A National Failure

What is now happening in Sderot - the Qassam rockets the Israel Defense Forces finds it difficult to or is unable to stop, the evacuation of residents as well as the partial reinforcement of buildings and uninhabitable shelters - may be defined as a national failure, linking to the feeling of the abandonment of the home front during the Second Lebanon War. The situation in Sderot might in the near future also appear in Ashkelon, Kiryat Gat and other communities around the Gaza Strip if a reasonable political-military solution is not found soon.

It is not the Olmert government, but that of Ariel Sharon, which is responsible for this, not only since the threat on the home front grew during Sharon's term.

Such a mass evacuation of residents has not occured since the War of Independence, when women and children were brought to safety and the men remained to defend the communities. In some cases the leadership argued that families should stay so the men would fight harder to protect their loved ones, but David Ben-Gurion was against the idea. Sderot has come under occasional fire for many years. The residents have not abandoned it, but they feel there is no solution to their problems, and that they have become Israel's cannon fodder.

The failure to deal with the home front first came to the fore during the Second Lebanon War. It is marked by the fact that many political and military leaders knew already before the war that the home front was exposed and neglected, and still they were "surprised." Nevertheless, Kiryat Shmona, which took the greatest number of Katyusha hits during the war, did not lose even one civilian because its residents sat in the shelters. Sderot, however, is another story; only in recent months has some progress been seen toward reinforcement.

Israel is lagging in almost every area having to do with the home front: reinforcement of buildings, defense against chemical attack, active means of defense against rockets. The only area where things appear favorable is the administration for the economy on emergency footing, which includes food, fuel and medicine stores. What is worrisome is that the delays are due in part to a mistaken conception that the home front does not face strategic danger from short-range rockets.

Israel has both operative and conceptual problems in dealing with the rocket-launchers from the Gaza Strip and the Hamas entity that has ensconsed itself there. The IDF is over-cautious against collateral damage against Palestinian con-combatants. That, and the unwillingness to fight a war in populated built-up areas, are the two main reasons for avoiding a large-scale ground operation. The IDF has recently deepened its penetration (short-term) into the Strip. It has done so in order to control strategic points rather than enter populated areas. This will make things harder on the Qassam launchers, since they will not be able to reach the same range they do now, but it will not prevent the launches.