Missiles make borders insignificant

In non-conventional warfare of this nature, no longer do we possess the total military superiority which can defend our civilian population.

Gas mask kids 311 (photo credit: REUTERS)
Gas mask kids 311
(photo credit: REUTERS)
The heavens above Beersheba and the south of the country have opened with a mixture of cursed missiles and blessed rain during the past ten days.
The sirens of the anti-missile defenses heralded the firing of the Grad missiles from Gaza ever further afield into the towns of Ashdod, Ashkelon and Beersheba.
Few people actually make it to the fortified rooms in their houses or the neighborhood shelters in the few seconds that it takes for the rockets to hit (or miss) their targets, or for the recently constructed Iron Dome defense system to fire its own missiles in an attempt to explode the Grads in mid-flight. For weeks, talk on the street, in the supermarket or in local synagogues has focused on where you were when the sirens went off, or whether the booms you heard were the sounds of Palestinian missiles exploding or of anti-missile defense systems hitting their targets.
The schools were shut down for a few days throughout the region, leaving parents to find alternative means of caring for their children while they were at work, or alternatively having little choice but to take the time off and stay at home.
Whether the crowded shopping malls are a safer place for the children and their parents to congregate than the schools themselves is highly questionable, but no one in their right senses is going to take the responsibility of having schools full of children when there is a real threat of more missiles being fired during the day.
Even Ben-Gurion University was shut down on the first day of the new academic year until the all-clear was given for studies to commence. Other university functions, including research and administration, did continue as usual, but many of the secretaries and auxiliary staff were missing as they stayed home to look after their young children.
OVER THE last few days, life has slowly gotten back to normal in the south, but the mental scars remain, especially for the young children who subsequently react traumatically to any siren, even if it’s totally unrelated to the security situation.
According to media reports, which are not discounted by our political leaders, Hizbullah missile systems in Lebanon and Hamas and Islamic Jihad systems in Gaza have become even more sophisticated during the past few years. This is, to put it mildly, troubling.
Iranian-supplied missile systems in South Lebanon, and – if the information is correct – systems poached from the Libyan weapon arsenal finding their way to Gaza in recent months, have bolstered the ability of Israel’s enemies to cause havoc.
This, arguably, is the most significant change to have taken place in Israel’s defensive posture over the past 60 years, namely the ability to bring the impact of war and destruction directly to Israel’s towns and villages, rather than have the IDF undertake its actions across the borders inside the neighboring territories of Gaza, Lebanon, Syria or Egypt.
This new situation demonstrates just how insignificant the demarcation of borders is in terms of the country’s defensive posture. We first became aware of this twenty years ago during the first Gulf War, when long-range missiles fired from Iraq fell inside Israel, some of them even reaching the heart of the Gush Dan metropolitan region. At the time, the feeling was that as long as we could push the threat ever further away from the borders and, over time, neutralize the neighboring countries – such as Jordan or Egypt – so that their territories would not be used as bases for the firing of missiles, we could deal with the problem adequately.
But the changed political situations in both Lebanon and Gaza, and the relative simplicity with which missiles can be fired by local “civilians” who require neither expertise or fixed bases (today, they can be fired from the backs of jeeps or from simple rocket launchers carried on the shoulder) makes it increasingly difficult to prevent.
The Iron Dome technology is slowly developing and has succeeded in bringing down many of the missiles, but there remains much to be accomplished if Israel’s skies are to become totally safe from the missile threat, if indeed this will ever be possible.
Retaliatory raids by the IDF have shown themselves to be of relatively limited success.
Israel is, rightly, reticent to commit its troops to full scale warfare, and while the recent wars in both Lebanon and Gaza may have caused enough damage on the ground to temporarily cease the firing of missiles, the collateral damage, be it the death of Israeli soldiers, or the killing of innocent civilians and children on the other side, have not worked in Israel’s favor. Nor have they provided the country with anything more than a short-term respite as the other side has quickly restocked their missile stores.
Much has been written about the need to negotiate and make peace with even the worst of our enemies. But all too often, this approach is wrongly construed as meaning a total coming together of enemies, some of whom do not even recognize the legitimacy of the other side.
We weren’t too far off from that at the time of the Oslo Agreements, but that has already been consigned to history, as more extreme groups have emerged, and as the sophistication of warfare technology has evolved.
A truce, rather than peace, is about the best that either side can achieve at the moment, and even that will only hold up for a limited period of time if the larger political situation – the status of the occupation and the non-emergence of an independent Palestinian state – are not resolved. Even that does not guarantee the State of Israel total security and safety from attacks and missiles, but it does change the ground rules, not just within the local and regional spheres, but also within the wider international debate concerning the legitimacy of retaliatory actions when our sovereignty is infringed by a neighboring independent country.
In non-conventional warfare of this nature, no longer do we possess the total military superiority which can defend our civilian population. The greatest damage caused by the missile attacks is their demoralizing impact upon the population at large, rather than the actual physical damage inflicted. Our worsening defensive capability on the home front in the face of the missile attacks, while not threatening the existence of the State of Israel, can only get worse unless we start to address the root problems of the unceasing conflict.
The writer is dean of the Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences at Ben Gurion University. The views expressed are his alone.