It happened in a moment.
We were looking from our hotel balcony Saturday at the Tel Aviv beach scene, full of happy families frolicking in the Mediterranean. Then we suddenly heard sirens and loudspeaker warnings, and watched people scramble for cover.Some rushed into our hotel lobby to take advantage of the building’s bomb shelter. Cameraman Pierre and I immediatley went up to the roof, where we listened to the explosions and saw rockets crisscrossing the skies.
Once again, Israel’s battle with the Hamas militant group based in the Gaza Strip was brought home to residents of the country’s biggest city, some 40 miles away.
Hamas also sent a barrage of missiles into the center of the country. Most were knocked out by Israel’s Iron Dome defense system. But a few got through. One hit the Tel Aviv suburb of Ramat Gan just about a mile from where we are, killing one person, injuring several others, and damaging buildings and cars.
After it was over, our hotel manager came up to check if we were OK. While we watched the aerial duel, we spoke with another guest of the hotel and he told us what it was like the last time Tel Aviv was hit by Hamas earlier this week. He said the building, including window frames, shook from the blasts.
The word from the Hamas group’s spokesperson was that this barrage of rockets was in response to an Israeli strike on a refugee camp in Gaza which they claim killed an extended Palestinian family of 10, including children. They also worryingly said that they could target Tel Aviv for the next six months.
The broader reach of Hamas is just one of several surprises Israel is dealing with as it does battle this time. The Palestinian rockets used to pose a limited threat, making it just a few miles across the border with Gaza. That kept hostilities localized.
The latest rockets can target much of Israel – indiscriminately, because they are mostly unguided. The Israeli defense system has basically kept up with the advances, but it’s estimated that 10 percent of the missiles evade the anti-missile fusillade.
And if there are thousands in the Hamas arsenal that could spell a lot more trouble for civilians.
A few hours after missiles filled the skies over Tel Aviv, police patrolled the beach trying to convince stragglers that this was not a safe place to spend one’s leisure time. But at least some resisted the warnings and continued to enjoy the warm early summer sun. Despite a deadly and tortured geopolitical tangle … some life goes on.