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Ambassador Oren speaks

I just got off a call with Israel’s Ambassador Michael Oren, arranged by The Israel Project. Participants in the call included Anne Gearan of the Washington Post, Phil Klein of the Washington Examiner, and Peter Green of Bloomberg News.

Ambassador Oren opened with a briefing that described Israel’s operation as occurring in stages, giving Hamas the opportunity to stand down. Instead it has escalated the conflit, with rocket attacks on Tel Aviv and, just now, Jerusalem. Ambassador Oren stated that he had just spoken with his daughter, who expressed incredulity at the sound of air raid sirens in Jerusalem. He stated that Hamas had fired some 400 rockets since the commencement of the operation.

Ambassador Oren described the goal of the operation as restoring deterrence that would enhance security in the south. The first phase of the operation, following the assassination of the Hamas terrorist commander, was focused on the destruction of Hamas’s long-range missile capability. He stated that restraints imposed by the presence of some of this capability among the civilian population prevented the complete success of this phase at the outset, as Israel had learned through the rockets that reached the vicinity of Tel Aviv.

Israel ceased its operation during the visit of Egyptian Prime Minister Morsi to Gaza yesterday. Ambassador Oren observed that Hamas seized the opportunity to intensify its fire on Israel. “We are not seeking to prolong or escalate the conflict,” he said. “The ball is in Hamas’s court.” If Hamas does not stand down, subsequent phases of the operation will focus on Hamas’s middle- and short-range rocket capability.

Ambassador Oren expressed gratitude for the support of all branches of the United States government, citing the unequivocal State Department statement and the Senate resolution with 64 cosponsors that passed yesterday by unanimous consent.

Fielding questions, Ambassador Oren paid tribute to the efficacy of Israel’s Iron Dome missile defense system. “This afternoon we will deploy our fifth battery,” he said, claiming a 90 percent interception rate so far. He called it an “amazing success, the first effective anti-ballistic missile system used in combat.”

Ambassador Oren held Hamas to be “emboldened by the changes in the region.” He said that Israel was encountering weapons that emanated from “Libya, the Sudanese route and Sinai.” He added that the missile that killed three Israeli civilians yesterday in Kiryat Malachi was Syrian.

I got in the last question. I asked whether he had any information on any Israeli operation that might have resulted in the death of the son of Jihad Masharawi. He responded that it was under investigation and the results would be made public as soon as they are available.

UPDATE: Alana Goodman of Commentary was also on the call and writes it up here. Phil Klein’s take on the call is posted here.

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