Before our 'luck' runs out

Must one wait until civilians are killed before taking further action to stop terrorist attacks?

kassam drill 298.88 (photo credit: Channel 10)
kassam drill 298.88
(photo credit: Channel 10)
Yesterday morning, a Kassam rocket fired from Gaza plunged into a home in Sderot, landing on the bed of a boy who had just left for school. Two other rockets hit the center of Sderot near a school, wounding one woman. Three other rockets landed in or near the town. Since the withdrawal from Gaza last summer, whether as a result of extreme luck or divine providence, none of these attacks has directly killed Israelis. Everyone knows, however, that if one of the rockets happens to hit a home, school or car and to kill some of our citizens, Israel will have to respond in a way that it is not doing now. This situation raises a burning question: Is it moral or wise to wait until civilians are killed before taking further action to stop these terrorist attacks? In his June 1 interview with this newspaper, Lt.-Gen. Dan Halutz argued that the IDF is already doing a lot. Israel has killed 103 terrorists in the Gaza Strip since disengagement, he said. It has attacked the terrorists with elite units, artillery and from the air. "It it not safe to be a terrorist in Gaza... We will continue to hunt down those who manufacture and shoot [rockets]... against Israel," he said. Kadima minister and former Shin Bet chief Avi Dichter thinks Israel can do more. We should "turn Beit Hanoun into a ghost town," he said this week. Halutz, not to mention Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Defense Minister Amir Peretz, disagree. They are concerned about the risk of substantial Palestinian civilian casualties as a consequence of bombarding the Gaza civilian areas used to launch rocket attacks, and about the risk to soldiers' lives in taking over parts of the Gaza Strip or launching a massive operation inside Gaza along the lines of Defensive Shield in 2002. And they are concerned, too, that any such action might fail to resolve the problem. There is, however, another alternative. It is to do what most nations would do when attacked by another country: hold that country accountable, both directly and through international action. Though it is difficult to imagine such a scenario, if terrorists based in Mexico or Canada started shelling the United States, the US would not just fire back at the terrorists, it would take action directly against the offending government, including seeking UN Security Council condemnation and sanctions against the aggressor. While there is no state of Palestine, the Palestinian Authority likes to pretend there is one, and the UN goes along, treating "Palestine" as the equivalent of a member state for most purposes. The PA has a president, a prime minister, a cabinet, ministers and generals - all of whom are treated as such by their counterparts, including by Israel. And while until last summer the PA could argue otherwise, the Gaza Strip is not "occupied" by Israel in any way, except for control over access by sea and air, but not over land via its border with Egypt. Indeed, Israel even destroyed the three northern Gaza settlements that could have been kept without harming Palestinian contiguity in any way - all so that it could hold the PA responsible at least for the territory it unambiguously controls. Our foreign minister recently held a cordial meeting with President Mahmoud Abbas - whom the international community hopes Israel will "strengthen." Perhaps a central focus of the talks was the insistence that the PA put a stop to the constant shelling of Israeli communities. If that was the focus, there has been no result. Whether this or that part of the PA is incapable or unwilling to stop attacks from the territory it controls should not be relevant to Israel or the international community: the PA as a whole must be held responsible. Ehud Olmert, set soon to meet with Abbas himself, will surely want to convey that message. Under Ehud Barak, Israel destroyed generating stations outside Beirut in response to Hizbullah attacks. Ariel Sharon laid siege to Yasser Arafat's headquarters in Ramallah. Similarly, now, additional methods must be examined to make the PA accountable and to counter the Kassam attacks - methods that, unlike the Palestinian rocket fire, minimize the risk to civilian lives. In parallel, Israel should seek UN Security Council condemnation of all the attacks on our territory, whether from Iran's and Syria's puppet in Lebanon or from Palestinian areas, and affirmation of our own right to self-defense. The chances of success in that forum are slim. But Israel should not let the international community off the hook - and display a lack of minimal self-respect - by not even bothering to ask.