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Israel: Background and U.S. Relations

CRS – Israel: Background and U.S. Relations. Jim Zanotti, Specialist in Middle Eastern Affairs. July 22, 2014

“Periodic violence between Palestinian militants in the Gaza Strip—including the Islamist group Hamas—and Israel’s military became a larger conflict on July 6-7, 2014. Israel began a ground operation in Gaza on July 17 with the stated objective of destroying tunnels used by militants to infiltrate Israeli territory, though the extensive nature of Hamas’s underground infrastructure has reportedly already drawn Israeli forces into some densely populated urban areas. Since the initial escalation, Hamas and other Palestinian militants have reportedly launched approximately 1,800 rockets into Israel with longer ranges than in past conflicts, and Israel has conducted more than 2,000 strikes on various targets in Gaza. Rockets and/or mortars have also reportedly been fired on Israeli-controlled territory from Lebanon, Syria, and Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula, in some cases provoking Israeli retaliatory fire. Additionally, Israel has reportedly shot down two Hamas drone aircraft and foiled a Hamas sea raid. As Israel’s military targets tunnels and other nodes of Hamas’s underground Gaza network, reports indicate that the Hamas fighters’ anti tank weaponry and various means of close-quarters combat have proven substantially lethal and damaging. Though casualty figures cannot be independently verified, apparently more than 500 Palestinians have been killed, more than 3,500 injured, and more than 100,000 displaced. The United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs asserts that a large majority of those killed are civilians, and is documenting other indicators of humanitarian distress as reports indicate that the U.N. is coordinating emergency shipments of food and other humanitarian aid to Gaza. Twenty-nine Israelis, including two U.S.-Israeli dual citizens who served in the military, and two civilians, have reportedly been killed, with several injuries reported. One Israeli soldier has been reported missing in action, and Hamas has claimed that it captured an Israeli soldier. If true, this could have implications for both sides, given Hamas’s 2011 exchange of an Israeli soldier that had been in its custody since 2006 (Gilad Shalit) to gain the release of more than 1,000 Palestinian prisoners. Daily life on both sides faces continual disruption. Israel’s Iron Dome anti-rocket system (see “Iron Dome and Missile Defense Cooperation” below) has reportedly intercepted approximately 90% of rockets it classifies as threats to sensitive targets (including population centers). As the conflict continued, Israel’s military has called up approximately 65,000 reserves.”

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