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This afternoon, the IDF embarked on what right now looks like a major military operation (that’s one step away from war) in Gaza, targeting Hamas in order to “severely impair the command and control chain of the Hamas leadership, as well as its terrorist infrastructure.” (IDF Blog)

It’s been named Operation Pillar of Defense. And no, I don’t buy into the urban legend that a lonely computer in the IDF HQs choose the name. This one has way too many religious connotations in Hebrew (עמוד ענן) which literally means “pillar of cloud.”

(digression explaining that:  Psalm 99 which is sung as part of the Friday night service welcoming the Shabbat has this line: (He spoke to them from the pillar of cloud; they kept his statutes and the decrees he gave them)

בְּעַמּוּד עָנָן, יְדַבֵּר אֲלֵיהֶם;    שָׁמְרוּ עֵדֹתָיו, וְחֹק נָתַן-לָמו

also, and more familiar judging by what I see people posting on Facebook, is the notion from the book of Exodus of God leading the Israelites in the dessert in a pillar of cloud by day, and a pillar of fire by night. It’s chapter 13. And classic theophany. And very moving reading… )

Back to today — It’s a defense against the escalation in the south, which we have written about previously. in 2012, more than 870 rockets have been launched from Gaza into cities, targeting civilians. More than 100 in November alone. So, Bibi ordered a strike back. Killing Ahmed Jabari, leader of Hamas’ military wing. And with him, another five or seven of the top brass of Hamas. (more details on Jabari and his long list of terror here at the Jpost. He’s the master mind behind Gillad Shalit’s abduction. The Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs supposedly has a full background briefing but their website is…down….perhaps it’s working when you read this. Worth a try.)

Jabari on the left, shalit on the right — the day hamas decided to release him after five years of holding him captured

Which looks like a game changer. As Amos Harel and Avi Issacharoff over at Ha’aretz put it (their article here — for those with a subscription)

In Hamas they understood that an Israeli response was expected – and therefore its heads on Tuesday went along with the Egyptian call to agree to a truce. However, it is doubtful that Hamas expected the response would be so harsh. This is not just “another” assassination (and there haven’t been assassinations of second tier activists in almost four years), but rather a hit on one of the top people in the movement and the person in the leadership most identified with the terror struggle against Israel.

But obviously, this is the beginning of something, not the end…

Hamas and the Islamic jihad also have in their possession a small quantity of Fajr rockets smuggled from Iran, which have a range of 75 kilometers. When launched from the northern Gaza Strip, their range covers most of the area of Tel Aviv and the suburbs surrounding it. The Hamas leadership is most probably also weighing the use of this “Judgment Day” weapon.

It was clear to everyone living here that *something* had to be done. But “Of course, the trouble with this story – the likes of which we have already experienced a number of times – is that in launching such a strong strike you know where you are starting from but not where it is going to end.” (again the Haaretz gentlemen)

So far, the south -including major cities like Ashdod and Beer Sheva – has come under the predictable but still eerie rocket barrages. Schools are closed tomorrow, in all places within 40 kilometres of Gaza. Residents living 7 kilometres or closer are told to stay in their shelters as the rockets continue to fall… reaching as far north as Dimona.

Defence Minister Ehud Barak has already said that “If the cabinet deems it needed, the IDF can conquer and rule Gaza.”

It seems at least at the moment that no one wants the cabinet to give that order. But in this corner of the world, what you want to do, have to do, are forced to do and end up doing are often all together different things.

In the dessert, after leaving Egypt (The egyptian ambassador to israel was recalled an hour ago, as cairo protested the idf attacks in gaza. and rumour has it that israel has asked its ambassador to return. for his own safety) the israelites knew where they were going, since they had a pillar of fire & cloud leading them. today, we have no such luck. it seems pretty bleak. and that is before we are even talking about what could erupt on the northern borders…