The IDF (Israel Defense Forces) has a partial and conditional answer to the Kassam rocket. The methods that made fighting in southern Lebanon more efficient, and reduced the number of casualties there during the year before the withdrawal, are now being transferred to the territories, first to the Gaza Strip (at an investment of a quarter of a billion shekels), and later on to various sectors of the West Bank as well.
Another spark of hope can be found in the systems developed by the IDF during the past decade for use in time of war. Here a dilemma is anticipated - whether to waste sophisticated measures on a small military problem that carries considerable public pressure, or whether the anticipated clash won't materialize, and will even become less likely, if Israel restores a bit of its deterrent capability.
A previous version of such a dilemma accompanied the decision to attack the battery of Syrian ground-to-air missiles in Lebanon in 1982. There's no need to remind anyone who was then the defense minister who pushed for the decision, but it is essential to mention that the main consideration is neither military nor political, but is a matter of diplomacy. Palestine from which rockets are launched is like Lebanon in the 1970s and 1990s, and Israel will not agree to a Palestinian state that is a version of Lebanon of those times.
At the end of the road, said Prime Minister Ariel Sharon last week in Washington, the Palestinians will have a state. In saying this, Sharon wanted to demonstrate moderation, and to dangle an incentive before the Palestinians. The truth, or at least the prevailing direction, is the opposite: For the past five years, since former prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu completed the main, municipal part of Oslo B [the interim agreement according to which Israeli forces withdrew from most of the Palestinian cities] by handing over Hebron, the Palestinians have had a state, and if they continue their headlong rush downhill, they risk losing it.
What the Palestinians are now lacking is not a state, but a government. The election ballot slips of Mapai [the forerunner of the Labor Party], during its years in power, invited the citizens to choose the list of "a party of Land of Israel workers and the unaffiliated." The Palestinian Authority (PA) maintains two violent arms, one governmental, which is formally subordinate to it - the various security services - and one "non-PA," part of which is associated with the government (Tanzim) and part of which opposes it (Hamas, Islamic Jihad, the various Fronts). Even when the former is restrained, the second develops and operates. Any self-respecting government, which has exclusive control over the armed forces, would use strong methods against it. If it refrains from doing so, from weakness or as a scheme, it is not deserving of the title "government."
After fleeing from the West Bank, PA Chairman Yasser Arafat undermined the stability of the country of his new base of operations, Jordan, from which he was expelled and went on to disrupt the internal balance in Lebanon, by establishing "Fatahland." Now Fatahland is here, and inside it - with Arafat's consent - is "Hamastan."
Arafat's openly declared platform - one can only harbor suspicions about his secret one - wants to bring Israel back to the Green Line, by means of combined political and military activity. For Hamas, this line has no significance, and they are erasing it with rockets, which fly over the previous and future border; Arafat was also preparing to do this, with the rockets seized on the Karine A. At the same time, the "red line" - that makes life forfeit for anyone daring to cross it - has also been erased. Those who threaten and are unable to follow through on their threats should be blushing by this failure of deterrence.
Even before resolving the dilemma of whether to employ measures intended for wartime - a decision that will depend on the severity of the attack on citizens in Israel - the effectiveness of the military response to Kassam depends on intelligence and operational capabilities to quickly locate every link in the chain, from the metal worker to the launcher.
As long as the range of the rockets is relatively short, the range of the weapons used against those who fire them, like the tanks in Gaza this week, is sufficient for a swift operation while the rockets are being fired (not for shooting them down, which is possible only after a huge investment and therefore doesn't pay, but for attacking those firing the rockets and hitting some of the launchers).
Enhancing the Kassam to double-digit kilometer range will tempt Israel to consider a deeper deployment, in areas that are more populated. That would be a bad outcome for Israel, and an even worse one for the Palestinians. Without a clause requiring Arafat to disarm Hamas, there certainly will be no agreement, and with such a clause, there may be no Arafat. And if Arafat does not instruct his troops to fight Hamas, who will dare to do so - Sari Nusseibeh?
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