President Obama and Vice President Joe Biden spoke to Prime Minister Netanyahu Wednesday to reaffirm U.S. "support for Israel's right to self-defense in light of the barrage of rocket attacks being launched from Gaza against Israeli civilians," according to a White House readout.
Obama also spoke with Egyptian President Morsi to deliver the same message and the need to de-escalate the violence.
Earlier in the day Morsi, who had been trying to broker a ceasefire between Israel and the Palestinian militants, recalled his ambassador to Israel to protest the Israeli retaliatory strikes. Hundreds of Egyptians marched in Cairo to protest the Israeli attack and demand cutting diplomatic ties to the Jewish state.
Netanyahu had been preparing public and international opinion for several days the possibility of military action. He even summoned foreign ambassadors to Ashkelon, a favored missile target, to tell them, in his usual unsubtle style, "If an alarm is sounded, all of us have exactly 30 seconds to find shelter. This is the situation in which one million Israelis find themselves in."
Wednesday he finally gave the order to strike and released the video for all the world to see the precision with which an Israeli pilot had targeted and destroyed the car of a top Hamas commander, Ahmed Jabari, as he drove through Gaza. It quickly appeared on Facebook and all the cable and network newscasts. Also on Facebook was a color map showing the location of one of the 20 Hamas launching site also hit, this one located near a mosque, a playground and a gas station.
Operation Pillar of Defense comes weeks before the election Netanyahu called for January 22 and almost exactly four years after then-Prime Minister Ehud Olmert launched Operation Cast Lead shortly before the 2009 election.
Some 120 missiles over the past five days are a lot but the damage and injuries, fortunately, have been minimal, raising the question whether this admittedly disproportionate nature of the response was militarily necessary or just politically desirable for a prime minister who wants to show voters how tough he is. And is it worth the added strain on Israel's already shaky relations with the Morsi government in Egypt?
Hamas said Israel had "opened the gates of hell on itself" and vowed massive retaliation, including sending suicide bombers into Israeli cities. The IDF said 13 rockets fired after the Israeli air strike were intercepted by its "Iron Dome" defense system.
Israel has called up reserves and deployed infantry and armor units in the south in preparation for a possible ground offensive in Gaza.