Text size

The battle taking place in the north of the Gaza Strip is not only about the firing of Qassam rockets at Sderot. The results of the operation will certainly affect the efforts of Hamas and its cohorts to advance to the next stage and turn the West Bank into a base - much broadened - for the launching of Qassams. Hamas has made serious attempts at this - all thwarted. Therefore, what is happening in Operation Days of Penitence is a sign of what can be expected - on a greater scale - in the West Bank.

If Ashkelon comes under fire, that could also serve as an impetus for a broader Israeli action in the south, but if Hamas succeeds in establishing a rocket-launching system in the West Bank, the Qassam problem will be transformed from a purely military one to one of strategic magnitude. Anyone who doubts this is invited to study the map and check the number of kilometers between major cities in Israel and the West Bank.

Cities like Kfar Sava, Rosh Ha'ayin, Hadera and Beit She'an will be within range of the rockets, as will the Jewish neighborhoods of Jerusalem. This is the assessment being heard in Israeli intelligence. Even if we adopt the rather unlikely premise that Hamas will not succeed in extending the rockets' range beyond nine kilometers, it would take no more than a "little drizzle" of Qassams toward Ben-Gurion Airport for most airlines to cease flying here.

Such a development would leave Israel no choice but to take extremely harsh military measures against the Palestinians. It's doubtful if Israel would then have the patience to take care of "the humanitarian needs that arise in wake of the IDF's military activity," as it is currently doing in the Gaza Strip, according to the IDF spokesman. Such a deterioration could be reminiscent in many ways of what occurred between the two populations during the War of Independence. This is the aim of Hamas, whose actions are also undermining what's left of the Palestinian Authority.

The possibility of Qassam rockets being launched from the West Bank is not just a figment of some intelligence officer's overactive imagination. Five attempts at large-scale Qassam production have been foiled by the Shin Bet and the IDF. At a Hamas factory in Nablus, 60 rockets were in an advanced stage of production. Ten rockets had already been transferred to Jenin, where they were seized. Several other complete rockets were also seized. In one incident, a rocket was fired at the Sharon area and fell not far from Tenuvot. Most of the know-how for Qassam production came from the Gaza Strip.

Thus, beyond the need to defend Sderot, Operation Days of Penitence has another clear purpose - to demonstrate to the Palestinians what will happen in the West Bank if they bring the Qassam method there. In the present operation, there is no superfluous bombast (aside from some exaggerated newspaper headlines); there is no indiscriminate artillery being used against the population, as some in the cabinet had proposed; nor is there any attempt to establish a new line of IDF positions in the Gaza Strip. Despite the large amount of force being employed by the IDF, there is restraint in its use. Obviously, this will not be the case should Qassam rockets be launched from the West Bank.

The problem, or drawback, one could say, of the operation in Gaza lies in the general perception arising from the prime minister's avowal that the disengagement plan must be unilateral and that there is no need to reach agreements with the Palestinians. There have, however, been some secret meetings between Israeli security personnel and figures like General Abdel Raziq el-Majayda and Musa Arafat. As usual, the Israeli representatives heard many promises that were not kept and once again ended up feeling that even if the Palestinians really wanted to, they are incapable of fulfilling their commitments. Still, Israel mustn't give up altogether on such efforts.