Kassams at Ashkelon pose grave threat

Officials to Post: Power plant hit could devastate infrastructure.

kassam lands 88 (photo credit: )
kassam lands 88
(photo credit: )
Israel needs to prepare for a large-scale disaster caused by Kassam rockets which could strike the Ashkelon power plant or chemical storage tanks in the nearby industrial zone, senior security and government officials warned on Thursday. On Tuesday, eight Kassams were fired at the Western Negev, with one exploding close to a strategic installation in the Ashkelon industrial zone. The attack was not the first time that Kassams landed in the industrial zone - home to a number of factories and strategic installations, including the Ashkelon power station, a desalination plant and sections of the Ashkelon-Eilat oil pipeline. The IDF censor has prevented the publication of the exact targets hit by the rockets so as not to "help" the Palestinians improve their accuracy. National Infrastructure Ministry officials told The Jerusalem Post on Thursday that while the Kassam was a small and relatively primitive rocket, if fired accurately it had the ability to shut down the Ashkelon power plant, which provides electricity to half of the country. The police and the IDF's Home Front Command have drawn up plans to deal with a disaster caused by a Kassam strike in the industrial zone and have planned a massive exercise for next week to drill forces in preparation for an emergency. "If fired accurately, a Kassam could cause a huge disaster in the industrial zone," a senior police officer who specializes in emergency situations told the Post. "It obviously depends where it falls, but there are places that, if hit, would cause severe damage to infrastructure and human lives." The officer specifically referred to tanks of ammonia and other highly flammable chemicals in one of the factories as a sensitive target that needed to be protected. "If a Kassam hits the power plant, we are probably just looking at a temporary shutdown," he explained. "The bigger problem is what happens if the Kassam falls on chemical tanks there. If that happens, we could be facing a large-scale disaster." While the IDF said it was working to reinforce the roofs of the factories and to protect the industrial zone, senior officers admitted that the military did not have a 100-percent solution to what they called the "Kassam problem." In recent weeks the army has stepped up its targeted assassinations of terrorists involved in the production and firing of Kassams. "We are working around the clock trying to prevent the firing of Kassams," one officer said. "We are aware of our limitations and that we don't have a perfect solution, but we are doing everything we can to minimize the phenomenon, whether by targeting the people who are behind the Kassams or creating no-movement zones in the northern Gaza Strip." But while the officer said the army viewed the Kassam as one of the "most serious threats" to southern Israel, he admitted that the Home Front Command had yet to fully implement its protection plan for the Ashkelon industrial zone. "This is one of the most serious threats to southern Israel today," he said. "We are aware that it can cause disasters and it has killed people in the past." The Home Front Command said it was in the process of implementing a protection plan for the industrial zone and stressed that while Kassam rockets have claimed lives in the past it was mostly a "stupid and primitive weapon" that was far less dangerous than a suicide bomber.