Analysis: Stopping Kassam fire wasn't rocket science

Last week, it was in Hamas's interest to escalate the rocket fire. This week it is not.

Kassam Great 224.88 (photo credit: Channel 1)
Kassam Great 224.88
(photo credit: Channel 1)
Sderot received a bit of a break on Monday as only a few Kassam rockets were fired from the Gaza Strip and hit the western Negev. Just a few days earlier, the situation was entirely different, with Sderot getting hit by an average of 50 Kassams a day. While defense officials were hesitant to credit their Gaza closure policy as the reason behind the lull, it doesn't take a rocket scientist to understand that when Hamas wants, it can turn on and off the Kassam operations. Last week, it was in Hamas's interest to escalate the rocket fire. This week it is not. Defense Minister Ehud Barak's decision to lay siege to Gaza is having an effect on Hamas, defense officials said. The IDF's Gaza Coordination Liaison Administration, headed by Col. Nir Press, is keeping its finger on Gaza's pulse to gauge the humanitarian situation there and warn ahead of time of a developing crisis. Press has been meeting daily with the heads of the international organizations based in Gaza such as UNRWA and WHO. At the moment, and despite Hamas claims, there is no such crisis in Gaza, although the situation was grave enough Monday night for Barak to slightly bend his rules and allow the transfer of fuel for the power station and medicine for the hospitals. While Israel does not mind being blamed for putting Palestinians in the dark, it is concerned about reports that the blackout and lack of medicine killed patients in Gaza hospitals on Sunday. Logic has it that Hamas will keeps its finger off the rocket launchers in the coming days. As a result, Israel will lose its excuse, as well as the legitimacy, for shutting down the crossings. The question is whether Israel will reimpose the siege after the Kassams again start flying into Sderot. While Hamas is trying to portray itself to the world as the victim of Israeli aggression, in the end the group was concerned that if the economic and humanitarian situation in Gaza continued to deteriorate the Palestinian public would turn against it, defense officials said Monday. This is a chance Ismail Haniyeh is not yet willing to take. The idea to completely shut down the crossings came up for the first time over the summer, when Sderot and the rest of the Negev were averaging some 10 rockets a day. Behind the plan was then-deputy chief of General Staff Maj.-Gen. Moshe Kaplinsky, who convened a series of meetings within the IDF's Planning Division to study shutting down all the crossings, while allowing Gaza to open its borders with Egypt and with the outside world via the Mediterranean Sea. Israel has yet to reach that stage, but ultimately its options in face of the Kassam attacks are limited. The IDF could invade Gaza in a large-scale operation that would be costly for both sides; according to recent estimates, Israel could lose more soldiers in Gaza than the 119 killed during the Second Lebanon War. The other option is to heavily bomb Gaza in response to each rocket attack. Trying to avoid these two extreme scenarios, Barak is taking the middle ground - clamping down on Gaza and escalating the humanitarian pressure while at the same time keeping up a steady flow of pinpointed air and ground operations throughout the Palestinian territory. The defense establishment is convinced that the combination will be effective in reducing Kassam attacks.