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Boston Herald November 17, 2012

Bombs could be tip of iceberg in Middle East

By Erin Smith

Dueling rocket strikes between Hamas militants and Israel could set the stage for a ground war in Gaza, bombings in Iran and more violent protests at American embassies in the Middle East, one security expert warned.

It’s a volatile powder keg playing out this weekend.

“I think the Israelis are going to quite possibly bomb Iran in the next few months and I think they would like to prune back Hezbollah and Hamas before they do that,” said John Pike of the security think tank GlobalSecurity.org.

Simmering tensions escalated this week with increased rocket launches from Gaza and Israel’s assassination of Hamas’ military leader. Israel called up 75,000 reservists yesterday after the terrorist group aimed rockets at capital city Jerusalem and Tel Aviv.

“The Israelis and Hamas have been poking at each other for years. At first, I thought hitting the Hamas military leader was just a one-off, but now it’s a named operation,” Pike said. “With the near simultaneous hit on Hamas rocket launch sites, it had to have been planned.”

Pike said the growing conflict in the Middle East could mean more anti-American protests or terrorist attacks, such as the ambush at the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, Libya, that killed four Americans.

“I hope we’ve got all our embassies buttoned up,” Pike said. “I think you’re going to see all of the Arab Spring governments start to creak with conflict between moderates and more extreme fundamentalists.”

A full-scale war is unlikely to break out because surrounding countries are distracted by a host of other problems, including fallout from the Arab Spring, civil war in Syria, unrest in Iraq and Libya, and growing concerns over nuclear weapons in Iran, said Bill Martel, international security professor at Tufts University’s Fletcher School.

“I don’t think in recent memory we have seen a time where the Middle East is more highly unstable than it is now,” Martel said. “I think if the rocket attacks continue on the capital, Israel would consider a ground invasion. This has the potential to fester for quite some time.”

Meanwhile, local Jewish groups are hosting a rally in support of Israel on Monday night at Congregation Mishkan Tefila in Newton.

“We really want to make sure people understand the ongoing challenges that Israel has been facing. It’s a country that wants peace, but not at the expense of its own survival,” said Gil Preuss, a top executive at Combined Jewish Philanthropies.

Barry Shrage, head of the Boston-based CJP, will leave today for an emergency mission to Israel to meet with the Israeli leaders and visit areas under attack, he said.

Shai Bazak, Israel’s consul general in Boston, said rockets constantly fall around his mother’s home in southern Israel and her neighbors sleep in shelters.

“What’s going to happen is up to Hamas. If they will stop the fire, the whole operation will stop right away,” Bazak said. “They have to understand they cannot put half of Israel under constant threat.”


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