Analysis: Shelling Gaza smartly

In the depths of Southern Command in the Negev this week, a senior officer warned not to be flippant about the appearance of the IDF's visceral, but ultimately bloodless, shelling and bombing of the Gaza Strip. When reminded that in April 1956, IDF artillery shelled the Gaza City market, killing 66 people and wounding 135, the senior officer said, "Our goal is to separate the Palestinian population from the terrorists. We don't see the Palestinian population as a tool." "The shooting of Kassam rockets and mortar rounds is unreasonable and unacceptable," he said, sharing insight into the IDF leadership's mind-frame. "But if we go overboard with our response, it will be worse. Aggressive action can bring you places you don't plan on going. I don't propose we be 'trigger happy' " And then the suicide bomber blew himself up outside the shopping mall in Netanya killing five people and again shattering for a while the sense that pulling out of the Gaza Strip would bring quiet. The IDF reacted with two targeted killings, an air raid and repeated shelling of empty fields. The IDF explanation of its reaction to the incessant barrages into the Negev sounded so simple, so black and white. No one has been hurt by these Palestinian rocket and mortar attacks and besides, more than 70 percent of them fall inside Gaza. If Israel warned of harsh reactions before it pulled out, today the Gazans see that there was no Israeli rush to overreact. As for the artillery rounds, for which the IDF Spokesman issues an announcement after each barrage, they have, so far, not hurt anyone - not even the rocket or mortar operators. "But they never return to the site that we shelled," said the senior officer. "The dilemma is dependent on whether we can hit those who fired at us or house them or supplied them," he said. "We want to react with sensibly." What will make the IDF swing a harder fist? Israeli blood and statistics.