Today, for the
first time in decades, air raid sirens sounded
across Tel Aviv and Jerusalem. The rockets fired from the Hamas-controlled Gaza
Strip crashed down harmlessly in open areas, but Hamas had nevertheless scored
a propaganda victory: It had proved that it could endanger the lives of
citizens in Israel's two largest cities.
attacks are just one indication of how, despite Israel's best efforts, Hamas's
stockpile of rockets is only growing deadlier with time. In October 2009,
current Shin Bet chief Yoram Cohen co-authored
a study at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy on the 2008-2009
Israeli offensive in Gaza: It reported that 600 rockets were fired into Israel during the
22-day war, most of which were domestically produced, short-range weapons. By
comparison, the IDF reported
earlier today that more than 550 rockets had struck Israel in the past three days -- and of course, the weapons
managed to reach Tel Aviv and Jerusalem, which Hamas was incapable of doing
during the previous conflict.
Bill Clinton, of
all people, predicted
this in a 2009 interview with Foreign Policy, and worried openly about what it
meant for the future of a peace agreement. "[I]t's only a question of time until [these rockets] are de
facto outfitted with GPS positioning systems. And when that happens and the
casualty rates start to really mount, will that make it more difficult for the
Palestinians to make peace instead of less?" he worried. "Because they will be
even more pressed by the radical groups saying, ‘No, no, look, look, we are
making eight out of 10 hits. Let's stay at this.'"
Israeli government isn't willing to let a steadily increasing proportion of its
population live under the threat of rocket fire -- a fair bet -- what is its
answer to this conundrum? For answers, I
turned to retired Brigadier General Shlomo Brom, a former director of strategic
planning in the Israel Defense Forces and currently a senior research fellow at
the Institute for National Security Studies, one of Israel's premier think
Brom's response will
provide little solace for Hamas, or the people of Gaza. "Eventually, weapons
are getting to Gaza, and because of that I don't think the solution is to
prevent Hamas from holding these kinds of weapons. It's not possible," he says.
"The only solution -- which is of course is a partial solution -- is deterrence."
In a nutshell,
Brom's argument is that Israel can't stop Hamas from acquiring these weapons --
but it can make the costs of using them unbearably high. It's a recipe for many
future confrontations just like this one.
And the rockets
that struck Tel Aviv and Jerusalem today? "They are not really a military
problem," Brom says. "They are a media issue." While they are big enough to be
easily detected and destroyed, it's the smaller, short-range rockets that pose
the real threat.
with the shorter-range rockets is that they are small and the quantities are
much bigger, so you can't destroy them by pre-emptive strikes," he says. "If
the IDF will consider a ground invasion, it is because of the shorter-range
rockets and not the longer-range rockets."
version of our conversation is below:
Foreign Policy: What rockets are being fired into Israel
this time around?
Shlom Brom: [Hamas] has two
categories of rockets: Rockets that they produce themselves, the so-called
Qassam rockets, which are based on primitive technology -- they are actually
metal pipes produced in small workshops. They are highly inaccurate, they have a
relatively small warhead, and short range.
Now, the other
category is military standard rockets, which are produced by real military
industries and smuggled into the Gaza Strip.
Most of these rockets come from Iran -- they are smuggled through Sudan,
Egypt, the Sinai Peninsula and into the Gaza Strip. And because it is military
standard, the ranges are longer, the warhead is more lethal, and they are a
little bit more accurate.
But in general
rockets are inaccurate weapons -- they are based on probabilities, you know. If
you launch a big enough number of rockets, one of them will hit.
FP: With the rockets reaching Tel Aviv and Jerusalem
in the last two days, does this make an Israeli ground invasion more likely?
SB: No, I don't
think so. Basically, I think that out of the two categories of rockets, the
longer-range rockets and the shorter-range rockets, the more problematic
category for the IDF are the short-range rockets. The longer-range rockets are
big, so they are easily detectable and can be relatively easily destroyed. And
that is exactly what happened during the first stage of this campaign. It's not
incidental, that's the nature of the weapon - it is relatively easy to detect
and relatively easy to destroy.
The problem with
the shorter-range rockets is that they are small and the quantities are much
bigger, so you can't destroy them by pre-emptive strikes. And if the IDF will
consider a ground invasion, it is because of the shorter-range rockets and not
the longer-range rockets.
rockets] are not really a military problem. They are a media issue. Because
when a rocket is launched at Tel Aviv, it makes an impression. And the way it
affects the media is a problem, because in this kind of assymetric war, much of
the war is a media war. The other party, Hamas, does not intend to win this war
- they cannot this war. But they can try to hurt the Israeli public's
confidence and cohesion, and that is done through the media.
FP: The number of rockets fired at Israel
seems, at this point, to be exceeding the rate of fire during Operation Cast
Lead. How has Hamas been able to expand its inventory?
SB: Through this
smuggling, which was only accelerated as a result of the changes in Egypt.
Sinai is actually a no-man's land. It's a kind of Wild West, and the Egyptian
government doesn't really control it.
And on top of
the delivery of weapons from Iran, there were also some rockets, missiles and
other kind of armaments that were smuggled from Libya. After the fall of the
regime in Libya, many groups utilized the chaotic situation to raid the weapon
storage of the military and to sell it to anyone who pays. And some of that
found its way to Gaza.
FP: Realistically, what can the IDF do to
halt this slow increase in the lethality of Hamas's weaponry?
SB: It can slow it
down - but that is only slowing it down. Eventually, weapons are getting to
Gaza, and because of that I don't think the solution is to prevent Hamas from
holding these kinds of weapons. It's not possible. The only solution - which is
of course is a partial solution - is deterrence.
What I mean by
deterrence is manifesting to Hamas and other armed groups that the costs they
will pay much outweigh the benefits that they are deriving from the launch of
these rockets. And for that, you need from time to time a Cast Lead Operation.
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