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Under Fire

The latest round of Grad rockets from Gaza paralyzed much of southern Israel for days. It’s hard to imagine what Iranian Shihab missiles might do.

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Schoolgirls take cover next to a bus during a rocket attack from the Gaza Strip, on March 12, 2012 in Ashdod, Israel. (Uriel Sinai/Getty Images)

After four days of rocket shelling and air raids—which began last Friday when Israeli forces assassinated the secretary general of the Popular Resistance Committee, Zuhair al-Qaissi— one million Israelis in the south of the country and a million and a half Palestinians in Gaza returned to “normal”: a state of constant tension and fear about when the violence will start up again. This particular round came to an end on Tuesday when Egypt brokered a ceasefire between Palestinian militant groups, led by the Iranian-sponsored Palestinian Islamic Jihad, and the IDF. But it’s hard to overstate just how fragile the ceasefire is: Early Wednesday morning, the IDF hit two sites in northern Gaza that it claims were terrorist hubs, and the rocket fire from Gaza could resume any day.

Between Friday and Tuesday, nearly 40 Palestinians—mostly terrorists—were killed, and heavy damage was inflicted to property in Gaza. More than 200 rockets and mortar shells were launched from Gaza into Israeli towns in the south, including Beer Sheva. Several Israelis were injured.

As expected, both sides are claiming victory.

“We taught them a lesson with a hint that they should think twice before they contemplate whether to mess with us again,” a senior military officer told me. Israeli security chiefs are especially proud of the success of the state’s new anti-missile system, Iron Dome. After a year of fits and starts, the system managed to successfully intercept nearly 80 percent of the Grad rockets launched from Gaza during the four-day skirmish. (The Grad rocket is an improved version of the old Soviet-made Katyusha and has a range of up to 40 kilometers.)

Iron Dome’s achievement is magnified by the fact that by intercepting the rockets it’s not only defending the Israeli civilian population, but frustrating the goal of groups like Palestinian Islamic Jihad, which is to inflict as many casualties and as much damage as possible.

Even though they didn’t manage to kill any Israelis, Palestinian Islamic Jihad held a “victory parade” yesterday in the streets of Gaza. Spokesmen from the organization boasted that they defeated the almighty Israeli military machine. And one Grad apparently landed only 32 kilometers from Tel Aviv.

Propaganda aside, who won this latest round? It’s hard to swallow, but Israel is the bigger loser.

For one, the Jewish state paid a huge economic price. One Grad rocket costs roughly $1,000. One intercepting Iron Dome missile costs $100,000. On average, Israel fired two Iron Dome missiles per Grad. Thus, intercepting 40 Grads worth $40,000 cost Israel $8 million. Plus, while the rockets were flying, some 200,000 Israeli students didn’t go to school, and hundreds of thousands of Israelis were confined to shelters and did not go to work.

More significant than the economic hit are the strategic ramifications. For months, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Ehud Barak have waged an aggressive campaign to persuade the world—especially the United States—that the single most important threat to Israel and the international community is Iran’s nuclear program. This information campaign reached its zenith earlier this month when Netanyahu met with President Obama at the White House to reiterate the grave danger the Islamic Republic poses to the West.

By focusing solely on Iran, Netanyahu masterfully took the Palestinian issue off the world agenda. But this latest exchange reminded the world that the Palestinian issue is still very much alive and kicking and needs to be negotiated and resolved.

But the biggest reason Israel lost this latest round is that it revealed the vulnerability of the Israeli home front—and not even to Hamas, but to the much smaller group of Palestinian Islamic Jihad. Watching the way the south of the country shut down under a barrage of Grads, one can only imagine what could happen to Israeli towns and cities if a war breaks out with Iran.

The whole of Israel is targeted and within reach of the 400 Shihab missiles in Iran. While one Grad carries 15 to 18 kilograms of explosives, each Shihab has a warhead of 750 kilograms of explosives. In other words, one Shihab is worth 50 Grad rockets. And Israel has no effective anti-ballistic system. The Arrow system, which is meant to deal with the Shihab, is still being developed. It is also widely assumed by most experts that if a war with Iran breaks out, the Lebanese pro-Iranian Shiite movement of Hezbollah will jump on the bandwagon. Hezbollah, according to Israeli military intelligence estimates, has around 40,000 rockets and missiles. Many of them are capable of targeting anyplace in Israel, including its nuclear reactor, air fields, military bases, electric power stations, other strategic installations, and of course all Israel’s cities, including Tel Aviv.

In the wake of the past weekend, Israeli leaders have to be asking themselves a simple question: Is it worth initiating a crisis with Iran? Will the Israeli public be able to cope with Iran’s response?

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Hershel (Heshy) Ginsburg says:

Contrary to common belief (at least among the Tabletarians), Yossi Melman is not omniscient. First of all, the cost of a single Tamir missile (the business end of Iron Dome) is widely quoted as $50,000 not $100,000. Yes, two Tamirs are used per intercept so the “expendables” component of each intercept is $100,000 at least for now. With continuing improvements on the system (the Israeli approach to new weapons systems is to deploy initial versions that work okay and then develop and add fixes and improvements based on use & experience feedback from the soldiers using the systems) perhaps they will be able to reduce that to 1 or 1.5 Tamirs per kill.

