- Analysts: Hamas underground infrastructure, rocket target selection driving Israel to initiate ground war
- Hezbollah activities trigger new Treasury Dept sanctions, as talk grows of risks to Lebanese financial institutions
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Thursday predicted that "more stages were expected" in the country's three-day-old Operation Protective Edge, as analysts converged on the assessment that Israel may have to initiate a ground incursion into the Gaza Strip in the wake of a series of moves by the Palestinian Hamas faction, which controls the territory and has over the last few weeks steadily increased rocket attacks against the Jewish state. Netanyahu is widely acknowledged as having sought to deescalate tensions before the operation began - Palestinian sources confirmed as much earlier this week, and even domestic critics of Netanyahu's diplomacy have bluntly stated that he "did not want to escalate this war" - but observers on Thursday identified a range of Hamas actions that risked precipitating a wider conflict. Uzi Rubin, the former director of Israel's Missile Defense Organization, had explained to reporters on Wednesday conference that Hamas was apparently "preparing for a long campaign." Speaking on a conference call hosted by The Israel Project, Rubin specifically cited the pace at which Hamas was depleting its rocket inventory as evidence that the terror group was digging in for a long operation. Hamas on the same day launched three rockets at Israel's nuclear reactor in the city of Dimona, a blackletter act of nuclear terrorism per binding United Nations conventions. Rockets fired by the group on Thursday were intercepted within a few miles of Israel's main airport. Meanwhile Amos Yadlin - the former head of the IDF's military intelligence shop (Aman) and currently the director of Tel Aviv University's Institute for National Security Studies (INSS) - published a broad overview of the strategic situation surrounding the conflict. He specifically noted that Hamas had created "a network of underground tunnels and shelters, which are used not only by the Hamas leadership but also by a large number of military operatives," and that "a ground operation is necessary and almost essential" if Israeli forces were to get at Hamas's high-value targets. The various factors appear to create a scenario in which Hamas has ensured that its long-range missiles - which it is preparing to deploy over the course of months against Israeli civilian centers and nuclear installations - are functionally invulnerable except from the ground.
Reuters reported Thursday afternoon that Secretary of State John Kerry will travel to Vienna this weekend along with foreign ministers from the P5+1 powers, who have been negotiating with Tehran over the latter’s nuclear program, amid concerns that a deal may not be reached by the time the interim Joint Plan of Action (JPA) expires on July 20. The Wall Street Journal conveyed remarks indicating that progress at the talks was halting, and the Jerusalem Post described the fate of the talks as being “in jeopardy” ahead of the JPA deadline and noted that Kerry is expected to hold a bilateral meeting with Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammed Javad Zarif, just the second time in nearly a year that the two will meet face-to-face. State Department Deputy Spokesperson Marie Harf on Thursday told reporters that “significant gaps” still remain and Kerry’s role will be to “assess Iran’s willingness to make a set of critical choices at the negotiating table.” The administration statements will be read alongside observer concerns that Tehran has been reluctant to make concessions that negotiators consider to be key to a final agreement – in May, Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei dismissed expectations of any compromise on his country’s ballistic missile program as “stupid” and “idiotic,” and as recently as Tuesday, Khamenei publicly claimed that Tehran hoped to have 190,000 centrifuges.
The Treasury Department on Thursday leveled sanctions against a Beirut-based network of companies spanning the Middle East and China that has been accused of purchasing among other things electronics that have been used in the development of unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) that Hezbollah then used to fight opposition forces in Syria. In addition to using the technology to support the Syrian war, where Hezbollah assistance has been critical as the Bashar al-Assad regime spent the early part of 2014 rolling back a series of opposition gains, the Obama administration accused the Iran-backed terror group of using the technology to spy on Israel. The move to blacklist Stars Group Holding is the latest in a string of bipartisan efforts in Washington to disrupt Hezbollah’s operations. In June, the House Foreign Affairs Committee unanimously passed the Hezbollah International Financing Prevention Act of 2014, which provides the White House “with tools to target and impose sanctions on foreign banks that conduct business with Hezbollah and its enablers.” The legislation was in May described by the insidery Al Monitor Pulse as part of an effort by lawmakers in Washington to “snuff out the Shiite militia.” Senator Marco Rubio (R-Fl.) said in a statement at the time that the legislation was indirectly aimed at Iran, which funds Hezbollah and also provides backing to the Assad regime in Syria. Hezbollah has in recent months doubled down on its support for the Assad regime, deepening its involvement in Syria, despite its own insistence that it was an indigenous Lebanese group promoting Lebanese interests. The terror organization’s willingness to endanger Lebanon’s economic and financial stability in pursuit of its global terror campaigns, often if not exclusively to promote Iranian interests, has sits uneasily alongside that claim.
Despite the terrifying barrage of missiles, air-raid sirens and Red Alert warnings in half of Israel this week, Israeli hospitals that regularly provide medical care to patients from Gaza and the Palestinian Authority have continued to do so. Haifa’s Rambam Health Care Campus reported today that its hospitalized patients include three adults and eight children from Gaza, and three adults and two children from the PA. Most of the hospitalized children are in the pediatric oncology or nephrology wards. In addition, the medical center has seven patients from the PA being treated in the outpatient clinics. More patients from the Gaza area scheduled to arrive this week. “Despite the security situation, and despite the fact that both sides are fighting, all continues as usual in the realm of medical cooperation,” said Yazid Falah, coordinator for Palestinian patients coming to Rambam. “Even in times of war we continue to receive patients and give them the care they need — children and adults.” As ISRAEL21c reported earlier this week, four preschoolers from Gaza arrived for lifesaving cardiac care at Wolfson Medical Center in Holon through Save a Child’s Heart. The Israel Center for the Treatment of Psychotrauma, based at Herzog Hospital in Jerusalem, has set up an emergency hot line for callers in distress, and its METIV Crisis Walk-In Clinic has expanded its hours of operation to meet increased demand. Hadassah Medical Center’s Center for Post-trauma Children and Teens is among several Israeli organizations providing emergency training and workshops for parents, social workers and youth coordinators in various parts of the country. (via Israel21c)
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