Analysis: Creating a new Gaza reality

Almost six years later, the Kassam has turned into far more than just any other threat and has become a strategic weapon.

IDf gaza 298.88 (photo credit: AP)
IDf gaza 298.88
(photo credit: AP)
The Fatah-controlled daily Al-Ayyam ran a front-page article on Tuesday listing what it believed were Israel's military and diplomatic options in the face of escalating Palestinian violence in the Gaza Strip. Two of the options Israel has already adopted - reinforcing public institutions and schools in Gaza-belt communities as well as making major financial investments in developing an anti-Kassam rocket defense system. On Tuesday, Deputy Defense Minister Ephraim Sneh said Israel would decide within several weeks which anti-rocket defense system it planned to develop and deploy along the border with the Gaza Strip. The third option, deemed unlikely, was that Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas would succeed in convincing the five terror factions - Fatah, Hamas, Islamic Jihad, Popular Front for Liberation of Palestine (PFLP) and Popular Resistance Committees (PRC) - to accept a tahadiya, Arabic for temporary truce, in their war against Israel. The option the newspaper said was most likely was that Israel would launch a massive ground operation and eventually split up and reoccupy the Gaza Strip. The way things look now, the newspaper might be right. While the IDF has always left open the possibility for a large-scale invasion into the Gaza Strip to stop Kassam rocket fire, in wake of the recent upsurge in rocket attacks and the deadly trail they are leaving, that option is becoming more appealing to senior defense officials, including officers in the Southern Command. Defense officials expressed skepticism on Tuesday that Abbas would succeed in obtaining a truce from the factions, which told him in a meeting on Monday that they needed several days to mull over their decision. Meanwhile, Abbas has left for a two-day visit to Riyadh and Kassams continue to pound the western Negev. But with one unsuccessful war already under their belt, the Ehud Olmert-Amir Peretz-Dan Halutz trio is right in hesitating to launch another large-scale operation, this time into the Gaza Strip. For a rocket that was dubbed "primitive and homemade" when it was first fired in April 2001, this is quite the achievement. Almost six years later, the Kassam has turned into far more than just any other threat and has become a strategic weapon that, as seen over the past week in Sderot, is capable of forcing thousands of people to flee their homes. Another route that Israel had hoped would succeed has also proven unsuccessful. Before the disengagement from the Gaza Strip, two high-ranking Egyptian officers moved to the Gaza Strip to mediate between the Palestinians and the Israelis. Both of the officers have recently returned to Cairo to take up new positions, leaving their jobs unfinished - Cpl. Gilad Shalit is still in captivity somewhere in Gaza and Palestinian anarchy is still widespread. Israel is not left with many options. Defense Minister Amir Peretz's phone call to Abbas was dismissed on Tuesday by senior defense officials as irrelevant. Phone calls, these officials said, were not enough to end an almost prehistoric conflict. If Peretz was really serious about finding a diplomatic solution, they said, he would have coordinated the call with Prime Minister Ehud Olmert. A military operation by itself, however, might not be enough to completely eradicate the Kassam threat, but it can create a new reality in the Gaza Strip and reduce the launches to a number that could be tolerated by residents of the western Negev. Such an operation would need to be on the scale of Operation Defensive Shield, launched after more than 135 Israelis were killed throughout March 2002. Defensive Shield lasted close to two months and while it did not completely put an end to suicide bombings, it did destroy terror infrastructure in the West Bank and could do the same in the Gaza Strip.