By YAAKOV LAPPIN, HERB KEINON
Palestinian rockets continued to pound southern Israel throughout the day, with some 120 projectiles striking by the evening.
Iron Dome intercepted 23 rockets, shooting down rockets over Ashdod, Ashkelon and Gaza border communities.
The army began calling up the 40,000 reserve soldiers the cabinet approved for Operation Protective Edge, launched the previous night to stop the rocket fire from Gaza. IDF Chief of Staff Lt.-Gen. Benny Gantz asked for the 40,000 soldiers in order to replace conscripted forces in the West Bank, thereby enabling their deployment to the Gaza border.
Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon brought the request to the cabinet, and the ministers approved it. By Tuesday afternoon, the IDF had begun issuing reserve notices.
Following high-level security deliberations on Tuesday morning, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu decided to expand the military operation in the Gaza Strip, including beginning preparations for a ground offensive. No time limit was put on the operation, but senior political officials said it could be “for a long time.”
The objective, according to the officials, is to return quiet to the South, but the equation that “quiet would be met with quiet” was no longer the operative principle.
During the day, Netanyahu spoke to a number of world leaders to explain Israel’s position. The IDF had called up 1,500 reservists on Monday, many of them border police who replaced conscripted infantrymen in Judea and Samaria, and some Home Front Command officials. Other reserves called up are combat unit headquarters staff, tasked with managing vital logistics and communications needs.
Operation Protective Edge saw the IAF strike some 100 terrorist targets in the Gaza Strip on Tuesday, and came after more than 250 rockets and many mortar shells were fired at communities in southern Israel in recent weeks.
IDF Chief of Staff Lt.-Gen. Benny Gantz said that Hamas chose an escalation with Israel and that other terrorist organizations have joined it. “We will now activate all of our force and take all the time that is needed in various stages in order to reach victory,” Gantz said.
“There may be surprises; there may be rocket fire here or a terrorist attack and difficulties there. We must be prepared for all possibilities,” the army chief warned. “We must continue the mission, for as long as necessary… The public is resilient and stable. It trusts the military and expects it to act.
“We will accomplish goals against Hamas, hurt it badly, remove its capabilities, defend our civilians and our country, and we will exact from Hamas the full price of the strategic mistake that it has made,” Gantz said.
Meanwhile, the Israel Air Force struck 150 targets in the Gaza Strip, and Palestinians reported casualties from a number of the strikes.
Some 100 underground rocket launchers and 10 attack tunnels were among the targets.
Three homes in Gaza used by Hamas as command and control centers for enabling rocket fire were also among the targets.
The homes belonged to Hamas members Muhammad Sba’at, a senior member its rocket-launching formations in Beit Hanun on the northeast edge of the Strip, who was involved in several recent attacks; Amin Ibrahim al-Alba’an, a Hamas member; and Abu Jarad, a Hamas member from northern Gaza who has been engaged in terrorism against Israel.
Hamas’s Health Ministry in Gaza said seven civilians were killed, including children, by an air strike on one of the homes.
Earlier, shortly after 2 p.m., in a joint IDF-Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency) operation, the air force struck a vehicle containing a commander of Hamas’s naval commando unit, Muhammad Sa’aban, aged 24, killing him instantly. Two other terrorists in the vehicle were killed with him.
Sa’aban’s commando unit operated in northern Gaza, security forces said. Sa’aban was a resident of Jabalya.
In the first part of Tuesday, Palestinians fired 22 rockets into Israel.
At the same time, the IAF targeted homes used by Hamas and Islamic Jihad members, underground rocket launchers, attack tunnels, remote rocket-launch infrastructure, training camps and additional centers of terrorist activities. Gaza border communities in the Sdot Negev, Sha’ar Hanegev and Hof Ashkelon regions came under rocket fire throughout the day.
The IAF and Shin Bet directed an air strike at the home of senior Hamas member Abdul Rahman Juda in Rafah, in the southern Gaza Strip. The home was used as a command and control center, security forces said.
