Prevent 'disaster'

Kassams raining down on Ashkelon's industrial zone is nothing a responsible gov't can afford to downplay.

kassam on ground 298.88 (photo credit: AP [file])
kassam on ground 298.88
(photo credit: AP [file])
On Friday, The Jerusalem Post quoted senior security and government officials who warned that this country must gird itself for "a large-scale disaster," should the Kassam rockets fired from the northern Gaza Strip hit one of the super-sensitive targets in Ashkelon's industrial zone. These include the Rutenberg Power Station - which supplies electricity to nearly half of Israel (as well as to Gaza) - huge depots of fuel and potentially deadly chemicals, the Eilat-Ashkelon pipeline, a desalination plant and many more. Ashkelon is not only a large and very soft civilian target; it is of vital strategic importance. In this setting, even unsophisticated weaponry can cause environmental and economic catastrophes, to say nothing of the taking of innumerable lives. The fact that this is largely overlooked by our public discourse is difficult to explain. It is evident, however, that this clear and present danger is nothing a responsible government can afford to downplay. The message from military and civilian higher-ups that we must prepare for a megadisaster is preposterous. If the danger of disaster is real, and its anticipated scope great, it must be prevented, not just prepared for. Waiting for the Kassams to rain down, and heaving a sigh of relief whenever no major calamity is caused, is burying the nation's collective head in Ashkelon's sands. The thrust of Israel's logic must shift from buttressing structures to ending such attacks. Israel must recover its lost deterrence. New and original thinking is called for. The tried and ineffective artillery saturation barrages on empty Gazan wastelands must be reviewed critically. These aren't even cost-effective. Lobbing thousands of expensive shells into the ruins of the three northernmost razed settlements (Elei Sinai, Dugit and Nissanit), from which the Kassams are now aimed at Ashkelon, makes the IDF Gaza's laughingstock. All the cannon fire does is disrupt the sleep of Israelis in the vulnerable areas closest to Gaza, without impressing the Kassam crews. Despite the IDF's quasi-offensive posturing, a Kassam last Tuesday reached a very sensitive Ashkelon target (which the military censor prevents us from identifying). The fact that the Kassams are branded "primitive" and "inaccurate," doesn't render them less dangerous. Crudity only makes them more unpredictable. Escaping harm is reduced to a matter of luck. Israeli lives and infrastructure cannot be left to the erratic caprices of such Palestinian roulette. Though the new Hamas-dominated Palestinian Legislative Council was sworn in yesterday, Fatah and Hamas may be jockeying for some time over who is charge of the Palestinian Authority. Our government cannot in the meantime allow our citizens to pay the price for this infighting. Stopping these attacks must become the problem and responsibility of all Palestinian factions that are staking claims to PA leadership. The PA chairman, government and legislature bear direct responsibility for every rocket flying from the territory they control. Ways will have to be found to clarify that a price will be exacted for each attack. If rockets continue to be aimed at Ashkelon, for instance, the PA should not be able to take for granted continuing supplies of electricity from the very power station against which Kassams are launched. Nor, of course, does the nonchalance with which we accept threats to strategic targets excuse the threat to citizens of Sderot and other communities who happen to live within missile range of Gaza. Since when should a nation allow some of its citizens to be terrorized by missile attacks even if, by luck, they do not exact many casualties? The Kassam is nothing to scoff at or underestimate. Home Front Command's assertion that one suicide bomber can cause more casualties than this "stupid and primitive weapon" is a classic case of denial. Past Kassam near-misses are no consolation. We don't want to test just how much pain a single Kassam strike could cause. One of the premises of disengagement was that it would not hamper our military capabilities, while enhancing deterrence by improving our diplomatic position. But if the government itself downplays the significance of continuing attacks against us, and seems unable to hold the PA - either directly or through the international community - accountable, how can it be argued that disengagement has increased our security? Asking the public to gird itself for disaster is not an answer.