Analysis: Netivot attack could mean end to defensive posture

With thoughts of Ashkelon in the background, gov't may decide fortification is no longer viable.

By DAN IZENBERG
October 7, 2007 23:43
3 minute read.
Analysis: Netivot attack could mean end to defensive posture

katyusha remnant 88. (photo credit: )

 
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The Grad-type Katyusha rocket that struck Netivot on Sunday may add a new urgency to the tactical debate as to how best to defend the civilian community in southwest Israel against Katyusha, Kassam and mortar attacks from the Gaza Strip. Netivot Mayor Yehiel Zohar gave an indication of that when he told Israel Radio his request to fortify Netivot's schools had been turned down by the government on the grounds that his city was outside the seven-kilometer limit of the "southern confrontation line." Until now the question of how best to defend the civilian population has focused almost exclusively on the "Gaza periphery," as defined by the government in a series of decisions dating back to the disengagement from the Gaza Strip. As early as 2001 and 2002, Palestinian terrorists had begun to fire rockets at Sderot and the rural communities in the nearby regional districts. In those days it was easy to define the danger zone in accordance with the highly limited range of the Kassam rockets, the main weapon in the terrorist arsenal. The terrorists dramatically stepped up their rocket attacks in 2003. Even then, however, the government did not consider fortifying the schools in the area. In July-August 2004, for the first time, the government decided to offer social and economic help to 46 communities, including Sderot, situated within seven kilometers of the Gaza border. In making this decision, it formally determined what is officially known today as the "southern confrontation line zone." In May 2005, the Defense Ministry and the IDF authorized the plans for fortifying the schools in the zone. The budget for the project was only drawn up in July 2005. Throughout these years and up until now the debate over the program to fortify the schools, and the heavy costs it will incur, has always related only to the southern confrontation line zone. In order to save money, the army devised a plan to protect the schools by building fortified "safety areas" to which the children would have to run from their classrooms in case of attack. The parents demanded much more and petitioned the High Court of Justice, which fully endorsed their demands. At the same time, some observers argued that fortifying the communities was not the right way to deal with the Kassam problem. The government, they said, must attack Gaza and take the offensive rather than be on the defensive. Others maintained that the money it would take to defend the civilian population in the southern confrontation line zone would be better spent developing an anti-rocket umbrella. And in the back of everyone's mind was the question of Ashkelon. Terrorist rockets have already hit the southern outskirts of the city and many believe the terrorists have the capacity to hit the heavily populated areas as well. What would happen then? Would the government resort to a defensive strategy in the case of Ashkelon, which is only a kilometer or two outside the seven-kilometer limit? If the cost of fortifying the confrontation zone communities is prohibitive, how much will it cost to fortify Ashkelon? Almost no one is talking aloud about the problem, but if the city becomes a target, the debate over what strategy to adopt to protect the civilian population will erupt again in full force. It is on this background that the attack on Netivot should be viewed. Admittedly, Netivot is not Ashkelon. The population of Netivot is about 24,000, while the population of Ashkelon is about 105,000. Nevertheless, what Sunday's attack makes clear is that the terrorist capacity is growing and the target area that is vulnerable to it is also expanding. Netivot is four kilometers beyond the boundary of the confrontation line. Mayor Zohar was implying that if Netivot now becomes a regular target of terrorist assault, its status should be the same as that of Sderot. But that, of course, would also mean heavy government expenditures to provide passive protection. And with thoughts of Ashkelon in the background, the government may decide that the defensive option is no longer viable.

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