Rocket at­tacks from Gaza

The Jerusalem Post - - OBSERVATIONS - • By LIOR AKERMAN

The fire­fight in Gaza last month that ex­posed Is­raeli forces, and the sub­se­quent bar­rage of rock­ets car­ried out by Ha­mas, have once again brought to the fore­front of pub­lic dis­cus­sion the strength of Ha­mas’s fire­power com­pared with Is­raeli de­ter­rence.

Although the mas­sive fir­ing of 460 rock­ets and mor­tar shells at the Gaza en­ve­lope and Ashkelon ar­eas in the 48 hours fol­low­ing the in­ci­dent con­sti­tuted a new record in the sheer number of rock­ets launched, it was un­for­tu­nately an ex­tremely fa­mil­iar phe­nom­e­non. Through­out 2018, Ha­mas and other ter­ror­ist or­ga­ni­za­tions launched hun­dreds of rock­ets to­ward Is­rael. In July and Au­gust alone, Is­rael suf­fered a bar­rage of 180 and 220 rock­ets and mor­tar shells, re­spec­tively.

In ret­ro­spect, it ap­pears that this lat­est round of rocket at­tacks on Is­rael be­gan back in 2001, with the in­ten­sity in­creas­ing sig­nif­i­cantly fol­low­ing Is­rael’s dis­en­gage­ment from the Gaza Strip in 2005.

The main or­ga­ni­za­tions re­spon­si­ble for th­ese at­tacks are Ha­mas, Is­lamic Ji­had, the Pop­u­lar Front for the Lib­er­a­tion of Pales­tine, the Pop­u­lar Re­sis­tance Com­mit­tees, Fatah and the Demo­cratic Front for the Lib­er­a­tion of Pales­tine.

Rocket range is in­creas­ing all the time. Lo­cally made Pales­tinian Qas­sam rock­ets can al­ready reach up to 10 kilo­me­ters from the Gaza Strip, and Grad rock­ets can reach up to 40 kilo­me­ters. In ad­di­tion, Ha­mas has rock­ets with a range of 70 kilo­me­ters that can reach the greater Tel Aviv re­gion; a small number of Ira­nian-made Fajr-3 and Fajr-5 rock­ets that were made with Korean knowhow; as well as M-75 and M-302r, some of which Ha­mas pro­duces in Gaza and some that are brought in from Syria and can reach dis­tances be­yond Tel Aviv.

Fur­ther­more, the Pales­tini­ans have re­cently fired dozens of mor­tar shells on the Gaza en­ve­lope com­mu­ni­ties near the bor­der and on Is­raeli se­cu­rity forces as they guard the re­gion near the fence. The IDF has car­ried out eight mil­i­tary op­er­a­tions in the Gaza Strip to date, which have not brought about long-last­ing quiet. Ha­mas and the other ter­ror­ist or­ga­ni­za­tions have not al­tered their strate­gies since they be­gan launch­ing rock­ets at Is­rael.

Ha­mas, Is­lamic Ji­had and the Re­sis­tance Com­mit­tees have been care­fully ex­am­in­ing Is­rael’s ac­tions vis-à-vis Hezbol­lah for years. What they’ve seen is that Is­rael has dra­mat­i­cally failed to cre­ate any type of de­ter­rence, which Hezbol­lah has taken ad­van­tage of to re­in­force its ar­ray of rock­ets that it plans to use against the State of Is­rael. Hezbol­lah be­gan by smug­gling in weapons from Syria and Iran, and slowly es­tab­lished a lo­cal in­dus­try that has the ca­pa­bil­ity to man­u­fac­ture mas­sive amounts of a va­ri­ety of weapons.

Ha­mas and the other or­ga­ni­za­tions have a large work­force of 25,000 armed fighters, and an even wider cir­cle of vol­un­teers, some of whom have stud­ied engi­neer­ing and have ex­ten­sive knowl­edge in weapon de­vel­op­ment. The rel­a­tive quiet the Gaza Strip has ex­pe­ri­enced th­ese last few years has en­abled Ha­mas to op­er­ate al­most with­out any in­ter­fer­ence and to lo­cally pro­duce thou­sands of rock­ets. This pro­duc­tion line is fi­nanced by Per­sian Gulf states and the Euro­pean Union, which al­lo­cate tens of mil­lions of dol­lars to Ha­mas.

