On Nov. 14th, Israel embarked on Operation Pillar of Defense. The main purpose of the operation has been to restore security to the civilian population in Israel by putting an end to the terror attacks it has withstood.
For many months, nearly 1.5 million Israelis in the southern part of the country have endured daily missile attacks from Gaza. Families have been conducting their day-to-day lives either in a bomb shelter, or 15 seconds away from one (15 seconds is the time it takes for a missile fired from Gaza to hit an urban center in Israel). My own parents, who live in Tel Aviv, have spent long hours in bomb shelters since mid November. In the first five days since the conflict intensified, nearly 1,000 rockets have landed in Israel, an average of 14 per hour. Beyond the southern parts of Israel, the country’s largest metropolitan areas also have been targeted, including Jerusalem, Tel Aviv, Beersheva and Ashkelon, placing over half of Israel’s population at risk.
The equivalent of rockets raining down on Tel Aviv would be attacks on a city the size of Philadelphia. Imagine a daily routine of air raid sirens driving the population of Center City to bomb shelters.
No country would tolerate such an unbearable situation for more than five minutes. Bu Israel has — ever since it evacuated Gaza in 2005. Israel has shown unusual restraint, affording Hamas every opportunity to back down and cease its hostility. It chose not to. Instead, Hamas deliberately escalated the situation to the point where Israel was left with no other choice but to exercise its right to defend itself.
During the operation, Israel has continued exercising restraint, taking extraordinary measures to avoid unnecessary civilian casualties in Gaza.
More often than not the Israel Defense Forces chose to abort a mission to take out rocket launchers and missile stockpiles if there was even a slight chance of uninvolved civilians.
In addition, Israel has been making every effort to maintain the fabric of civilian life in Gaza: Crossings to Gaza are open for passage of food, medical supplies and other goods from Israel, despite previous attacks of Hamas on the crossings themselves. Israel continues to supply 5 million cubic meters of water into Gaza, as well as 125 megawatts of electricity from the power station in the city of Ashkelon. That’s right — the same Ashkelon which is under constant attack from Gaza. As a result of these efforts, the United Nations Relief and Works Agency recently reported that “there hasn’t been any need to provide emergency humanitarian assistance” to Gaza.
The situation that Hamas has created is unfortunate not only for Israelis, but also for civilians in Gaza. Hamas, which controls Gaza, is a terrorist organization according to U.S and European standards. It is more interested in terrorizing Israel than directing its resources and energies toward improving the lives of its own population.
Fortunately, in the United States, this reality is recognized and understood for what it is. During this operation, my colleagues and I have been approached by elected officials, community leaders and religious leaders. We have heard nothing but staunch support for Israel’s right to defend itself and condemnation of the terror emanating from Gaza.
The support Israel receives from the United States is not only in words but also in kind. The Iron Dome missile defense system, which has had a success rate of over 85 percent in intercepting incoming missiles from Gaza, is largely funded by America, thanks to the U.S. Congress and the Obama administration.
This vast support illustrates the deep friendship and unshakable bond between our two nations. It is also a great source of strength and encouragement for Israel’s population.
It is important that the broad support for Israel is sustained. I thank you for your dedication, for your commitment and for raising your voice in support of the state of Israel and the Israel-U.S. relationship during these challenging times.
Yaron Sideman is Israel’s consul general in Philadelphia.