As Palestinian rockets continue to rain down on Israeli communities in the vicinity of the Gaza Strip, the Bush Administration is growing increasingly concerned that Israel will launch the kind of full-scale invasion its military experts say is necessary to curb the terrorist artillery fire.
Speaking to reporters in Jerusalem on Thursday, US Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs David Welch said that Washington expects Israel to respond to the Gaza threat with "caution and proportionality," rather than the kind of overwhelming force America's own military doctrine states is the only way to decisively end a conflict.
Welch reiterated the standard US line that Israel has the right to defend itself, but added that the Bush Administration has a vested interest in how Israel chooses to exercise that right.
Welch is in the region to prepare the ground for Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice's visit in the coming weeks.
Despite plans to be in Israel in the near future, Rice reportedly requested an urgent meeting with Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert when the two are in Japan next week. Rice is expected to express the Bush Administration's discomfort with even the limited military operations Israel is conducting in Gaza on a daily basis, and to stress Washington's firm opposition to an escalation of Israel's war on terror.
The possibility of a broad Israeli military campaign in Gaza came closer to reality this week after media reports revealed that the Iron Dome short-range missile-defense system into which the government has put so much hope and money will be ineffective against Palestinian rockets fired at the battered southern Israel town of Sderot. The Iron Dome system is capable of shooting down rockets fired from a distance of at least 2.5 miles from its location. But Sderot lies just 1.2 miles from the Gaza town of Beit Hanoun, from which most rockets are launched.
In related news, thousands of Israelis from around the country descended on Sderot on Friday morning to do their weekend shopping there in a show of solidarity with the besieged local residents. Sderot's economy has taken a heavy hit as a result of the thousands of Arab rocket attacks launched against the town over the past two years.