Analysis: Creating diplomatic maneuverability

Iron Dome's success puts Israel’s leadership under less pressure from the public under rocket fire.

Iron Dome battery in Ashdod_370 (photo credit: Baz Ratner/Reuters)
Iron Dome battery in Ashdod_370
(photo credit: Baz Ratner/Reuters)
“Diplomatic maneuverability” are the two words that could be heard over and over again on Sunday within the IDF in reference to the performance of the Iron Dome rocket defense system.
It is easy to understand why. Imagine if the 43 rockets that the Iron Dome intercepted on their way to Beersheba, Ashdod and Ashkelon had succeeded in hitting their targets.
The extent of the destruction would be greater as would the possibility for civilian casualties.
Had this happened, the government would be facing unbelievable pressure from the public to order the IDF to launch a ground offensive into Gaza to stop the rocket fire, as it was on the eve of Operation Cast Lead in late 2008. The Iron Dome is helping to prevent that from happening.
Essentially what it means is that Israel’s political leadership is under less pressure from the public that is under the rocket fire. As a result, neither Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu nor Defense Minister Ehud Barak feel a need to escalate the operation.
Interestingly, they are also not feeling any real pressure to stop it, and for the most part, the world seemed quite uninterested on Sunday with the ongoing violence, and much more focused on the American soldier who killed 16 villagers in Afghanistan and the ongoing standoff with Iran.
The real change, though, in this round of violence is the performance of the Iron Dome and its success in intercepting over 90 percent of the rockets it targeted. Senior IAF officers admitted Sunday that the Iron Dome was being “stretched to the max” in terms of its capabilities but was succeeding in protecting larger areas than before.
In the defense establishment, opinions were split between two schools of thought. There were those officials who argued that Israel needed to take advantage of the current opportunity and continue its air strikes against terrorist targets in Gaza and even expand them.
According to this line of thinking, Israel might not have a chance again in the near future to strike at Islamic Jihad, like it has now – when its operation has such widespread legitimacy. Ahead of a possible strike against Iran that could see rocket fire from Gaza, it makes sense to cause as much damage as possible.
Other officials argued that as the operation continues, Israel will begin to lose its legitimacy, partially created by the mostly surgical strikes carried out by the IAF. Once the number of civilian casualties starts to climb in Gaza, the legitimacy will begin to deteriorate.
In addition, this school of thought argues that Israel caused enough damage to the terror groups in Gaza to boost its deterrence and hopefully stave off the next round of violence for a significant period.
When fighting terror groups without a real power base, this might be the best result Israel can hope for.