Source: Israel Hayom
No injuries reported, but one rocket causes minor damage • Early warning siren fails to sound • Homefront Defense Minister Matan Vilnai: Hezbollah may not be the culprit • Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu reconsiders cutting defense budget.
By Daniel Siryoti, Danny Brenner, Lilach Shoval, Israel Hayom Staff and News Agencies
Northern District police combed the area throughout the night in search of more fallen rockets, after residents reported hearing additional loud explosions.
Residents of the northern Galilee were awakened by the sound of explosions when at least three rockets fired from Lebanon struck the region on Monday night. There were no reported injuries, while one rocket caused minor property damage. The Israel Defense Forces said it had shelled the launch sites in retaliation.
Northern District police spokesman Chief Inspector Yehuda Maman issued a statement saying, "Around 1 a.m., explosions were heard in the Western Galilee. The IDF and Israel Police searched the area and determined that one rocket exploded near a town and two more rockets hit a moshav [an agricultural community] in the Western Galilee. One hit a chicken coop and the other didn't detonate."
The type of rockets involved has yet to be determined, Maman said. "Explosives experts have taken fragments from the rockets for analysis. It is still unclear whether the rockets were Katyushas [Hezbollah's mainstay-medium range rocket] or another type of rocket."
"Anyone who was sleeping was awakened by the blasts," said Galilee resident Shlomi Levy. "We heard at least four explosions, but strangely the early warning alarm didn't sound."
A senior police official told Israel Hayom that the early warning sirens were under the jurisdiction of the IDF's Homefront Command and that he believed the IDF was looking into why they did not sound.
In an interview with Army Radio on Tuesday, Homefront Defense Minister Matan Vilnai said that though it was not clear who was responsible for the attack, "There are several possibilities."
"The events in Syria have led to a crisis among Hezbollah but it is not clear that they launched the rockets," Vilnai said. "We live in an unpredictable region -- we are surrounded by constant threats." He said he thought there was no link between the rocket fire and Monday's mysterious explosion in Iran. "You can connect anything to anything else,” he said. “We can't know if the recent events are related."
Deputy Prime Minister Dan Meridor said that the Lebanese government and its military are solely responsible for what happens in southern Lebanon. "The question of who is behind the rocket fire is not yet known, but Hezbollah has no interest in an escalation," Meridor told Army Radio.
The United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon on Tuesday said it would investigate the incident and try to locate the rockets' launching site. UNIFIL Commander Maj. Gen. Alberto Asarta Cuevas has urged Israel and Lebanon to act with maximum restraint to prevent any escalation.
"This is a serious incident in violation of U.N. Security Council Resolution 1701 and is clearly directed at undermining stability in the area," Cuevas said. Resolution 1701 ended the 2006 Second Lebanon War between Israel and Hezbollah. "It is imperative to identify and apprehend the perpetrators of this attack, and we will spare no efforts to this end and work in cooperation with the Lebanese Armed Forces,” he said. “Additional troops have been deployed on the ground and patrols have been intensified across our area of operations to prevent any further incidents.”
The flare-up comes at a time when the entire region is engulfed in violence and upheaval, with thousands killed in the regime's crackdown on protesters in Syria and after popular uprisings ousted longtime rulers in Libya, Egypt, Tunisia and Yemen.
The IDF said it did not expect Tuesday's incident to touch off a wider conflict with Lebanon. In a statement, however, it said it regarded the attack as "severe" and held the Lebanese government and army responsible for preventing rocket fire at Israel.
Army Radio said it was the eighth rocket attack since Israel's month-long war with Hezbollah guerrillas ended in August 2006. Hezbollah has not claimed responsibility for any attacks since the end of the fighting, but smaller militant organizations, some Palestinian and some linked to al-Qaida, have launched rockets on several occasions. None of the rocket attacks has caused serious casualties.
In August 2010, the Lebanese Army clashed with the IDF when the former opened fire on an IDF patrol on the Israeli side of the UNIFIL-monitored blue line between the two countries. The exchange of fire resulted in the deaths of a senior IDF officer, four Lebanese soldiers and a civilian reporter.
Meanwhile, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu may reverse a planned NIS 3 billion ($793 million) cut to the Defense Ministry budget, despite the Finance Ministry's vehement opposition. The Finance Ministry has long pushed for tighter regulation of the defense budget. The planned budget cut was recommended by the Trajtenberg Committee, which aims to shift government spending priorities without breaching the national budget. The Trajtenberg Committee was formed in response to the summer's social justice protest movement against the hardships facing the middle class in Israel. The Knesset is scheduled to hold a meeting next week on the report compiled by the Trajtenberg Committee, bringing the budget cuts back into discussion.
Netanyahu remarked on the issue twice in as many days this week, hinting that everyone agreed that Israel needed to invest in its security. The prime minister's staff stated that Netanyahu refuses to deviate from the framework of the approved budget, and that the security of Israel's citizens is his utmost priority.
Speaking to Likud members on Monday, Netanyahu declared that he sees that issue as having three prongs "that define the key decisions we will have to make as a government": the global economic situation, Israel’s growing social demands, and the geopolitical shift in the region. "The only way to approach this three-way challenge is to exercise national responsibility and caution," he said. "The instability in the Middle East affects our defense budget. The implications of this instability must be considered together with all the other factors in efforts to maintain economic responsibility."
Defense Minister Ehud Barak said Monday at an Independence party meeting that while social justice was important, everyone understood Israel's urgent security needs. He voiced hope that the government would "act appropriately."