Wernher Von Braun's Legacy

In the last months of World War II the Germans unleashed Hitler's 'vengeance weapon' against Britain.

In the last months of World War II the Germans unleashed against Britain what Hitler called the vengeance weapon. The V-2 rocket developed by Wernher von Braun and his team of scientists as a terror weapon was launched daily against civilian targets, mainly in England. Before the Allied armies had reached the rocket-launching sites by the end of the war, 1,400 rockets had landed in England, with 500 hitting London. Around 9,000 Londoners lost their lives to V-2 rockets. Fifty-five years later rockets modeled after the V-2, imported from the Soviet Union and North Korea, were launched against Israel by Iraq during the Gulf War.

Since then rockets large and small, now powered by solid-fuel motors that make it simpler to launch them, unlike the liquid-fueled V2, have become the weapon of choice for Israel's enemies. Tens of thousands of rockets, their number increasing daily, have been deployed in the Gaza Strip and southern Lebanon, threatening Israel's entire civilian population. What in the days of the Katyushas in the north was first seen as a bearable nuisance that would have to be neutralized sooner or later has become a major strategic threat to Israel. No one should underestimate the large number of civilian casualties that would result if Israel were to be attacked by these rockets. And that is the purpose of those who are deploying them.

These rockets are terror weapons, pure and simple. As their numbers grew, the Israeli government, fearing large-scale civilian losses that would result from a heavy barrage, began to be deterred from taking effective actions to eliminate the threat. The terrorists' strategy was simple. Once a large enough arsenal of rockets had been assembled, they would launch them at Israel sporadically or take other provocative actions like kidnapping soldiers - counting on the government's hesitation to respond forcefully for fear of a massive rocket response against Israel's civilian population.

That is what happened with Hezbollah in the north. Hezbollah's ever-growing arsenal of rockets deterred Israeli governments over the years from taking measures to eliminate this threat, or even to respond effectively to the group's provocations. This happened until the Second Lebanon War, when the Olmert government responded massively against Hezbollah's provocations but never finished the job. During the war, northern Israel was severely damaged by Hezbollah's rockets, while the Israel Defense Forces did not put an end to the launchings. And today Hezbollah's arsenal of rockets is considerably larger than before that war.

Hamas in Gaza imitated the Hezbollah example: building up an arsenal of rockets, launching them against Israeli towns and villages in the south for years, and counting on Israeli hesitation to respond out of concern it would receive a barrage in response. This went on until the latest IDF operation in the Gaza Strip. But here again the job was not finished. Hamas today has a larger rocket arsenal threatening Israel than it had before the IDF offensive, and continues to pursue the same strategy. Here and there rockets are launched at Israel, based on the assumption that the government will not respond for fear that a response would be met by a massive barrage.

Now Hamas can count on the Goldstone report to constitute an additional obstacle to an Israeli decision to react to provocations from the Gaza Strip. There should be no mistake about it - this situation is intolerable for Israel. Its civilian population is being held hostage to terrorist rockets from the north and south. The range of these rockets now covers the whole country. Nobody is safe.

It's hard to believe that any nation would indefinitely put up with such a situation. When the United States was threatened by the deployment of Soviet missiles in Cuba in 1962, John F. Kennedy, realizing that the constant threat of these missiles would harm U.S. security, insisted that they be removed. Similarly, the constant threat of rockets in the hands of irresponsible terrorist organizations like Hezbollah and Hamas represents a real danger to Israel's security. That danger will have to be eliminated. As a first step, the government should make it clear that it considers the deployment of these rockets to be intolerable, that the supply of additional ones must cease immediately, and that sooner or later the existing arsenal will have to be removed.