Friday, February 29, 2008

The Sederot Gambit

Sederot (sometimes spelled Sderot) is an Israeli town in the country's south, only one kilometer from Gaza. On Feb. 27, a college student in Sederot was killed by a Kassam rocket. Hours later, a father of four was killed by a Grad rocket in neighboring Ashkelon, reported the Jerusalem Post.
Shortly after a student at Sapir College in Sderot was killed and one other person was wounded by shrapnel in a Kassam rocket attack, a barrage of four Grad missiles struck the Ashkelon area. According to Channel 1, one person was wounded by shrapnel.

The Sapir College casualty has been identified as Roni Yihieh, 47, of Moshav Bit'ha near Ofakim. Yehieh, a father of four, was critically wounded when a rocket hit a parking lot on the western Negev campus, and died shortly after being evacuated to Barzilai Hospital in Ashkelon.
Hamas has been firing the anti-personnel rockets into Israeli towns and countryside with regularity for years.

On Oct. 23 of last year I visited the towns of Sederot and Ashkelon. Six rockets fell near Sederot not long before my group arrived. Here are the remains of three of them (all photos and video taken by me).

There is a large rack of exploded rockets outside Sederot's police station. They have a diagram explaining how the rockets are made.

These are purely anti-personnel rockets. The warhead section contains only a couple of pounds of high explosive to propel pellets or ball bearings intended to do nothing but shred flesh. The rockets lack the explosive power to destroy buildings, although they can penetrate unreinforced walls or roofs and cause substantial damage:

Israel has tethered three blimps around the northern perimeter of Gaza with automated warning sensors and systems.

The town official who showed us around said it is optically based. When a launch is detected, warning speakers in the town - there are a lot of speakers - announces "red dawn" over and over. Townspeople have only 20 seconds to seek shelter before the rockets hit. The town continues to build shelters such as this one.

Here is a video of the extent of the rack of recovered detonated rockets. This rack shows only six months worth of rockets launched. Some people of Sederot have been killed before the latest round of attacks, including children, as well as some Israelis in the surrounding areas.

Bret Stephens writes about the dilemma facing Israel because of the rockets Hamas rains down on the south Israel town of Sederot.
The more vexing question, both morally and strategically, is what Israel ought to do about Gaza. The standard answer is that Israel's response to the Kassams ought to be "proportionate." What does that mean? Does the "proportion" apply to the intention of those firing the Kassams -- to wit, indiscriminate terror against civilian populations? In that case, a "proportionate" Israeli response would involve, perhaps, firing 2,500 artillery shells at random against civilian targets in Gaza. Or should proportion apply to the effects of the Kassams -- an exquisitely calibrated, eye-for-eye operation involving the killing of a dozen Palestinians and the deliberate maiming or traumatizing of several hundred more?
He goes on to discuss the lack of Israeli options in more detail - read the whole thing - but the elephant in the living room is this: as long as Europe and the United States hold Israel and Hamas to two different standards, then Israel can only suffer these attacks with little hope of ending them. Hamas is a terrorist outfit founded for one reason only: the destroy Israel. As Stephens points out,
Hamas has also made no effort to rewrite its 1988 charter, which calls for Israel's destruction. The charter is explicitly anti-Semitic: "The time will not come until Muslims will fight the Jews (and kill them); until the Jews hide behind rocks and trees, which will cry: O Muslim! there is a Jew hiding behind me, come on and kill him!" (Article Seven) "In order to face the usurpation of Palestine by the Jews, we have no escape from raising the banner of Jihad." (Article 15) And so on.
What Israel has been doing is conducting "targeted assassinations" of senior Hamas leaders and of those involved in the manufacture and deployment of the rockets. The strikes have mainly been done by guided missiles fired from attack helicopters. But of course, the West condemns those strikes, apparently for no other reason that sometimes, despite Israel's pains to be precise, other Gazans are killed or wounded. That and the now-reflexive response that "it's Israel's fault" no matter what happens.

From Israel's own perspective, invading Gaza is not an option. It would bog the country down for years of occupation at prohibitive cost in both money and lives of Israeli troops. And of course it would also be condemned by the West and the UNSC. Finally, Israelis are acutely aware that a a Jewish country, founded because of the Holocaust, is morally restrained in unique ways from "going Roman" on Gaza, no matter how many rockets fly from there.

So Hamas gets to play its Sederot Gambit with impunity and insignificant cost to itself or to Gazans. Hamas can make life unendurable for thousands of Israelis who simply want to live in their own country. And the gambit is working not because of Israel's own lack of options, but because the West, which could make life very hard for Hamas and could interdict its supplies of lethal materials from Iran, averts its eyes, pretends it isn't happening, and washes its hands of the whole situation.

Update: Herb Keinon, reporting from Israel, says that Israel may be about to launch a "large-scale incursion into Gaza."
According to defense sources, the goals of such an operation - reportedly in the planning stages for weeks if not months - would not "merely" be to reduce the threat of rocket fire and rocket manufacturing in the Gaza Strip, but would also likely entail paralyzing the Hamas government's ability to operate, and even include "regime change."
We'll see. The Olmert government pretty much proved in 2006's Lebanon invasion that it does not have the stomach or the will to bring military campaigns to actual decision. There's no real reason to think it will be more determined this time.

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