Two projectiles that Stratfor believes to be Fajr-5 rockets due to their range landed near Tel Aviv — one just south of the municipal line and one in the water just outside the southern suburb of Bat Yam. No injuries have been reported. An Israel Defense Forces spokesman denied that a rocket had landed in Tel Aviv, although this statement conflicts with eyewitness reports and may reflect the fact that projectiles have landed in areas just south of the actual Tel Aviv municipal boundary.
Both Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad have claimed responsibility for the attack. This strike is the farthest Hamas has ever struck into Israeli territory and signals a major escalation. Hamas has moved beyond retaliation for yesterday's airstrikes or provocative bombings and instead is engaged in war. An Israeli ground offensive is now almost assured.
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Central Israel is now under rocket fire for the first time since Saddam Hussein launched Scud missiles into Tel Aviv during the first Gulf War. This escalation follows a spike in Israeli airstrikes over the Gaza Strip in the last 12 hours. The Israeli air force has hit more than 200 targets and Palestinian casualty numbers have risen to 15 fatalities and dozens injured.
The targeting of Israel's largest population center raises the specter of a ground operation. While limited rocket fire directed at small towns in the areas surrounding the Gaza Strip have been tolerated by the Israelis for the better part of the last decade, Stratfor expects rocket fire into the area where nearly 40 percent of the country's population resides — and extending rocket fire to an area that now includes more than half the country — to result in firmer action taken by the Israeli military to remove this threat.
Regardless of where the missile hit, the incident indicates that Gaza still has Fajr-5 rockets despite Israel's efforts yesterday to eliminate those stockpiles. The revelation that Gaza militants still have Fajr-5 missiles in their arsenals means that the airstrikes yesterday were incomplete. As Israeli intelligence continues to collect information on missile sites in Gaza, we can expect to see more airstrikes to eliminate them.
The IDF's official website and multiple media sources have already reported that paratroopers and soldiers from the IDF's Givati infantry brigade are beginning to prepare staging areas on the Gaza border for a ground offensive.
While this alone does not make a ground invasion of the Gaza Strip imminent, the fire on central Israel now makes this possibility all the more likely. However, if airstrikes do not prove sufficient to eliminate the long-range missile threat, Israel will need to be more methodical in finding and destroying those missile sites. That increases the likelihood of an Israeli ground operation, since that is the only way to secure the missile sites and prevent their further deployment.