Analysis: The phony cease-fire

Only a "scorched earth" policy can end the Kassam threat once and for all.

jihad member 298.88 (photo credit: AP)
jihad member 298.88
(photo credit: AP)
During the first eight months of the Second World War, the Allies and the Wehrmacht faced each other across the Maginot Line without firing a single shot, a period that was named "The Phony War." For the last month we've had a phony cease-fire around the Gaza Strip. The Palestinians claim to be holding their fire while Islamic Jihad continues launching a salvo of Kassam rockets daily at Sderot and Ashkelon. The Israeli government decided on Wednesday that the IDF will target and fire at the Kassam teams, but as far as its concerned, the cease-fire is still on, only now it's got a new name: "restraint." Just as the cease-fire is meaningless, so is the government's latest decision, which wouldn't have been reached had one of the Kassam rockets that hit Sderot on Tuesday night landed a few meters away and not badly wounded two teenagers. On the other hand, if the teenagers had been killed by the blast, the government's orders to the IDF would have been much more immediate. Not that it would have made any difference. Even when combat helicopters were hovering over Gaza and tanks and commando teams roamed around Beit Hanun, the Palestinian organizations still managed to fire off a few rockets. The best the IDF could hope for was to narrow the odds, lowering the statistical chance of a Kassam actually finding a human target. Perhaps the IDF can view it as a success that out of over a thousand Kassam rockets, only a handful have actually caused casualties. On the other hand, the various terrorists firing the rockets don't usually bother to aim anyway. From their point of view, the fact that the people of Sderot have been living in almost constant fear for the last three years is success. It's a classic case of an enemy willing to take casualties using a low-tech weapon, stumping a nemesis equipped with the latest military hardware but an overly-sensitive population. The only policy that can effectively end the Kassam threat once and for all is an old-fashioned scorched earth plan. Not willing to take that path, the government has unofficially decided that Israel, or more specifically Sderot and the surrounding kibbutzim, can take the Kassam rockets. They'll keep crossing their fingers that most of the rockets fall in the sea, as happened to one Kassam on Wednesday. Meanwhile, the cease-fire, instead of a means of achieving peace and quiet in the South, has become a goal in its own right, as well as a source of brownie points awarded by visiting diplomats like Egypt's Foreign Minister Ahmed Abul Gheit, who complimented his hosts on Wednesday for exercising restraint. Olmert might have answered that if the Egyptians had kept their side of the Philadelphi deal, Islamic Jihad would have run out of explosives long ago and Israel wouldn't need to restrain itself. That, however, would have ruined the bonhomie of the meeting. The IDF has been quietly critical of Olmert's decision not to retaliate over the last month but the IDF General Staff also has not advocated a widespread operation. The army is also aware that only reoccupying wide swathes of the Gaza Strip can ensure an end to the Kassams and that is the last thing it wants. What it would like is more of a license to be creative with pinpoint attacks and incursions. The problem is that the army's record hasn't been that hot and the politicians don't want to take any risks. Ehud Olmert and Tzipi Livni feel that this is a rare period of diplomatic grace for Israel. For now, they prefer the risk of the Kassams to the chance of another IDF operation going wrong.