Monday witnessed significant escalation over Gaza as Palestinian Islamic Jihad sought to avenge the deaths of three commanders killed in Israeli air strikes on Gaza and Damascus the day before.
Israeli media counted some 90 total rockets fired at Israel from the Gaza Strip throughout the day since the attacks began Sunday night, with the IDF claiming its Iron Dome defense system had intercepted the vast majority which came near populated areas.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had earlier threatened to initiate broader war if the rocket fire didn't cease. Despite an Islamic Jihad spokesman announcing a unilateral cease-fire by the early evening, the rocket fire was reported as continuing later into the night Monday.
“We are now hitting with planes, tanks, and helicopters,” Netanyahu said while inspecting an Iron Dome unit in the south. “I’m talking about a war,” Netanyahu, who is entering a final week of campaigning before Israeli national elections, had further told Israel’s Army Radio station. “I only go to war as a last option, but we have prepared something you can’t even imagine.”
He also appeared to threaten to kill the heads of Hamas and Islamic Jihad if the rockets continued, saying:
“We will continue to strike until the calm returns. If there isn’t quiet, you’ll be next.”
Some 30 rockets were initially fired out of the Gaza Strip on Sunday night, and it continued to escalate through Monday.
In a developing stand-off, Islamic Jihad appeared to threaten its own continuation and step up of attacks, blaming Israel for not stopping its aggression.
“The enemy did not commit itself into stopping its aggression we we resumed based on the fire-for-fire principle,” Islamic Jihad spokesman Abu Hamza, said.
For those who seem to think that the Palestinian Islamic Jihad rockets being fired from #Gaza into southern #Israel for the past 2 days are just cheap fireworks, think again. Yes, Israel has the powerful Iron Dome to shoot down more than half, but many of these are Iranian made. pic.twitter.com/TMEV6pI43L— James J. Marlow (@James_J_Marlow) February 24, 2020
Pundits were quick to point the finger at Iran for allegedly supplying increasingly sophisticated rockets to militant groups in the strip, which are reaching deeper into Israel.
Meanwhile, Israel is reportedly sending tanks, armored vehicles and troops to its southern border in what could become the next round of major fighting at a politically sensitive moment ahead of next week's election.