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For both Hamas and Israel, there are reasons to escalate (+video)

For Hamas, a fear that capitulation will hurt their standing more than defiance. For Israel, it's a question of making good on public threats.

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Further, Hamas fired long-range Fajr rockets, known to be in their arsenal but never used before, in response to Israeli's bombing raids yesterday. Those longer-range rockets struck within eight miles of Tel Aviv, Israel's business and cultural capital,  and both yesterday and today, air raid sirens wailed throughout the coastal Mediterranean city for the first time since 1991, when Iraq's Saddam Hussein lobbed scud missiles at Israel during Gulf War precipitated by his invasion of Kuwait. And in the late afternoon, the first air raid sirens in memory were reported to be going off in Jerusalem.

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Staff writer

Dan Murphy is a staff writer for the Monitor's international desk, focused on the Middle East. Murphy, who has reported from Iraq, Afghanistan, Egypt, and more than a dozen other countries, writes and edits Backchannels. The focus? War and international relations, leaning toward things Middle East.

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Hamas being able to threaten Tel Aviv from the air is, as they say, a game-changer. The Tel Aviv metropolitan area is home to about 40 percent of Israel's 7.7 million people, and its cafes and beach life have long provided a comfortable cocoon, far from conflicts over Israeli settlements in the West Bank or the threats of Hamas in Gaza.  

The residents of southern Israel, near Gaza, have long lived with the terror of rocket attacks, and in many ways have grown used to it. The residents of teeming Gaza, hemmed in by both Israel and Egypt, are likewise used to the terror of far more powerful Israeli bombs that rain down on towns and cities in response to Palestinian rocket attacks.

Where the red line lies

But a permanent extension of that envelope of fear to Tel Aviv, which attracts foreign investment to its high tech industries, would be intolerable for Israel. It could have an impact on both investment in the country and on the immigration of Jews to Israel, who are often urged to make aliyah (return) to the Jewish state under the argument that it's the only place where Jews can be truly safe.

That's why 16,000 Israeli army reservists were called up this morning. If more long-range rockets strike deep into the center of Israel, the argument for a ground incursion will grow stronger for Netanyahu. The IDF says most of the 300 bombs it has fired into Gaza have targeted long-range launching sites and warehouses for the Iranian made Fajr rockets. But has it got most of them? Or just a few?

The costs of escalation are also clear, beyond the casualties. The last Israeli war with Gaza was in 2008, then as now within weeks of the election of President Obama. The war, which Israel called Operation Cast Lead, claimed 13 Israeli lives and more than 1,200 Palestinian lives. Yes, Israel now has the Iron Dome defense system, which has shut down about 100 Israeli rockets so far at a cost of $40,000 a pop (the least expensive of the Palestinian rockets cost about $500). But all missile defense systems are prone to being overwhelmed by sheer numbers, if the opponent has sufficient supply. 

Damage to international image

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