There is a famous knoll outside Sderot in southern Israel where reporters and other spectators of war gather to watch Israeli operations against Gaza—“we want to see fireworks,” as one young man explained this afternoon– and we had been there only ten minutes when Micky Rosenfeld, an Israeli police spokesperson on security matters, arrived with a colleague.
“There’s a strike, check it out,” he said proudly as a plume of smoke rose from Gaza City. “You can see it well in the setting sun.”
Around us, photographers balanced long telephoto lenses on knees or tripods to make the golden shot of destruction about a dozen miles away. Four men seated under a fir tree guzzled bottles of beer.
Then Rosenfeld spoke with controlled anger about a possible Israeli invasion of the strip if Gazan rocket attacks persist. “It won’t be for two days… It could be two weeks. It could be a month. It could be two months. It is not going to be like last time.”
And my colleague Allison Deger reports that when she asked Rosenfeld about Gaza hitting Tel Aviv with rockets, he was even more emphatic: “If they dare to strike Tel Aviv… we’ll wipe the whole place out.”
I pressed Rosenfeld about “last time.” Operation Cast Lead in 2008-2009 devastated Gaza and was a debacle for Israel’s image. The country killed nearly 400 Palestinian children in under three weeks, the U.N. Human Rights Council’s Goldstone Report condemned Israel for likely war crimes, and many Americans turned away from the atrocities in disgust.
“Do you have any misgivings about Cast Lead?” I asked.
Rosenfeld brushed that aside. “That is what happened in the past… Operation Cast Lead was a different phase, a different period.” Gaza today is a different story. He spoke of new types of weapons coming in from Libya– “through Egypt”– shoulder-mounted missile launchers. “Much more sophisticated.”
But the essence of Israel’s problem with Gaza is exactly what it was four years ago: rocket fire. When I quoted cynics saying that Netanyahu is pressing this attack for election campaign purposes, Rosenfeld said, “Absolutely not,” and went down a list of provocations. Will there be another ground invasion like Cast Lead? Rosenfeld issued a warning.
“It depends entirely if and how Hamas responds to the ongoing IDF operation.” If Hamas strikes Israel “in the heart of the home front,” Israel will continue the operation. So far Israel’s anti-missile system has taken out warheads that would have caused dozens of deaths in Beersheva, he said. The deeper the rockets go, the more devastating the Israeli response, to root out those firing the missiles. “All the options are on the table.”
I pointed out that public relations had to be a big part of the Israeli response, especially after the tragedy of Cast Lead. Today the Government’s Ministry of Public Diplomacy and Diaspora Affairs announced that it was mustering “25,000 activists” globally to explain Israel’s version of events, presumably on social media.
Standing on the hillside in a trig blue uniform and black rubbersoled shoes, Rosenfeld, 41, made the talking points clear. If Al Qaeda were firing rockets from Queens into Manhattan, the U.S. “would take down half of Queens without thinking about it.” Now compare such wholesale (and imaginary) destruction to the Israeli response: when a terrorist is pinned down in Gaza, said Rosenfeld, the decision whether to strike is deliberated 15 times over, and operations aborted because there are four women across the road… (Well– that isn’t exactly the way things went “the last time.”)
One thing is clear from our trip down through the south, as Scott Roth’s tweets have already made clear: the Jewish Israeli public is behind the government. Several of the people we spoke to in towns threatened by rocket fire said they wanted to obliterate Gaza.
“Press Delete on Gaza,” said a 22-year-old man standing a few feet from Rosenfeld, awaiting more “fireworks.” (We’ll have more reports in days to come from Israelis in towns being struck by rocket fire.)