Besides firing toward Israel’s two largest cities of Tel Aviv and Jerusalem, Hamas also launched a rocket that reached the town of Zichron Yaakov, more than 100 kilometers (60 miles) north of Gaza.

Even as the Israeli military pummeled Palestinian targets Wednesday, the region saw its first diplomatic efforts to end the heavy fighting.

Egypt, which has mediated before between Israel and the Hamas militant group, said it spoke to all sides about ending the violence. U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry was in touch with Israel to try to lower tensions. And the United Nations chief warned of a “deteriorating situation … which could quickly get beyond anyone’s control.”

As the Palestinian death toll rose to at least 75, neither side showed any sign of halting their heaviest fighting since an eight-day battle in late 2012.

Israel began the offensive Tuesday in response to weeks of rocket launches, and officials said the airstrikes would continue until the firing stops. At least 20 civilians were among the at least 75 deaths reported by the Health Ministry in Gaza. There have been no serious casualties on the Israeli side.

Thousands of Israeli troops massed near the Gaza border, the possibility of a ground invasion grew larger — along with the risk of heavier casualties on both sides.

“Despite the fact it will be hard, complicated and costly, we will have to take over Gaza temporarily, for a few weeks, to cut off the strengthening of this terror army,” Yuval Steinitz, Israel’s intelligence minister, told Israel Radio. “If you ask my humble opinion, a significant operation like this is approaching.”

The government has authorized the army to activate up to 40,000 reservists, and Israeli TV stations said about a quarter of those forces had been called up, signaling a decision on a ground invasion could still be days away.

In the first indication that cease-fire efforts were underway, the office of Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi said he held “extensive contacts with all active and concerned parties” to end the fighting.

It said the two sides discussed the “critical conditions and the need to stop all military action, and to stop the slide” toward more violence. It called on Israel to protect Palestinian civilians.

Egypt negotiated a cease-fire that ended the 2012 fighting, but the situation has changed since then. At the time, Egypt was led by the Muslim Brotherhood, a regional movement that includes Hamas. Following a military coup last year, el-Sissi was elected president, and the new government is far more hostile toward Hamas.

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said he spent Wednesday calling Netanyahu, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, el-Sissi and other regional leaders to push the two sides toward a cease-fire.

“This is one of the most critical tests the region has faced in recent years,” Ban told a news conference. “Gaza is on a knife-edge. The deteriorating situation is leading to a downward spiral which could quickly get beyond anyone’s control.”

In Washington, the State Department said Kerry spoke by phone with Netanyahu and planned to talk to Abbas to urge both sides to de-escalate the crisis.

If the offensive drags on, Netanyahu could find himself under increased pressure to halt it, especially if the civilian death toll mounts.

The airstrikes have demolished dozens of buildings. Among the latest dead were an 80-year-old woman, an 11-year-old girl, a 14-year-old boy and two young children. Israel has accused militants of endangering civilians by using homes and other civilian buildings for cover.

Mohammed al-Nuasrah of the Maghazi refugee camp in central Gaza described a scene of horror after an airstrike flattened a nearby home.

“Four people from the family died, and we’re sitting looking for the remains of the kids. One is 3 and one is 4 years old,” he said. “These children were just sleeping in their beds. What crime did they commit? Only God can judge you, Israel.”

In a statement broadcast on Al-Jazeera, Hamas’ exiled leader, Khaled Mashaal, called on all Palestinians to resist Israel and urged the international community to put pressure on Israel.

“Yes, our enemy is stronger than us, but we are up to the task of facing them, God willing,” he said. “We do not threaten or promise. Our right is to defend our lives.”

The longer range of the rockets fired from Gaza has disrupted life across southern and central Israel, where people have been forced to remain close to home, and kindergartens and summer camps have closed.

Besides firing toward Israel’s two largest cities of Tel Aviv and Jerusalem, Hamas also launched a rocket that reached the city of Hadera for the first time. The city, more than 100 kilometers (60 miles) north of Gaza, was struck in 2006 by missiles fired by Hezbollah guerrillas in Lebanon.

“We got it from both directions,” said Maayan From, a 25-year-old Hadera resident. “Our enemies have developed, and it is getting scary.”

In the West Bank, Abbas accused Israel of committing “genocide” due to the mounting civilian death toll and said it raised questions about Israel’s commitment to peace.

Tensions have been rising since the June 12 kidnapping of three Israeli teenagers in the West Bank. Israel accused Hamas of being behind the abductions but provided no proof.

