The heavens above Beersheba and the south of the country have opened with a
mixture of cursed missiles and blessed rain during the past ten days.
sirens of the anti-missile defenses heralded the firing of the Grad missiles
from Gaza ever further afield into the towns of Ashdod, Ashkelon and
Few people actually make it to the fortified rooms in their
houses or the neighborhood shelters in the few seconds that it takes for the
rockets to hit (or miss) their targets, or for the recently constructed Iron
Dome defense system to fire its own missiles in an attempt to explode the Grads
in mid-flight. For weeks, talk on the street, in the supermarket or in local
synagogues has focused on where you were when the sirens went off, or whether
the booms you heard were the sounds of Palestinian missiles exploding or of
anti-missile defense systems hitting their targets.
The schools were shut
down for a few days throughout the region, leaving parents to find alternative
means of caring for their children while they were at work, or alternatively
having little choice but to take the time off and stay at home.
the crowded shopping malls are a safer place for the children and their parents
to congregate than the schools themselves is highly questionable, but no one in
their right senses is going to take the responsibility of having schools full of
children when there is a real threat of more missiles being fired during the
Even Ben-Gurion University was shut down on the first day of the new
academic year until the all-clear was given for studies to commence. Other
university functions, including research and administration, did continue as
usual, but many of the secretaries and auxiliary staff were missing as they
stayed home to look after their young children.
OVER THE last few days,
life has slowly gotten back to normal in the south, but the mental scars remain,
especially for the young children who subsequently react traumatically to any
siren, even if it’s totally unrelated to the security
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According to media reports, which are not discounted by our
political leaders, Hizbullah missile systems in Lebanon and Hamas and Islamic
Jihad systems in Gaza have become even more sophisticated during the past few
years. This is, to put it mildly, troubling.
systems in South Lebanon, and – if the information is correct – systems poached
from the Libyan weapon arsenal finding their way to Gaza in recent months, have
bolstered the ability of Israel’s enemies to cause havoc.
is the most significant change to have taken place in Israel’s defensive posture
over the past 60 years, namely the ability to bring the impact of war and
destruction directly to Israel’s towns and villages, rather than have the IDF
undertake its actions across the borders inside the neighboring territories of
Gaza, Lebanon, Syria or Egypt.
This new situation demonstrates just how
insignificant the demarcation of borders is in terms of the country’s defensive
posture. We first became aware of this twenty years ago during the first Gulf
War, when long-range missiles fired from Iraq fell inside Israel, some of them
even reaching the heart of the Gush Dan metropolitan region. At the time, the
feeling was that as long as we could push the threat ever further away from the
borders and, over time, neutralize the neighboring countries – such as Jordan or
Egypt – so that their territories would not be used as bases for the firing of
missiles, we could deal with the problem adequately.
But the changed
political situations in both Lebanon and Gaza, and the relative simplicity with
which missiles can be fired by local “civilians” who require neither expertise
or fixed bases (today, they can be fired from the backs of jeeps or from simple
rocket launchers carried on the shoulder) makes it increasingly difficult to
The Iron Dome technology is slowly developing and has succeeded
in bringing down many of the missiles, but there remains much to be accomplished
if Israel’s skies are to become totally safe from the missile threat, if indeed
this will ever be possible.
Retaliatory raids by the IDF have shown
themselves to be of relatively limited success.
Israel is, rightly,
reticent to commit its troops to full scale warfare, and while the recent wars
in both Lebanon and Gaza may have caused enough damage on the ground to
temporarily cease the firing of missiles, the collateral damage, be it the death
of Israeli soldiers, or the killing of innocent civilians and children on the
other side, have not worked in Israel’s favor. Nor have they provided the
country with anything more than a short-term respite as the other side has
quickly restocked their missile stores.
Much has been written about the
need to negotiate and make peace with even the worst of our enemies. But all too
often, this approach is wrongly construed as meaning a total coming together of
enemies, some of whom do not even recognize the legitimacy of the other
We weren’t too far off from that at the time of the Oslo
Agreements, but that has already been consigned to history, as more extreme
groups have emerged, and as the sophistication of warfare technology has
A truce, rather than peace, is about the best that either side
can achieve at the moment, and even that will only hold up for a limited period
of time if the larger political situation – the status of the occupation and the
non-emergence of an independent Palestinian state – are not resolved. Even that
does not guarantee the State of Israel total security and safety from attacks
and missiles, but it does change the ground rules, not just within the local and
regional spheres, but also within the wider international debate concerning the
legitimacy of retaliatory actions when our sovereignty is infringed by a
neighboring independent country.
In non-conventional warfare of this
nature, no longer do we possess the total military superiority which can defend
our civilian population. The greatest damage caused by the missile attacks is
their demoralizing impact upon the population at large, rather than the actual
physical damage inflicted. Our worsening defensive capability on the home front
in the face of the missile attacks, while not threatening the existence of the
State of Israel, can only get worse unless we start to address the root problems
of the unceasing conflict.The writer is dean of the Faculty of
Humanities and Social Sciences at Ben Gurion University. The views expressed are
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