Emboldened by the Arab Spring, Hamas has launched a surge of attacks on southern Israel, the Israeli ambassador to the United States says, prompting the Jewish state to continue combat tests of its new missile defense system.
Hamas has fired 80 rockets over the Israeli-Gaza border in the last week, injuring four and threatening the million Israeli citizens who live nearby, says Ambassador Michael Oren. These attacks add to the roughly 800 missiles and rockets fired on southern Israel this year, he says.
The country's new "Iron Dome" defense system has protected Israel from 85 percent of these attacks, Oren says, adding it is the first in history to prove effective in combat.
"We are exercising our most fundamental rights," the ambassador tells U.S. News. "These are terrorists."
Israel has three Iron Dome batteries, which the Jerusalem Post reported in March had a 90 percent success rate.
It must be made clear that Israel was provoked into these engagements, Oren says, and all options are on the table for retaliation.
Some in Israel, including former chief of staff and current Vice Prime Minister Moshe Yaalon, have called for the reinstitution of Israel's targeting and assassinating Hamas leaders. Israel employed this action more than a decade ago. Some argue this has been an effective way of eliminating the organization's masterminds, while others say it fuels those who see Israel as the enemy and invites attempts on Israeli officials' lives.
"Clearly over these past 13 years there has been an ongoing war, but there have also been extended periods of calm," The Associated Press reports Yaalon as saying on Army Radio on Monday. "When I was chief of staff, the targeted killings against Hamas led to extended periods of quiet."
Oren did not dismiss this option on Tuesday.
"We will consider a range of options, anything to protect our citizens," he says.
The situation is further complicated by other Islamic extremist groups operating outside of Hamas control near the Gaza border, Oren says. Those groups fire on Israel, and Israel returns fire on Hamas.
The United States has invested hundreds of millions of dollars in the Iron Dome system, designed to shoot down short-range rockets, mortars, and artillery shells. It operates in the north at the border with Lebanon, and near the Gaza Strip.
Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta visited Israel in August, and gave a news conference in front of an Iron Dome launcher regarding the Obama administration's investment in Israeli defenses.
The United States is also working with the developer of the Air Force's new F-35 fighter to create a version Israel plans to purchase.
America sends $3 billion in security assistance to Israel every year.
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- Israel: Gaza Getting Missiles From Libya
Paul D. Shinkman is a national security reporter for U.S. News & World Report. You can follow him on Twitter or reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Corrected 11/13/2012: A previous version of this story stated Hamas fired rockets at Gaza that killed four Israelis. The rockets injured four Israelis.