Israel then cracked down on the group’s members in the West Bank and arrested hundreds of people. Hamas, which controls Gaza, responded by stepping up rocket fire.

The situation deteriorated last week after the bodies of the three were found, followed a day later by the abduction in Jerusalem of a Palestinian teenager who was found burned to death in what Palestinians believe was a revenge attack. Six Jewish Israelis were arrested in the killing.

Adding to the tension, a 15-year-old Palestinian-American cousin of the slain teenager was beaten by Israeli police at a protest. Israel’s Justice Ministry said one of the officers would face criminal charges.

TIME Foreign Policy

Here’s What John Kerry Can Learn From Hillary About Israel’s New Crisis

Clinton writes that Obama was "understandably wary" about intervening the last time violence flared

Secretary of State John Kerry spoke with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Wednesday, amid rising fears that the confrontation between Israel and Hamas could escalate to new levels of bloodshed. But Kerry might also want to talk to his Foggy Bottom predecessor about how the last round of violence in the intractable conflict was defused.

When Israel and Hamas last fought in Gaza in November 2012, President Barack Obama dispatched then Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to broker a cease-fire. As Israel called up 75,000 reservists for a possible ground invasion, Obama was “understandably wary” of the U.S. taking a direct mediation role, Clinton writes in her new book, Hard Choices.

“If we tried to broker a cease-fire and failed, as seemed quite likely, it would sap America’s prestige and credibility in the region,” Clinton says. American involvement might also risk undercutting Israel, whose “right to defend itself” Clinton underscores. Obama officials also worried a U.S. role might “elevate” the conflict’s profile, leading both sides to harden their negotiating positions.

Even so, Clinton and Obama concluded that it was “imperative to resolve the crisis before it became a ground war.” Clinton knew that Netanyahu didn’t want to invade Gaza — but that he faced domestic pressure to do so and had no clear “exit ramp” that would allow him to de-escalate without seeming to back down, Clinton writes.

Just over 18 months later, many of the same dynamics apply as Obama weighs whether Kerry can — or should — broker a deal like the one Clinton struck.

For now, Obama officials have two public messages. One is that Israel is entitled to hit back at Hamas when the hard-line Palestinian group launches rockets at its territory. “No country can accept rocket fire aimed at civilians, and we certainly support Israel’s right to defend itself against these attacks,” State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said Tuesday. The other is that the two sides should rein in the violence — which now takes the form of Hamas rocket attacks and Israeli air strikes. “We’re continuing to convey the need to de-escalate to both sides,” Psaki said.

That may not happen on its own, warns Dennis Ross, a former Obama White House aide who has handled Middle East issues for multiple Presidents. “Even if neither side wants it to spin out of control, the potential for that is quite high,” Ross says.

That’s why Obama has to decide whether to step in, especially given growing signs of an Israeli ground invasion of Gaza. Israel’s 2009 incursion into the Hamas-governed coastal territory left 1,400 dead, and badly damaged Israel’s international image. A second invasion was averted in November 2012 only by the Clinton-brokered cease-fire, a deal struck just 48 hours before Israeli troops planned to swarm into Hamas’ stronghold.

Just before Thanksgiving that year, Clinton flew to the region and met with Israeli and Palestinian leaders. She also saw Egypt’s then President Mohamed Morsi, whose Muslim Brotherhood government was friendly with Hamas. The result was a mutual cease-fire, overseen by Egypt, with the promise of future negotiations about Hamas’ rocket arsenal and Israel’s Gaza blockade. Those talks never went far. But the cease-fire held. (Netanyahu won another concession, Clinton recalls: a phone call from Obama promising U.S. help against rocket smuggling into Gaza. “Did [Netanyahu] take some personal satisfaction from making the President jump through hoops?” Clinton wondered.)

Obama faces a different calculus today, including the recent collapse of Kerry’s push for a Middle East peace deal, and a new Egyptian regime that is decidedly hostile to Hamas, making Cairo unlikely to mediate again.

But many of the core principles that Clinton says swayed Obama in 2012 likely still resonate at the White House: that peace in the Middle East is a key U.S. national-security priority, that a ground war in Gaza would be disastrous, and that there is “no substitute for American leadership.” Indeed, Clinton writes that after the 2012 cease-fire deal, an Israeli official told her that “my diplomatic intervention was the only thing standing in the way of a much more explosive confrontation.”

The burning question for Obama is whether the same holds true today.

