The Qassam Umbrella: Israel’s Worst Nightmare
Rockets are still raining down on Israeli cities and towns. From Gaza the attacks have been sporadic and at other times accelerated, presenting a continuous and looming threat. Over 290 projectiles have been fired at the Jewish state since the beginning of 2012, including eight which were launched in a one hour period on Tuesday. The range of the more advanced missiles is up to thirty miles, according to the Israel Defense Forces.
Many have documented the debilitating effect that this state of affairs has on day to day living, commerce and the building of communities, families and workplaces. Not to mention the trauma suffered by those individuals whose lives, homes or loved ones have been caught in the crosshairs of one or more attacks.
The highly acclaimed ‘Iron Dome’ missile defense system seems to have blunted the impact of the attacks, this combined with what the IDF refers to as other components of defense, namely, “active targeting of rocket launching squads and passive defenses, such as bomb shelters.”
However, when it comes to charting a path for Israel to secure the safety of its citizens, it is crucial to consider the wider regional context of this threat and its capacity to develop significantly.
Firstly, it is well known that Hezbollah in the North, essentially in control of Lebanon, has an immense arsenal trained on Israel. According to a U.S. Embassy cable released by Wikileaks in November, Israeli officials noted that “rockets from Lebanon can now cover the entire territory of Israel.” A UPI report from March 2009 quoted Israeli Government Officials who estimated that over 50,000 missiles are targeted at Israel between Hamas and Hezbollah.
On Friday night, two rockets were fired into Israel’s south by a terrorist cell operating in Egypt’s Sinai desert. A terror assault following on Monday morning that left one civilian dead, prompted IDF Chief of Staff Benny Gantz to tour the southern border where he said that a “significant issue is what goes on in Sinai, where terror bases continue to form.”
The Jerusalem Post reported that “the IDF is considering hooking up the city of Eilat to early-warning systems that would alert residents of incoming rocket attacks.” Previously the paper noted that “the IDF was preparing a launch site for the Iron Dome rocket-defense system near Eilat ahead of the possibility that the system will be deployed there in the future.”
The increasing threat from Sinai means that of the six territories that are within firing distance of Israel three of them are actively serving as launch pads of Arab aggression against the country.
Of great concern to Israel is the that the genesis of this status quo was similar in all three cases, namely through the enactment of some process of democratization, or more accurately, as Brett Stephens of the Wall Street Journal described it in his Tuesday column entitled The Decline of Democracy, “the energetic stirrings of pre-liberal democracy,” which he defines as “democracy shorn of the values Westerners typically associate with it: free speech, religious liberty, social tolerance, equality between the sexes and so on.”
In Egypt this was a product of the Arab Spring, in Gaza, Hamas’ rise to control began with democracy style elections and in Lebanon, Hezbollah’s grip on power was solidified through the parliamentary process. Along these lines, when looking at Israel’s remaining three close neighbors, the chances of this nightmare scenario developing further must be considered.
Syria in the north is in the throes of a civil war, the outcome of which remains to be seen. As in previous cases, it is entirely possible that the power vacuum that could be created by Assad’s eventual removal would allow for terror groups to pitch themselves on the Syria-Israel border establishing another stronghold for rocket launching, within range of vulnerable Israeli farms and wineries.
Israel’s longest and most stable border is with Jordan to the east, and although to a much lesser degree, discontent has been brewing there for some time. Last month the Washington Post reported on “deep and growing tensions that call into question the stability of this strategically significant kingdom of 6 million people, a bedrock of U.S. influence in the region and Israel’s last reliable Arab ally since the fall of Egypt’s Hosni Mubarak.” Surely Israel must consider the possibility of change in Jordan allowing for the propagation of more hostile forces on this front.
To Israel’s south east lies the vast kingdom of Saudi Arabia, whose far northwestern corner is within upgraded grad rocket range of Israel’s southern port city of Eilat. The oil rich state is also seen to be relatively stable, but according to Karen Elliott House writing for the Wall Street Journal on Monday, “The death and burial this weekend of Saudi Crown Prince Nayef, the second Saudi crown prince to die in less than a year, demonstrates the inherent instability of the absolute monarchy still being ruled by the geriatric sons of the founder of modern Saudi Arabia.” She Concludes, “Clearly, a growing number of frustrated Saudis no longer either respect or fear their leaders. Saudis are not demanding democracy; only transparent, efficient, honest government.”
It is true that Israel has developed some tools for dealing with these threats, but they are very limited especially if the country came under fire from every single land border. Militarily responding to these attacks emanating from urban neighborhoods will inevitably result in civilian deaths leading to unilateral foreign condemnation of the Jewish state and near diplomatic isolation. The Iron Dome system is super expensive and if demanded to such an extent prohibitively so. Either way, as the Lebanon Daily Star pointed out in March, “Iron Dome cannot reverse the strategic problem posed even by the relatively unsophisticated Qassam and Katyusha rockets from Gaza – the disruption of normal life in Israel.” Of course the economic impact of this would be crippling.
Considering the above, Israel’s leaders would have to be insane to consider parting with any of the real estate whatsoever demanded by the PLO for the establishment of a state that would surely be highly susceptible to the type of ‘progress’ that brought about the entrenchment of a mega arsenal on Israel’s other borders.
In truth, those that today are insistent in their calls for the establishment of a Palestinian State are simply cheerleaders for Israel’s demise. Israel must always control the West Bank if it is to survive.