Israel's military bombed a Gaza munitions factory yesterday morning (Monday) in a limited retaliation for the multi-pronged attack on an Israeli army post that killed five soldiers and wounded 11 others. The attack began with the detonation of more than a ton of explosives by two suicide terrorists in a tunnel dug under the army outpost. Two other terrorists then raked the base with gunfire, while mortar shells rained down on the position.
In two high-level security consultations this week, it was decided that retaliation would take the form of strikes against specific and local targets, as opposed to a wide-scale operation to clean out entire areas of terrorist infrastructures. Yesterday's response involved the firing of several missiles by Israel Air Force helicopters; no injuries were reported, but electricity was cut when one of the missiles struck a generator. The targeted factory was used to make explosives, including mortar shells that have been fired daily at southern Gaza's Jewish Gush Katif communities.
Defense Minister Sha'ul Mofaz, speaking at the Herzliya Conference last night, said he does not rule out more retaliation beyond the morning missile strike. He maintained that Sunday's terrorist attack was part of a Hamas campaign against the PA. He said it was designed to upset the January vote for a successor to Yasser Arafat, and to eliminate cooperation between Israel and the PA.
The Defense Minister admitted that there has been no major changes in the PA's policy towards terrorism. He has said, however, that Israel still plans to make several "gestures," including the removal of all IDF forces from PA-controlled towns for three days for the PA's election on January 9.
Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, verbalizing a slighter tougher stance, told visiting U.S. Congressmen yesterday that "we do not see any change whatsoever in the PA policies." He added, "Yes, we want to to help them in the [election] process, but there is not even a small sign of their trying to cease fire. Fatah [the leading PLO party] announced yesterday its intentions to continue terrorism. The Arabs have to understand that nothing will advance if there is no quiet."
Minister Mofaz also said last night that he is prepared to "turn over [security] responsibility to the PA in Gaza and in cities in Judea and Samaria, before the disengagement... if they stop suicide bombers." He, too, admitted that the PA has not shown any change in its ability or desire to control terror.
Visiting today with the Bedouin battalion to which the five victims of Sunday's attack belonged, Mofaz said that the army would use "advanced technology and intelligence" to fight the terrorists' new weapon, the underground tunnels. He said that the tunnels represent "a threat, but only one among many. The IDF is forced to deal with many threats, including terrorists' attempts to infiltrate Jewish communities, mortar shells at Gush Katif, and Kassam rockets at the western Negev."
Mofaz praised the fighters, and especially one of the base commanders, who "shot at the terrorists even after he himself was wounded. He showed professionalism, determination and courage."