The letter the Home Front Command distributed this week to residents of Ashdod, Kiryat Malachi and Kiryat Gat is yet another high point in the march of folly of the Israeli defense establishment, which has been trying for eight years to counter the Qassam rockets launched from Gaza. "In view of the possibility that the rockets will also reach your region, it is very important that you and your family be prepared to deal with the difficulties with which you are not familiar in your daily life," read the letter, which was distributed by soldiers serving in the Home Front Command. They also offered instructions on what to do if rockets are fired at the frightened residents' homes.
Instead of dealing with the threat and neutralizing it, the Israel Defense Forces prefers a policy of ever-expanding self defense, for which the financial cost is tremendous. It is also not an effective solution to the rocket threat. The failure of the IDF, and in turn the entire defense establishment, is so grave that it should provoke amazement about the quality of the decision-making process. It should provoke amazement about the abilities of the giant and sophisticated army that cannot deal with a terrorist organization with several dozen fighters driving an entire country crazy and making the lives of hundreds of thousands of people unbearable.
Indeed, Prime Minister Ehud Olmert was the one who declared that "we must not fortify ourselves to death." But he was also the one who led the government's decision this week to allocate NIS 695 million for protecting the communities near Gaza. And why does this tremendous sum need to be allocated for defense? Because a series of decisions initiated by the Defense Ministry turned out to be mistaken and, to a large extent, misleading.
At the start of the process, when the pressure on the people living near the Gaza border increased after years of rocket attacks, the government allocated billions to develop the Iron Dome defense system against the Qassams. The residents of Sderot and the area were promised that if they were patient, they would be protected when the system was completed.
But it quickly became clear that what had been known before but hidden from the eyes of the government decision makers was that Iron Dome was not capable of defending the communities near Gaza. A Qassam rocket from Beit Hanun takes around 13 seconds to reach Sderot, while the preparations to send an Iron Dome missile to intercept it take at least 15 seconds.
When what was obvious all along became clear to the prime minister and his cabinet, they decided to provide protection for 6,000 housing units in communities less than 4.5 kilometers from the Gaza Strip. They thus tacked on another NIS 700 million or so to the huge investments in developing defense systems.
Meanwhile, it turned out that the promise to complete Iron Dome in 2009 was also not realistic. The date for its completion spilled over into 2010, then 2011, and there is still more to come. And what in the meantime? Apparently another few hundred million shekels will be invested to protect homes in Ashkelon, Ashdod, Kiryat Gat and Kiryat Malachi. And when, as is to be expected, the range of the rockets held by Hamas increases, homes in Be'er Sheva will also be protected, no doubt. And there, too, the Home Front Command will explain that residents must learn how "to deal with difficulties that they are not familiar with in their daily lives."
All this is happening at a time when other defense systems exist and some are even operative and ready to use, but the defense establishment is not prepared to hear about them. There is a system for intercepting Qassams using lasers, and also a rapid-fire cannon that American forces have used successfully in Iraq that intercepts rockets and even mortar shells. (Iron Dome, incidentally, is not even supposed to counter mortar shells, while in the past eight years thousands of such bombs have been fired at communities along the Gaza border.)
And why are the people in the Defense Ministry not prepared to hear about these other defense systems that are cheaper and ready to use? Possibly because it will become clear that there is no longer a need for Iron Dome, and that the decision to develop it was a mistake. And then where will we be?
The IDF has failed and must change its policy. No longer should there be a defeatist policy based on the notion that it is impossible to deal with Qassam rockets and the only thing left to do is protect people's homes.
The rockets are fired from a limited area and the number of fighters sent to launch them is tiny. The army cannot give up and threaten the decision makers that only a large-scale military operation to conquer the Gaza Strip will solve the problem. The IDF's senior officers must use their imaginations, upgrade their operative thinking and come up with solutions to dealing with the rockets. It is not logical that the only solution is protecting more and more citizens by sending them into reinforced safety rooms and shelters.
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