IS­RAEL’S STATE se­cu­rity cab­i­net con­venes from time to time to eval­u­ate the sit­u­a­tion and de­cide the coun­try’s ap­pro­pri­ate re­sponse to rock­ets be­ing fired into Is­rael. In the mean­time, how­ever, while the politi­cians are talk­ing, ter­ror­ist cells con­tinue to fire hun­dreds of rock­ets at Is­rael’s south­ern com­mu­ni­ties. It’s ob­vi­ous that nei­ther side is in­ter­ested in let­ting the sit­u­a­tion es­ca­late into an all-out war, and so the Is­rael Air Force re­sponds with se­lect at­tacks on rocket-launch­ing sites.

Ha­mas’s strat­egy has proved to be cor­rect. To­gether with the other ter­ror­ist or­ga­ni­za­tions op­er­at­ing out of the Gaza Strip, it suc­ceeded in launch­ing hun­dreds of rock­ets within a mat­ter of days. Ha­mas de­cides the in­ten­sity and tim­ing of rocket launch­ings, and whether or not a cease­fire should be called, even though Is­rael has enor­mous mil­i­tary power and ad­vanced tech­no­log­i­cal ca­pa­bil­i­ties.

The ul­ti­mate ques­tion is, how can th­ese ter­ror­ist or­ga­ni­za­tions have suc­ceeded in fir­ing so many rock­ets into Is­rael de­spite the lat­ter’s pre­em­i­nent de­fense sys­tem? And why hasn’t this ac­tiv­ity been thwarted? The sim­ple and ab­surd an­swer lies, on the one hand, in Is­rael’s lack of strat­egy and ini­tia­tive and, on the other, in the Pales­tini­ans’ suc­cess in cre­at­ing a non-sym­met­ri­cal bat­tle struc­ture vis-à-vis the IDF. Ha­mas launches sim­ple, un­so­phis­ti­cated mor­tar shells into Is­rael us­ing cheap launch­ers that they hide in res­i­dents’ homes and in tun­nels. Th­ese are very ef­fec­tive tools to use against Is­rael’s so­phis­ti­cated and su­pe­rior sys­tems.

From Ha­mas’s point of view, they are suc­cess­fully achiev­ing their goals: dis­rupt­ing Is­raeli civil­ians’ lives, un­der­min­ing the so­cial and po­lit­i­cal fabric of the coun­try, and by­pass­ing the se­cu­rity bar­rier that Is­rael built around the Gaza Strip. Ha­mas had many years to study Is­rael’s ac­tions against Hezbol­lah and has learned that there are many ways it can threaten Is­rael with­out go­ing over­board, which would then re­quire that Is­rael re­tal­i­ate by go­ing to war.

Although the Shin Bet (Is­rael Se­cu­rity Agency) and the IDF are highly skilled at ac­quir­ing valu­able in­tel­li­gence about the on­go­ings within the Gaza Strip and the spe­cific lo­ca­tions of se­nior ac­tivists, the fact is that mor­tar launch­ers are mo­bile and can be quickly as­sem­bled and placed in res­i­den­tial build­ings and pub­lic in­sti­tu­tions, and so the IDF re­frains from at­tack­ing th­ese sites. Ac­cord­ing to Is­raeli in­tel­li­gence sources, there are tens of thou­sands of rocket launch­ers cur­rently in­stalled in the Gaza Strip.

The true so­lu­tion lies in the ca­pa­bil­ity of Is­raeli in­tel­li­gence to pro­vide ac­cu­rate and up-to-date in­for­ma­tion on the lo­ca­tion of rocket launch­ers, weapons de­pots and se­nior Ha­mas op­er­a­tives. But ac­quir­ing this in­tel is not suf­fi­cient to thwart rocket at­tacks. Is­rael must pre­pare a clear strat­egy and an orderly plan of ac­tion to deal with rocket at­tacks. As long as we fear es­ca­la­tion, try only to con­tain the con­flict, and re­spond with mea­sured ac­tions for fear of be­ing blamed for us­ing ex­ces­sive force, the sta­tus quo will drag on and we will never suc­ceed in end­ing this con­flict once and for all.

The writer is a for­mer bri­gadier-gen­eral who served as a di­vi­sion head in the Shin Bet. Trans­lated by Han­nah Hochner.

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