The thousands of Palestinian rockets fired at southern Israeli towns from the Gaza Strip over the years would have caused an average of seven times more casualties had Israel not developed a set of effective, life-saving civil defenses, a new study has found.
The study’s authors, Prof. Edward H. Kaplan, a specialist in engineering and public health from the Yale School of Management, and his former student Lian Zucker, began the research after encountering several instances in which international media dismissed the threat of Gazan rockets.
“Many critics of Israel point out that while there have been thousands of Kassams fired into Israel, the resulting number of casualties is very small,” Kaplan told The Jerusalem Post this week. “There has been a concerted attempt by many to portray Kassam rockets as essentially harmless, symbolic weapons.
“Having seen this repeated so often caused me to think for a moment – why is it the case that with thousands of rockets, there have been so few casualties?” he asked. “Is it really because Kassams are harmless, or is there another reason? After all, simple physics suggests that explosive-propelled shrapnel is lethal if one is hit - that’s how suicide bombs kill people.
“Of course, there is another obvious reason – Israel has invested large sums of money in civil defense infrastructure in southern Israel. Safe rooms, bomb shelters, the Red Dawn early warning system and most recently the Iron Dome collectively shield civilians from Kassams,” he said.
Rocket attacks on unprotected urban locations, they argued, “could prove much more serious than what one would expect based solely on the observed number of casualties in Sderot.”
Taking Sderot as a case study, Kaplan and Zucker applied shrapnel/casualty and spatial allocation models to the population of the town to estimate casualties per randomly aimed rocket fired in the absence of civil defenses.
With civil defense measures in place, Sderot sustained 5,000 rockets between 2001 and 2010, and 90 percent of residents experienced a rocket landing on their street or on the one adjacent to theirs. But 10 residents were killed during this time, and less than 500 sustained injuries.
A Sderot lacking civil defenses, the researchers found, in “an intermediate daytime scenario, would result in 75 rather than 10 deaths in Sderot between 2001 and 2010,” the researchers found.
“The results were very clear,” Kaplan told the Post. “In the best case, there would be three times as many casualties as observed in Sderot. In the worst case, there would be nine times as many casualties. In the intermediate case – which we would argue best describes ‘a day in the life of Sderot’ – there would be seven times as many casualties.”
While this might seem obvious to Israelis, it is not at all well understood outside of Israel, Kaplan said.
“These rockets are not harmless; rather casualties are low because Israel is protecting its citizens via its civil defense infrastructure,” he said.
“Indeed, if terrorists in other parts of the world were to start shooting Kassam-like rockets into urban neighborhoods with little in the way of civil defense (e.g. if the Taliban started shooting rockets into Pakistani cities and towns), many casualties would result.”