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Nov 16, 2012 | 12:50 GMT

Attacks Continue Along With Efforts To Mediate

JACK GUEZ/AFP/Getty Images
Summary

Airstrikes and rocket fire continued to escalate on Nov. 16, the third day of Israel's Operation Pillar of Defense. A temporary cease-fire agreement between Israel and Hamas failed to hold during a three-hour visit to the Gaza Strip by Egyptian Prime Minister Hesham Kandil. 

Efforts to mediate a truce between the sides will probably continue. Meanwhile, if Israel decides to move forward with a ground operation, it will shift to a transitional phase during which the target set for air and artillery strikes on Gaza will broaden.

Israel Defense Forces reported that about 50 rockets were fired into Israel during Kandil's visit, including one that struck Ashkelon. Hamas accused Israel of conducting airstrikes during the prime minister's visit, a charge Israel denied.

A few hours later, air raid sirens were heard in Tel Aviv and Ramat Hasharon, and Hamas claimed that it had fired a rocket at Tel Aviv. Initial reports could not confirm the claim, though witnesses in Tel Aviv told Reuters they had heard what sounded like an explosion. Stratfor sources in Tel Aviv indicated that a rocket fired from Gaza toward Tel Aviv landed in the sea, but it was not clear how close the rocket landed to the country's commercial capital. 
 
This was the third reported instance of rocket fire from Gaza aimed at Tel Aviv. Hamas' Izz al-Deen al-Qassam Brigades also claimed to have fired a long-range rocket at Jerusalem, but there was no confirmation and there were no reports of sirens.
 
Israeli airstrikes had already broadened Nov. 15 to target some infrastructure and personnel, but the strikes have largely focused on Hamas' offensive capabilities, therefore targeting rocket launch sites and weapons depots. Through the night and into Friday morning, IDF launched airstrikes against weapons caches on the coast of Gaza as well as east of Gaza City, in Rafah and in Khan Younis. Meanwhile, Hamas and other militants in Gaza have launched 67 short-range rockets into Israel so far today, including some 15 to 17 within one 90-minute span — a high tempo of attacks that will not likely be sustainable.
 
A further broadening of the target set for airstrikes in Gaza will indicate that Israel may be paving the way for ground operations. Air and artillery strikes would begin against defensive capabilities such as suspected anti-tank defensive positions, militant concentrations, machine-gun nests, and light artillery. More reserve units would also be called up — currently 16,000 reserve personnel have been called up out of a total 30,000 that have been approved by the Knesset.
 
Further preparations for a ground incursion would include movements of other IDF units to the south, especially engineering units that can clear ground incursion routes. Israel may attempt to hit Hamas' leadership with assassinations of key figures in the organization, though this will depend on intelligence. In other words, Israel would seek to launch a comprehensive softening phase, one involving artillery elements and air units, in order to reduce the resistance capability of Hamas' defensive positions.
 
Meanwhile, a number of regional leaders appear to be continuing efforts to broker a political resolution. Tunisian Foreign Minister Rafik Abdessalem will visit Gaza on Nov. 17. Other regional political leaders, including Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, may visit as well. Turkish Deputy Prime Minister Bulent Arinc, seemingly at odds with the rest of Turkey's leadership, said Turkey and Israel should hold bilateral talks, though Turkey downgraded diplomatic and military ties with Israel in 2010. Arinc may be offering to revive ties with Israel in hopes of paving the way for an Erdogan visit to Gaza. 
 
The visit by the Egyptian prime minister has set a precedent that others in region may hope to follow. This at least grants Hamas something it has long sought — direct engagement with the wider region.  
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