Today’s bus bombing in central Tel Aviv–the first in more than six years–injured twenty-three people and will likely rule out any cease fire in the Gaza conflict in the coming days. The location of the blast is significant: it occurred a short distance away from the Kirya, the nerve center of Israel’s military. The attack was also timed to coincide with Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s visit to Israel, and sends a message of contempt to the U.S.
The likely result is that Israel will continue with plans for a ground invasion of Gaza, just as it used a successful ground assault on terrorists in the West Bank during Operation Defensive Shield following a series of terror attacks in the spring of 2002. It is not clear that the bombing originated from Gaza; it could have come from the West Bank or a terror cell inside Israel. Regardless, it is an escalation Israel cannot ignore.
Hamas claimed credit for the attack, and Gaza residents reportedly celebrated. It is possible that provoking a ground attack is precisely what Hamas–and its sponsor, Iran–wants, either to drag Israel into clashes that will harden international opinion against it, or to distract Israel while a new front is opened by Hezbollah on Israel’s northern border. The Jerusalem Post reported yesterday by that two rockets aimed at Israel, of unknown origin, had been dismantled by the Lebanese Army in southern Lebanon.
The bombing occurred after noon local time, and Israeli security services initially said it was not a suicide bombing, but caused by an explosive left under a seat on a crowded bus. Ha’aretz reports that there have been many terror threats since Operation Pillar of Defense began last week. Breitbart News has also reported on ongoing cyberattacks against Israel, including the hacking of the deputy prime minister’s Twitter account.
Defense analysts had predicted in February that the Kirya would be a prime target in the next conflict between Israel and its enemies, though the predictions suggested that the Kirya would be targeted by guided missiles, not by bus bombings. The Kirya is in central Tel Aviv but is protected from the streets by high walls and other security measures. Tel Aviv itself, Israel’s largest city and economic center, remains a prime terrorist target.
The goal of a ground operation in Gaza would be to wipe out the military and command infrastructure of Hamas. Israeli soldiers reported little resistance when they entered the Gaza Strip during Operation Cast Lead in 2008 and 2009; the Hamas fighters, brave when launching rockets at civilians from a distance, disappeared and melted away into the civilian population. Nevertheless, a ground attack could last several weeks or longer.