Sderot burning

Olmert's coalition maintenance skills haven't translated into competent management of Israel's security.

woman hurt kassam sderot (photo credit: AP)
woman hurt kassam sderot
(photo credit: AP)
The cabinet decided on Sunday to approve the fortification of just 3,600 homes in the Gaza periphery, out of around 8,000. Over the next two to three years, the government plans to build a safe room in each of these homes, which lie too close to Gaza to fall under the protection of the planned Iron Dome missile shield. According to the government, the safe rooms are expected to cost about NIS 350 million, and those families who won't receive safe rooms will be protected by the anti-missile system, which is also expected to be completed in two years. Prime Minister Ehud Olmert will reportedly try to find more funds to fortify more homes in that time. Writing these words, this newspaper is ashamed of its government. We are once again in a situation where the state fails to meet the needs of its citizens, and Sderot's agony continues to be the epitome of this failure. We have apparently settled on the worst of both worlds: acting as if being attacked by rockets has become a permanent feature of our national landscape, while not fully protecting our citizens from the consequences of our failure to stop such terrorist aggression. The government seems to have decided against a large Gaza incursion in the immediate term, and even if it decided to invade the Strip it could be many months or even years before the rocket threat is fully neutralized. At the same time, it is obviously legitimate for defense officials to determine that Israel's interests are best served by delaying major ground operations against the Kassam threat. But the government must acknowledge and deal with the terrible price of this policy - the continued shelling of a large civilian population subject to the only remaining outlet for Hamas's genocidal brutality. This government has fought fortification of homes for years. Now, under the guise of approving these fortifications, the government has in fact condemned half of the population in the area, several thousand Israelis living on the country's traumatized front lines, to the possibility of several more years of suffering. The main excuse given by the government for the continued delay is budgetary. It is frankly embarrassing to claim that NIS 350m. is a lot of money to spend safeguarding the families condemned by this government's strategy to life under fire. Jerusalem alone has just dropped NIS 250m. on a fancy bridge, which would have cost a small fraction of this had the city not turned to an internationally renowned architect to build a "symbol." And this when the light-rail system the bridge has been built to convey will not be ready for years after the bridge's completion. Are 2,000 families not receiving safe rooms because of an extravagant and currently unusable light rail bridge? Budgetary discipline is no excuse. A policy of overall fiscal restraint is commendable, but the refusal to require ministers to work to eliminate waste, fraud and abuse - which surely ranges in the billions of shekels - means that genuine life-and-death needs go unmet. This refusal to engage in such budget cuts and prioritization is political in nature. In other words, because Olmert is unwilling to risk upsetting ministers by demanding cuts in their budgets, money cannot be found to protect the people of Sderot. The families of the Gaza periphery are not the property of the government to be ignored at its whim. If they are condemned to suffer for legitimate security reasons, how can this government deny them the simple request of one bomb-proof room in the house to which they can run when the rockets start to fall? The government cannot, at the same time, blithely fail to deter rocket attacks, fail to effectively demand that Egypt close its border, and fail to provide the people of Sderot with adequate protection. Such failures, it should go without saying, reinforce the failures outlined in the Winograd Report that Olmert claims he is busy learning from and "implementing." We see from how he is handling Gaza what most Israelis concluded after the war in Lebanon, long before the Winograd Committee confirmed their judgment: Olmert's remarkable skills at coalition maintenance have not translated into competent management of the security of this nation.