Israel's Concrete Dome

NIS 1 billion. That is the estimated cost of protecting the towns and rural communities within seven kilometers of Israel's border with the Gaza Strip - the Gaza envelope communities - from the Qassam rockets. The main town in this region is, of course, Sderot. The protective measures will include the construction of bomb shelters or reinforced rooms in homes that lack them, and the construction of protection for various public buildings - even if those buildings already have bomb shelters, but the warning time before a rocket lands is insufficient for reaching the shelter.

This definition includes most of the public buildings, educational institutions and preschools throughout the Gaza envelope. This does not include anyone walking or driving along the streets, or dining in a restaurant. They simply will be unprotected.

The communities near the Gaza Strip are all quite small, with a total population of tens of thousands. Partially protecting them will cost NIS 1 billion. Anyone involved in defense knows full well it is only a matter of time until the Qassam rockets can reach Ashkelon, a city of 120,000. One could start trying to calculate how much similar protection for that city would cost.

There is also no reason to stop at Ashkelon. Realistic security assessments indicate that the day is not far off when the short-range rockets will reach the West Bank. If that happens, large, densely populated areas of Israel - the entire Sharon region, Modi'in, Jerusalem and perhaps also the Dan region, will be vulnerable to short-range rocket attacks.

An estimated 1 million homes in Israel - built before the law requiring all new apartments to have safe rooms - have neither a safe room nor a bomb shelter. The estimated cost of protecting these 1 million homes is almost unimaginable: NIS 50 billion? NIS 100 billion? NIS 150 billion? Any figure could be correct. Of course, to this one would have to add the cost of protecting all the public buildings, schools, preschools, and maybe even shopping malls, synagogues and restaurants. Perhaps shelters should be built along all roads, so that cars would also have somewhere to seek protection at the last minute.

We also need to think about the longer-range rockets - the conventional missiles in the arsenals of Hezbollah, Syria and Iran. Even those homes that currently have protection are not safe from the long-range rockets, which carry hundreds of kilograms of explosives. "The only way to protect Israel against the short-range rockets," say those involved in this work, "is to build a concrete dome over the country." This statement is cynical, of course, but it illustrates just how impossible it is to fulfill the public's expectations for complete protection.

This means that the solution to the rocket threat does not lie in protection alone, and must also include military action, diplomatic developments or sophisticated devices that can intercept the rockets in midair. None of these solutions, however, are currently in the offing.

In the absence of a military or diplomatic solution, at least for now, the only solution at Israel's disposal is our determination - the willingness of the population to adapt to a life under rocket fire, based on the knowledge that just as Israelis survived the era of the suicide bombers in 2002-2003 and continue to drive even though 500 people meet their deaths in traffic accidents each year, the population can continue to function under rocket fire. For a limited period, at least.

This temporary solution, as hard as it sounds, also involves the economic situation. The stronger Israel's economy, and the easier earning a livelihood is, the better people can cope with the security threat. The harsh pictures from Sderot are worsened by the fact that Sderot is a poor city. One can only try to imagine how Sderot would cope with the rocket attacks if the town thumbed its nose at Hamas and became an economic model city - if rehabilitation budgets were allocated to the town, or if businesses were promised grants or long-term exemptions from taxes to transfer their offices or factories to Sderot, if groups of young couples or new immigrants came to settle in the town or if politicians made demonstrative moves to live there. None of these measures would prevent the rockets from falling on Sderot, but they would help the population cope with this phenomenon.

Determination is Israel's real concrete dome - and the strength of that dome rests with this country's economic might