For almost a week, Israel and Hamas have been exchanging air attacks. The conflict has reached the point when on November 19 Israeli authorities deliver an ultimatum to Hamas, threatening to start large-scale warfare. However, the next day Israel postponed the campaign due to negotiations with Hamas representatives in Cairo, where both sides expressed readiness to cease fire, but set conditions. It turns out that neither Israel nor Hamas is ready to make concessions, as attacks have been resumed. 

World mass media now reports that Air Forces of Israel distributed leaflets over the north of Gaza with calls to civil population to leave the area. Does it mean that Israel is ready to start ground operation and bring troops? The Israeli authorities do not report on this.

Extraordinary and plenipotentiary ambassador of Israel to Ukraine Reuven Din El told ForUm in an interview how dangerous the ground operation might turn out, how Israeli go through the military conflict and how country's authorities protect their citizens.

- Mr. Ambassador, what is the general situation in Israel?

- There is nothing unusual going on for Israeli, unfortunately. Southern cities of Israel are targeted regularly. Hamas shoots with "Kassam" or "Fajr" missiles, and Israel intercepts the rockets with "Iron Dome" anti-missile system. The system was launched last year. The first complex was set over Be'er Sheva, and other two complexes cover Ashkelon and Ashdod.

Ashkelon, Sderot and Ashdod suffer the most, as the major part of attacks happens on their territories. As of today, Tel Aviv, Rishon Le-Tzion and even Jerusalem are under fire as well.

The statistics shows that in 2011 Hamas fired about 390 missiles. In the result, three Israeli died and 38 people were wounded. For the nine months of this year, Hamas has fired 573 rockets. And since November 14, when Hamas military leader Ahmed Jabari was liquidated, other three Israeli citizens have died and 45 have been wounded.

However, small number of victims is not a consequence of poor targeting. Our state takes all possible measures to protect its citizens, including the conduct of military operations and installation of rocket shields. For the last thirty years, we have been constructing houses by special design. One room in the house must be reinforced for the family to hide in case they did not have time to come down to the shelter.

- What are the human losses in Gaza?

- Losses in Gaza are bigger, but the point is not to compare victims. Both sides suffer from this conflict. We try to avoid needless victims, but unfortunately we live in the region where restraint in response to aggression is considered as manifestation of weakness. Everyone calls us to restraint, but we cannot react to one missile from Hamas with only one missile. We estimate not the number of victims, but the effectiveness of protection of Israeli citizens.

- Is there panic in Israel? Do the Israeli leave their houses?

- There is no panic among citizens of southern cities, but people do suffer, as their routine has been compromises - schools and kindergartens are closed, people worry about their relatives and friends.
- If Israel decides to start ground operation, will your army attack residential areas of Gaza? How deadly is this operation for civil population of Gaza and Israeli soldiers?

- Ground operation is more humane comparing to air attacks. Of course, we have means to destroy terrorist infrastructures with missile blows, but ground operation is less deadly for civil population. There will be no mass destruction and mass victims. However, the number of losses among Israeli soldiers will increase. It is inevitable. Our ground operation is the manifestation of restraint, however we still hope it can be avoided. 

- Hamas leaders recently declared they intended to resume terrorist activity on the territory of Israel. Do Israeli authorities strengthen the security measures?

- Well, let's say Hamas has never said it would stop terrorist activity against our state, thus such declarations are not a surprise. Moreover, Hamas does not recognize Israel as a state, and its goal is to liquidate a strange for them "Zionist formation".

- Do the military operations cause the reduction of tourist inflow?

- Tourist inflow has been growing for this year. Comparing to the last year, the number of tourists from Ukraine, for example, has increased by 51%. For the January -October period more than three million tourists from all over the world visited Israel. We protect our visitors as good as our citizens.

- Mr. Ambassador, families of the embassy personnel live now in the zone of military operations. How do you stay calm under such circumstances? Does anybody of your colleagues plan to come back to Israel to be close to the family or even to take part in the actions?

- Of course we worry about our families. Bomb shelters, fire, summoning of military troops is our life and the life of our children. And when we speak about ground operation in Gaza, we know that the troops will consist not of contractors, but of our families, friends, neighbors. As for diplomats, every one of us understands that we serve the state, and if the state needs us to work abroad, we do it.

Alina Yeremeyeva


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