On Tuesday morning, Israel declared a “special situation” in all areas of the South within 40 kilometers of the Strip. The decision came after Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon held a security evaluation meeting with the Home Front commander Maj.-Gen. Eyal Eizenberg, as well as other civil defense chiefs, in which they examined the latest developments in the clash with Hamas. A special situation legal decree allows various authorities to safeguard public safety through a variety of means reserved for times of conflict.
Israel launched Operation Protective Edge against Hamas after concluding that any hopes for reaching a truce with the regime were baseless, Ya’alon said on Tuesday, during a tour of the IDF’s Gaza Division.
The defense minister added that in previous days, the defense establishment explored the idea that Hamas may have wanted to reach a cease-fire.
“I won’t go into the details on whether Hamas’s political echelon there controls the military echelon. Ultimately, the facts speak for themselves: They [Hamas] brought it to an escalation, and the moment we realized there is no chance of reaching a cease-fire on the basis of the policy of recent days, we shifted into a campaign with full power,” he said.
“For our part, the goal is to reach zero rockets or attacks from the Gaza Strip. We will carry out this campaign until we reach that goal. We will exact a heavy price, as we have already begun to do, from this organization, so that it understands not to fire on our civilians or soldiers,” Ya’alon said.
As time goes by, Hamas is losing its fighters, commanders and assets, the defense minister said. “We are working all day and all night to hit Hamas so that it understands that the more time goes by, the more it loses.”
Hamas is attacking Israeli civilians while using Gazan civilians as human shields, he concluded.
“We are prepared for a campaign against Hamas, which will not end within days. Hamas is leading the current confrontation to a place in which it seeks to exact a heavy price from our home front. There is a need for patience,” Ya’alon said at the end of the meeting.
The defense minister called on the public to behave in accordance with Home Front Command safety instructions, adding that it is vital that civilians not sustain casualties.
“In recent hours, we have struck with force and hit dozens of Hamas assets. The IDF is continuing with the offensive effort, in a manner that will exact a very heavy price from Hamas. We will not tolerate missile and rocket fire on Israel, and we are prepared to expand the campaign through all of the means available to us, to continue striking Hamas,” he continued.
“I’d like to send my support to residents of the South and to local government leaders there, who are displaying leadership and responsibility, and are allowing us to continue with the offensive efforts,” Ya’alon said.
The IDF struck 50 targets throughout the Gaza Strip overnight between Monday and Tuesday, marking the start of Operation Protective Edge, launched to extinguish Hamas rocket fire. The IAF carried out strikes on 47 targets, and Israel Navy ships off the coast of Gaza three.
“We are entering into a long operation,” a senior IDF source said hours after the nighttime raids. “We are only at the start. Patience is required. We are preparing further steps and a gradual expansion of our order of battle,” the source said, referring to the growing ground forces presence deployed to the Gaza border.
The operation is being led by the army’s Southern Command.
During the overnight strikes, the IDF hit 18 underground rocket launchers, dozens of homes belonging to Hamas operatives, three Hamas command and control facilities, and targets described by the source as “infrastructure.”
Most of the air strikes targeted Hamas, though some targeted other terrorist groups that have been involved in recent projectile fire on Israel.
The IDF spent time gathering intelligence before launching its next wave of strikes, the source continued.
Early on Tuesday, Hamas fired rockets at Kiryat Malachi and at Kibbutz Ein Hashlosha in the Eshkol region.
“We are preparing to add to our two special infantry formations that are on the Gaza border, and which are now busy with efforts against [cross-border] attack tunnels,” the source said. “We have fully deployed Iron Dome batteries. And we are moving toward a significant phase of the operation, in terms of attacks on targets.”
Gantz conducted a series of security evaluations on Tuesday.
On Monday evening, he gave approval for an operation based on a phased increase of attacks on Hamas.
Events were moving in accordance with the chief of staff’s plans, a senior security source said on Monday evening.
Daniel K. Eisenbud contributed to this report.