TIME Morning Must Reads

Morning Must Reads: July 9

Capitol
The early morning sun rises behind the US Capitol Building in Washington, DC. Mark Wilson—Getty Images

In the news: Israel airstrikes Gaza; President Obama's $3.7 billion request to handle border crisis; Citigroup to pay $7 billion for shoddy mortgages; Which Muslim Americans leaders the NSA and FBI spy on; GOP's 2016 Cleveland convention; Germany beats Brazil 7-1 in World Cup

  • “Rockets continued to fall over central Israel on Wednesday and Israel carried out more airstrikes in Gaza, as the military and political confrontation between Hamas and Israel showed no signs of abating.” [NYT]
  • “President Barack Obama asked Congress for $3.7 billion Tuesday to handle the thousands of child migrants on the southern border, and he’d like lawmakers to treat the emergency request as a simple matter of human compassion.” [TIME]
    • “Now Republicans have leverage, and they have a few requests of their own. Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida wants to require employers to verify electronically that new hires are in the country legally and the government to put in place an electronic entry-exit system at points of entry at the border…” [National Journal]
  • “The National Security Agency and FBI have covertly monitored the emails of prominent Muslim-Americans—including a political candidate and several civil rights activists, academics, and lawyers—under secretive procedures intended to target terrorists and foreign spies.” [The Intercept]
  • “The Justice Department and Citigroup are close to a deal for the bank to pay about $7 billion to settle allegations it sold shoddy mortgages in the run-up to the financial crisis …” [WSJ]
  • “More than 100 faith leaders asked President Barack Obama on Tuesday not to include a religious exemption in his upcoming executive order to ban job discrimination on the basis of gender identity and sexual orientation among federal employees.” [TIME]
  • Lawrence Lessig on His Super PAC to End Super PACs [TIME]
  • 5 Reasons to Be Delighted and Worried About a GOP Convention in Cleveland [TIME]
    • “Democrats are considering hosting their convention in Birmingham, Cleveland, Columbus, New York, Philadelphia and Phoenix, with a decision expected early next year. Cleveland will likely be cut from contention now that it has been selected by Republicans.” [TIME]
  • House GOP Stuck on Obamacare Alternative [Politico]
  • Teachers Union Turn Against Democrats [NYMag]
  • “Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) has upset some Democratic senators by backtracking on his commitment to put spending bills on the floor this summer.” [Hill]
  • The Craziest, Costliest Political Campaigns Are the Ones You’ve Never Heard Of [WaPo]
  • “Germany beat Brazil 7-1 on Tuesday, ending the host country’s run in the World Cup semifinals. The German team scored four goals in less than seven minutes (23′, 24′, 26′, 29′). Germany’s Miroslav Klose also became the World Cup’s all-time leading scorer during the game. ESPN reports that this is just second time ever that Brazil has conceded 7+ goals in a game. (The first was against Yugoslavia in 1934.) It was also the worst ever loss by a host country.” [SI]
TIME Israel

Israel Hits Key Hamas Targets in Gaza Offensive

Israel is mobilizing troops for a possible ground invasion of the Palestinian territory to stop the rocket fire

+ READ ARTICLE

Update: July 9, 1:04 p.m. ET

(JERUSALEM) — Israel stepped up its offensive on the Hamas-run Gaza Strip on Wednesday, pummeling scores of targets and killing at least 22 people as Israeli leaders signaled a weeks-long ground invasion could be quickly approaching.

The military said it struck about 200 Hamas targets on the second day of its offensive, which it says is needed to end incessant rocket attacks out of Gaza. Militants, however, continued to fire rocket salvos deep into Israeli territory, and Israel mobilized thousands of forces along the Gaza border ahead of a possible ground operation.

“The army is ready for all possibilities,” Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said after holding a meeting of his Security Cabinet. “Hamas will pay a heavy price for firing toward Israeli citizens. The security of Israel’s citizens comes first. The operation will expand and continue until the fire toward our towns stops and quiet returns.”

The fighting stepped up as Egypt, which often serves as a mediator between Israel and the Palestinians, said it was in contact with both sides to end the violence. It was the first indication since the offensive was launched on Tuesday that cease-fire efforts might be under way.

The offensive has set off the heaviest fighting between Israel and the Islamic militant group Hamas since an eight-day battle in November 2012. As the death toll continued to rise, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas accused Israel of committing “genocide.”

Israeli leaders warned a ground invasion could be imminent.

