Between Israel and Gaza

In a sense, Israel has been winning, but at tremendous risk. Most of the Palestinian projectiles have been near-misses or have hit in empty areas.

damage from rocket in Ashdod 370 (photo credit: Yaakov Lappin)
damage from rocket in Ashdod 370
(photo credit: Yaakov Lappin)
The intermittent contests between Palestinian missile launchings and Israeli air strikes (or vice versa) are generating big business in which Libyans, Egyptians, Sinai Beduin and Iranians are involved.
Money is also being made by the Palestinian importers. And if one figures in the cost of the Iron Dome anti-missile system that has been deployed in southern Israel to intercept and destroy the incoming projectiles, the Israeli manufacturer, Rafael Advanced Defense Systems Ltd., has made plenty of money too.
Libyans who have access to the large weapons inventory left behind by their late strongman, Muammar Gaddafi, sell the leftover projectiles for shipment overland to Gaza by way of Egypt and its Sinai Peninsula.
No one dares interfere with this surreptitious trade route, not even the Israelis.
Egyptian officials evidently look the other way, presumably for a price, Beduin tribesmen smuggle the cargo across the desert and Palestinians who dig and operate secret tunnels to and from the Gaza Strip are the importers. Iranian Revolutionary Guards who specialize in rocketry train and sometimes direct the launch crews.
They undoubtedly have to be paid too.
Sources who recently drove through Gaza and Sinai tell of expensive limousines, some of them owned and operated by former camel drivers plying the areas’ highways.
In any case, that is how it is in the Arab world. No matter how grim or discouraging a situation may be there always are those who know how to profit from it.
All this may be intriguing (as they say in Aramaic, “tartei mashma,” because the word, intriguing, has a double meaning in this case), but much more important, it is very dangerous for both sides. Not for nil has it been dubbed by foreign and local correspondents as an international form of Russian roulette.
In that sense, Israel has been winning, but at tremendous risk. Most of the Palestinian projectiles have been near-misses or have hit in empty areas. Conversely, the Israeli air strikes invariably hit their targets and often cause casualties. Most of the Palestinians who have been killed or wounded were leaders or members of the Strip’s various extremist outfits such as the Resistance Committees or Islamic Jihad.
On at least two occasions, Palestinian missiles have hit Israeli schools, but, fortunately they were empty both times. Had it been otherwise, the tragic consequences might have prompted an all-out ground operation designed to retake and retain the Gaza Strip.
Several basic questions must be asked: How could it have been possible for the Palestinian activists in the Gaza Strip to accumulate such a large inventory of surface- to-surface missiles? Was the Strip evacuated and abandoned, as it indeed it was foolishly and irresponsibly in 2005, without any control mechanism being established to prevent an endless arms buildup? As the Palestinian missiles’ range steadily increases (it now extends to Beersheba, Ashdod, Gedera and Gan Yavne), is it really just a matter of time until Tel Aviv, Herzliya and Petah Tikva are targeted as well? And if Ramat Hasharon. Lod (Ben-Gurion Airport), Ramle and Holon are included in the missiles’ operational range, will the Israeli response simply be more or bigger air strikes? True, the deployment of Iron Dome antimissile batteries near the region’s main targets has been an outstanding success. But its interceptions do not assure that the projectiles that get through may not hit a sensitive target.
Under normal circumstances, which evidently do not apply to the Middle East, no sovereign state can allow its citizens to be subjected to hostile fire of any kind, especially from across a border. What would the United States do if Mexican drug smugglers launched missiles at the US from Mexican territory? What if Quebec’s long quiescent separatists were to mount quasi-military or terrorist operations against New England? Such incidents would spur immediate reprisal the purpose of which would be to prevent a recurrence.
There is strong suspicion that much of the funding that keeps the Palestinian extremists active comes from Iran. The vehemently anti-Israel Hamas regime in Gaza itself evidently is a beneficiary of Iran’s financial largesse as is Lebanon’s Hezbollah.
In actual fact, the latest go-around was started by an Israeli air strike that killed the head of the Palestinian Resistance Committees and one of his followers. They reportedly were riding on a motorcycle at the time. Questions were raised in Israel shortly after the smoke cleared as to whether this operation was worth creating a situation in which schools throughout the southern part of the country were closed and an estimated million citizens were unable to go to work.
The economic damage was put at more than NIS 500 million.
One major problem is that the information gathered by the Shin Bet secret service and the Mossad in advance of such operations is not and cannot be subjected to public scrutiny or analysis. It is submitted directly to the prime minister who has the ultimate authority over these organizations.
He is the one who decides whether military action is warranted.
This potentially perilous process will persist as long as the Gaza Strip is allowed to be a staging ground for attacks against Israel as well as a weapons depot of unimaginable proportions. That surely was not what the architects of the unilateral and unconditional withdrawal in 2005, including then-prime minister Ariel Sharon, had in mind. The Hamas cadres in Gaza immediately misinterpreted the pullout as a historic victory for their side and an unprecedented opportunity to wreak endless havoc on Israel.
That conforms to Hamas’s ideology to the effect that all of Palestine, i.e. the Land of Israel, is an “Islamic fief,” (as its late founder, Sheikh Ahmed explained to me in a one-on-one interview). He said there is no place in it for a Jewish state. The time may be nearing for his followers to be disabused of this notion.
The writer is a veteran foreign correspondent.