“Diplomatic maneuverability” are the two words that could be heard over and over
again on Sunday within the IDF in reference to the performance of the Iron Dome
rocket defense system.
It is easy to understand why. Imagine if the 43
rockets that the Iron Dome intercepted on their way to Beersheba, Ashdod and
Ashkelon had succeeded in hitting their targets.
The extent of the
destruction would be greater as would the possibility for civilian
Had this happened, the government would be facing
unbelievable pressure from the public to order the IDF to launch a ground
offensive into Gaza to stop the rocket fire, as it was on the eve of Operation
Cast Lead in late 2008. The Iron Dome is helping to prevent that from
Essentially what it means is that Israel’s political
leadership is under less pressure from the public that is under the rocket fire. As a result, neither Prime
Minister Binyamin Netanyahu nor Defense Minister Ehud Barak feel a need to
escalate the operation.
Interestingly, they are also not feeling any real
pressure to stop it, and for the most part, the world seemed quite uninterested
on Sunday with the ongoing violence, and much more focused on the American
soldier who killed 16 villagers in Afghanistan and the ongoing standoff with
The real change, though, in this round of violence is the
performance of the Iron Dome and its success in intercepting over 90 percent of
the rockets it targeted. Senior IAF officers admitted Sunday that the Iron Dome
was being “stretched to the max” in terms of its capabilities but was succeeding
in protecting larger areas than before.
In the defense establishment,
opinions were split between two schools of thought. There were those officials
who argued that Israel needed to take advantage of the current opportunity and
continue its air strikes against terrorist targets in Gaza and even expand
According to this line of thinking, Israel might not have a chance
again in the near future to strike at Islamic Jihad, like it has now – when its
operation has such widespread legitimacy. Ahead of a possible strike against
Iran that could see rocket fire from Gaza, it makes sense to cause as much
damage as possible.
Other officials argued that as the operation
continues, Israel will begin to lose its legitimacy, partially created by the
mostly surgical strikes carried out by the IAF. Once the number of civilian
casualties starts to climb in Gaza, the legitimacy will begin to
In addition, this school of thought argues that Israel
caused enough damage to the terror groups in Gaza to boost its deterrence and
hopefully stave off the next round of violence for a significant
When fighting terror groups without a real power base, this might
be the best result Israel can hope for.