Whenever politicians or army officers say that there is no military solution to the problem of Kassam rockets, my reaction is: Just how stupid do you think we are? After all, more than 1,000 Kassams have been fired at Israel from Gaza over the last 12 months, yet not a single rocket has been fired at Israel from the West Bank during this period. So unless you believe that West Bank terrorists, unlike their Gaza counterparts, have no desire to launch rockets - an assumption that defies both logic and the facts (the media periodically report on Palestinian efforts to start a West Bank Kassam industry) - the obvious conclusion is that the army has succeeded in preventing Kassam fire from the West Bank.
The question, then, is why the army has been unable to do the same in Gaza. And the answer, quite simply, is that even before the disengagement, the army never controlled Gaza as fully as it did the West Bank.
Even before the disengagement, the army in Gaza operated mainly on the borders, around the settlements and along major roads, with only occasional forays into Palestinian towns and cities. There was never a Gazan equivalent of Operation Defensive Shield, the search-and-destroy mission for terrorists and arms caches that took place simultaneously in every major West Bank city in March-April 2002; nor was there ever a Gazan equivalent of the army's post-Defensive Shield deployment in the West Bank, which maintained control over these cities through a combination of checkpoints at exits and entrances and frequent incursions.
In short, in the West Bank, military doctrine held that terror had to be stopped at the source, meaning inside the towns and cities where attacks originated. But in Gaza, there was never any attempt to control what was happening inside Palestinian cities; the army focused instead on perimeter defense, of both Israel and the settlements.
THIS WAS better than nothing, as the sharp increase in rocket launches since the disengagement demonstrates. According to the Intelligence and Terrorism Information Center, there were 309 Kassam launches at Israel and the Gaza settlements combined in 2004 (the last full year before the August 2005 pullout), compared to 932 at Israel alone during the first 10.5 months of this year - a more than threefold increase.
Nevertheless, the fact that most of Gaza remained outside the army's control meant that terrorist cells could manufacture rockets largely undisturbed. It also meant, as officers acknowledged in media interviews, that the army's intelligence network in Gaza was patchy compared to its network in the West Bank.
THE BOTTOM line is that a military solution not only exists; it is already being successfully employed in the West Bank: a Defensive Shield-type operation followed by a long-term deployment aimed at achieving comprehensive territorial control. Such a strategy would not end the Kassams instantly, any more than Defensive Shield ended the suicide bombings instantly. But in the years since Defensive Shield, successful terror attacks from the West Bank have fallen steadily and dramatically, by about 50 percent every year. And there is no reason to believe that a similar approach in Gaza would not produce similar results.
Does this mean that the government should launch Defensive Shield II in Gaza tomorrow? In fact, no: Israel is neither diplomatically nor militarily ready for such an operation. Moreover, the diplomatic and domestic consequences of reoccupying Gaza are sufficiently grave that it makes sense to explore other options first - assuming, of course, that the government actually does so, instead of pretending that the problem does not exist, as it has for most of the past year.
Nevertheless, Israel must prepare for a military operation should other ideas fail, because allowing Sderot to continue being bombarded by 1,000-plus rockets a year is not a tenable option. And that means doing two things.
First, the government must begin preparing the diplomatic case for such an operation. Currently, most of the world views the rocket attacks as a mere annoyance, and one does not launch a major invasion in response to a minor annoyance. Yet this view exists in large part because the Israeli government has promoted it: Given the sharp increase in Kassam launches since the disengagement, treating the rocket fire as anything worse than a minor nuisance would imply that disengagement had been less than perfectly successful, and that is something that Ehud Olmert's government, being so closely affiliated with the pullout, has been unwilling to do.
Now, however, even Olmert understands that the Kassams can no longer be ignored. Thus he must launch a major diplomatic campaign to explain the obvious: that no other country in the world would tolerate daily rocket fire on one of its cities, and Israel cannot do so either. This would not eliminate the diplomatic fallout from a military operation, but it might mitigate it.
The other essential step is replacing Chief of General Staff Lt.-Gen. Dan Halutz. There is clearly no point in exercising the military option only to fail, and given Halutz's incompetent handling of ground operations during the Lebanon war, there is no reason to believe that he is capable of successfully managing a similar operation in Gaza. But beyond that, Halutz's continued tenure might well make it impossible to mobilize the manpower needed for such an operation.
Defensive Shield required a massive call-up of the reserves, and so would any similar operation in Gaza. Yet it is among reservists that bitterness at Halutz's conduct of the Lebanon war has been deepest and most pervasive, and there is a real danger that many might refuse to answer a call-up from him a second time. That would stymie the operation even before it began.
The military option should be a last resort. But the claim that it does not exist is no more than a self-serving lie designed to absolve the government of responsibility for taking action. And by perpetuating this lie rather than preparing for military action should it prove necessary, the government is betraying its most basic responsibility: protecting its citizens.
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