kassam on ground 298.88.
(photo credit: AP [file])
Two Kassam rockets shattered the twilight calm yesterday in the western Negev's Moshav Shuva, near Netivot. A more powerful Kassam than the rockets hitherto fired from Gaza into Israel hit an avocado grove in a moshav near Ashkelon on Friday. Fatah's Aksa Brigades quickly claimed credit.
Five other Kassams - of the familiar old-fashioned sort - struck the western Negev, Sderot and Nahal Oz over the weekend. By fortuitous happenstance there were no fatalities. But this hardly diminishes the gravity of what has taken place since Thursday night, yet has failed to arouse much media or political attention.
The inevitable conclusion is that Gaza's terror machinery has not remained idle during Israel's disengagement process or the ostensible Palestinian democratic processes now underway. Perhaps with the assistance of greatly increased access to Egypt, Kassams are also being upgraded and tested with impunity in an effort to increase range and deadliness.
The upgraded Kassam that reached Ashkelon's outskirts can do much more damage. The fact that the terrorists can get right up to areas in the northern Gaza Strip that were inaccessible to them prior to disengagement automatically increases range, though over two years ago earlier-model Kassams already slammed into Ashkelon's industrial area and into nearby Zikkim Beach.
With Ashkelon again in the sights of Gazan Kassam crews, Israel's largest population center in the vicinity is increasingly vulnerable, as is Ashkelon's industrial zone - an exceptionally sensitive target. It includes the huge Rutenberg Power Station, the Eilat-Ashkelon oil pipeline and a storage facility for hundreds of tons of fuel and gas.
This is a potential nightmare scenario. Security experts believe that the Palestinians' real aim is to "Lebanonize" the situation by achieving the same balance of terror that exists on Israel's northern border, where Hizbullah has an estimated 12,000 rockets trained on northern Israel, posing real danger to the entire Haifa metropolitan area and quite likely as far down as Hadera.
Gaza's terror masterminds would like nothing better than to emulate this pattern and restrain Israel by holding to ransom a sizable city like Ashkelon. And whether or not the PA shares this objective, the fact is that it has been doing nothing much - rhetoric for foreign consumption notwithstanding - to curb Kassam production, development of new Kassam varieties and of course their launching.
The current political ferment on the Palestinian side, though encouraging as a sign of burgeoning democracy, has shown no signs yet of leading to an improvement in the security situation. Some expect the terror organizations to step up their attacks before the January PA elections, whether to thereby "impress" voters or to demonstrate the PA's powerlessness.
For its part, Israel's response is confused. On the one hand tough messages are relayed via governments abroad to the PA, and the defense minister issues stern warnings that Israel will retaliate for each attack. Concomitantly, though, Israel continues to make friendly gestures to a PA leadership that is failing to meet its fundamental obligations. Thus it is announced that 2,000 more Gazan workers will be allowed employment in Israel, bringing the total to 7,000.
Steps to boost the wellbeing of ordinary Gazans and improve the economy are welcome, but a strategic improvement depends on a partnership with a PA leadership countering terrorism, and that is conspicuously absent.
Thus far, the IDF's response to rocket fire has proved ineffective. Hitting back after the rockets and mortars have been fired and their crews have fled from the launch sites is pointless.
Even if not a single rocket were fired but the arsenal were merely enlarged, southern Israel would become hostage to enemy whims and Israeli responses would be thereby inhibited.
What's sorely needed is not a tit-for-tat approach, but an intolerance for the copying in the south of what was negligently allowed to be amassed on our northern border. Over five years after the withdrawal from Lebanon, Hizbullah has not been disarmed and the Lebanese army has not taken control of the border, as promised before that withdrawal.
Both unilateral withdrawals, to the north and south, were justified on the basis of changing the rules. Israel would henceforth be able to hold governments, not just the terror organizations themselves, accountable for attacks and responsible for preventing territory from being taken over by heavily armed militias.
The Kassam fire, and Israel's response, amount to a test of the logic behind disengagement. The promised new rules will only exist if Israel decides to play by them.