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Gaza Escalation Changes Political Tune

Dozens of rockets launched by militants in Gaza have pounded down on southern Israel today, wounding three Israeli civilians. The round of violence began last night when Gazans launched an anti-tank missile which scored a direct hit, wounding four Israeli soldiers — an act that was followed by Israeli airstrikes on Palestinian targets in Gaza.

This escalation has a clear human cost. Aside from the wouned Israelis, thousands of residents of southern Israel have stopped their daily routines and sit in bomb shelters listening for “code red” announcements. On the Palestinian side, several people were killed in retaliatory strikes by Israel.

But it also has an important political impact.

Will the campaign for the coming January 22 Israeli election tackle pressing social issues head-on, as several parties hope, or will security dominate the agenda? The answer seems to change every day. For a day at least, politics in Israel seems to be a competition for who can talk tougher, who can apply more no-nonsense rhetoric about the Hamas regime in Gaza and what is coming to it.

Look at the report on today’s cabinet discussions. Interior Minister Eli Yishai (Likud) remarked that the “rules of the game in the south are about to change.” Water and Energy Minister Uzi Landau (Yisrael Beytenu) asked rhetorically if the Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas is “able to stop the firing from Gaza?” Internal Security Minister Yitzhak Aharonovitch (Yisrael Beytenu) said that “Hamas is accountable and will pay dearly.” And Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu declared that he is “ready to step up our response.”

Today, politicians like these on the Israeli right can give their strategists a vacation day — the script writes itself, and trumps the centrist and left-wing parties who want a more varied pre-election discussion. But all their talk doesn’t help the residents of the south who are stuck in their shelters.

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