“Despite the fact it will be hard, complicated and costly, we will have to take over Gaza temporarily, for a few weeks, to cut off the strengthening of this terror army,” Yuval Steinitz, Israel’s intelligence minister, told Israel Radio. “If you ask my humble opinion, a significant operation like this is approaching.”

The government has authorized the army to activate up to 40,000 reservists for a ground operation. An Israeli government official, speaking on condition of anonymity because he was discussing Israeli tactical strategy, said the reservists would be sent to the West Bank to allow active duty troops to amass near the Gaza border.

Despite the tough threats, Israeli security officials are still hesitant about ordering a ground invasion due to the many risks. Entering Gaza could lead to heavy civilian casualties on the Palestinian side while putting Israeli ground forces in danger.

It remains unclear whether the international community would support such an operation, or how Israel would end it. Officials have little desire to retake control of Gaza, a densely populated territory of 1.8 million people from which Israel withdrew in 2005.

Since the offensive began Tuesday, Israel has attacked at least 560 sites in Gaza, the military said. Militants have fired more than 160 rockets at Israel, reaching further north than ever before.

Palestinian medics say a total of 49 people have been killed in Gaza, including 22 on Wednesday. Of the total dead, medical officials have confirmed at least 15 are civilians and 10 militants, with the remainder uncertain. The rocket fire from Gaza has not caused any serious Israeli casualties.

The Israeli onslaught has caused panic in Gaza. A number of airstrikes aimed at wanted militants have also killed family members and bystanders. Many residents have huddled indoors or moved from hard-hit areas to relatives in areas that are believed to be safer.

Gaza health official Ashraf al-Qidra said that an 80-year-old woman was among those killed Wednesday.

Hamas official Musheer al-Masri said Israel had “crossed all the red lines” and warned that Hamas would strike back fiercely. “What the resistance showed today is only part of what it is capable of,” he said.

The increasing range of the rockets from Gaza has disrupted life across a wide swath of southern and central Israel, where people have been forced to remain close to home and kindergartens and summer camps have been forced to close.

Besides firing toward Israel’s two largest population centers in Tel Aviv and Jerusalem, Hamas also fired one rocket that reached the northern Israeli city of Hadera for the first time, effectively putting the entire country under rocket range from the north and south. The city is more than 100 kilometers (60 miles) from Gaza and was struck in 2006 by missiles from Hezbollah guerrillas in Lebanon.

“We got it from both directions,” said Maayan From, a 25-year-old Hadera resident. “Our enemies have developed and it is getting scary. We have to put an end to this.”

On Wednesday, Hamas rockets reached even further north than Hadera.

“It’s still hard to digest that we are within their range. It changed the way you think,” said Ina Marchovsky, 43. “We are full of hope that was the first and last rocket we will see. But I don’t know.”

Israel and Hamas are bitter enemies and have fought numerous times over the years. But until recently they had been observing a truce that ended the previous hostilities in 2012.

Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi spoke to the Palestinian president, Abbas, on Tuesday evening to review the latest developments, according to el-Sissi’s office.

Abbas, who has minimal influence in Gaza, has appealed to Israel to halt its offensive. “Egypt has made extensive contacts with all active and concerned parties to spare the Palestinian people the scourge of Israeli military operations,” el-Sissi’s office said.

It was not clear whether the contacts included formal efforts to reach a cease-fire, or whether Egypt was speaking to Hamas. The new Egyptian government has poor relations with Hamas.

In Ramallah, Abbas condemned the Israeli offensive, accusing Israel of committing “genocide” due to the mounting civilian death toll and said it raised questions about Israel’s commitment to peace. “Do these actions indicate that we should live with two states?” he said.

Tensions have been rising since the kidnapping of three Israeli teenagers in the West Bank on June 12. Israel accused Hamas of being behind the abductions, although it provided no proof.

Israel then launched a crackdown on the group’s members in the West Bank and arrested hundreds of people. Hamas, which controls Gaza, responded by stepping up rocket fire.

The situation deteriorated last week after the bodies of the three were found, followed a day later by the abduction of Palestinian teenager in Jerusalem — who was later found burned to death in what Palestinians believe was a revenge attack. Six Jewish Israelis were arrested in the killing.

Hamas is far weaker than the last round of fighting with Israel in 2012.

At the time, Egypt was governed by the Muslim Brotherhood, Hamas’ close ally. Following its ouster in 2013, Egypt’s new government became hostile to Hamas and closed a network of smuggling tunnels used by the group as an economic lifeline, and as a way to smuggle in rockets.

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Associated Press Correspondent Aron Heller contributed to the report from Hadera, Israel.

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