Analysis / Between a rocket and a hard place
It has been almost five years since the first mortar was fired from the Gaza Strip; a little more than four since the first Qassam, and the Israel Defense Forces has yet to formulate a suitable response. Defense experts say no technological solution will be forthcoming in the near future. The Israeli defensive response will probably consist mainly of prayers and payment for protective measures for buildings.
At best, the offensive approach reduced the number of rockets and pushed the launch teams back, making it harder for them aim accurately. But a large-scale ground action is unlikely; the occupation of part of the Gaza Strip, post-disengagement, would have diplomatic and, more importantly, political implications. Prime Minister Ariel Sharon will find it hard to take pride in the success of the most important move of his tenure with IDF tanks once again in the alleys of Beit Hanun.
Islamic Jihad understands quite well the limitations of Israel's maneuverability, and that high-trajectory weapons are the most effective in its arsenal right now, although their accuracy is relatively poor. The range has not changed significantly - still under nine kilometers. But the picture of hysterical mothers next to the fence of the basic training facility at Zikkim gets the organization its desired results. The army has also conceded that Jihad has managed to improve the accuracy of the rockets and reduce the number of misfires.
The more aggressive response is propounded by senior officers in the Southern Command. They say that the more than 230 rocket and other attacks and attempted attacks mean the Palestinian organizations have crossed the red line and require a harsh Israeli response. The General Staff, on the other hand, says Palestinian security forces have pushed back some of the launchers. In the end, the deciding factor is the elections - ours and theirs.
Israel will probably avoid extreme steps at this point, even after the injuries to troops in yesterday's attack. It will step up targeted killings against senior figures in Jihad and the Popular Resistance Committee cells that operate the launch networks, as well as enforcing rocket-free buffer zones. Hitting the Palestinian electricity grid has probably not been finally authorized. But decision-making in Israel depends totally on one factor - the number of injured. Last October, the killing of two babies by a rocket in Sderot engendered a brutal IDF incursion into the northern Strip. But soon enough, the Qassam launchers were back.