Second, I believe the Arrow-2 has been successfully tested against Shihab-like targets, at least the Shihab version that is most commonly deployed by Iran.

Also. (and perhaps most important) Melman, like most of the pooh-bahs of punditry at Ha’aretz will invariably say black to Bibi’s white & vice versa.

Last but by no means least David Horovitz in the “Times of Israel” takes all these issues into account but explains what strategic considerations nonetheless mandated that Israel go after Zuhair al-Qaissi. see here:

Hershel G.

J’lem / Efrata

S Toren says:

Reading this and living in Israel I am saddened that the foreign English reading public is being fed such drivel. Start with the fact that not every Grad rocket was meant to be intercepted by the Iron Dome system; only those with a good probablity of doing harm were even targeted. The one or two Grads that did hit Ashdod and Beer Sheva show how much damage a single roacket can do and so I would suggest that next round Mr. Melman pick nice unprotected spot close to Gaza and count his savings if savings is what he is interested in.

As for Iran, Hezbollah and any looming conflict, one should note that each year Hezbollah only enlarges and improves their arsenal and so there could be much logic in dealing with them now and not later when Israel will be facing an enemy with a potential nuclear option. Yes, the choice is not easy and should cause Mr. Melman some concern as his prime real estate property in Tel Aviv becomes Iran’s primary taget, but if Israel is skilled and lucky, casualties can be limited .

As to the cost of conflict. It won’t be cheap. However, out of concern to Melmen’s economic view, Israel should think twice before intercepting any missle heading towards Melmen’s way.

Carl says:

In truth, the south of Israel has been under intermittent mortar, rocket and sniper fire for the past 6 years and amazingly enough life goes on. Yosi Melman does a disservice to Tablet’s readers by providing a distorted report.

Jehudah Ben-Israel says:

And, while we observe events in southern Israel, one wonders, how Mr. Obama would react. The following, I think, should give us more than a clue…:

fred lapides says:

A very sensible analysis, leaving out, however, the fact that Hamas is unable to control the Iranian inspired and supported group that did the rockets, and Abbas remains at odds with Hamas, so that the Palestinians continue to remain unable to unite for their future.

Question, how can the Palestinian situation be negotiated and resolved? Each Palestinian faction has made it clear that peace means no Israel. The rest of the Muslim world is largely in agreeement with them.

I’m not a person that believes that Israel should or can keep the West Bank under Israeli sovereignty. However, the entire Palestinian leadership has repeatedly demonstrated that by peace they mean no Israel. We must seriously consider what steps can be taken to alleviate the Israel-Palestinian conflict if the Palestinians and their allies seriously equate peace and no Israel.

With all the false narratives which mislead and steer the world scene, how do we know that covert elements of Israel are not the source of these low-tech rockets?

History (real history) shows Israel to have a proclivity for ‘false flags’ attacks. By way of deception, making wars.

Asherz says:

Yossi Melman, a left-wing reporter for Haaretz (why was his affiliation not given?) asks, “Is it worth initiating a crisis with Iran?”. The better question that he should ask is, what will Israel do after Iran gets the nuclear missile? The problems that Israel faces with scores of missiles raining down on its southern communities is solvable. Israel at this point chooses not to do much about it except put the UN and the Security Council on notice that if any of these missiles tragically does find its mark with lethal results, there should not be any condemnation from the international body when Israel devastates sections of Gaza. We saw that after the unsuccessful war in Lebanon some years ago that the severe damage to the south of that nation brought quiet. No nation can tolerate its citizens living under the conditions that the grad and scud rockets are placing them. Doing nothing as Melman suggests when it comes to the Iranian threat would prove to be the worst of all the bad options. Regime change-great. Sanctions- haven’t worked. But barring any progress in stopping Iran’s march to acquiring a WMD in the next few months, the military option will be the only one left to deal with preventing a nuclear Iran.

Jehudah Ben-Israel says:

“…reporter for Haaretz…”

Perhaps we should realize that while the Hebrew Haaretz, traditionally, has been a very good liberal daily newspaper, during the past couple of decades it has been affected adversely by the major reduction of its readership and resorted, as a result, to publish in English as well. It did so with the generous financial assistance of a non-Jewish German “investor” who has turned out to have been a user of Haaretz name as “an Israeli newspaper” to advance his anti-Israeli political convictions.

What we have today, as a result, is a newspaper whose circulation in Israel doesn’t exceed 6% but its web site has become the gathering place for anti-Israel writings by reporters, opinion writers and editors, as well as by talk-backers from abroad who vent their anti-Jewish racism there on a daily basis and in huge quantities.

One is sad, indeed, very sad to see this good liberal publication gone mad!!

steve says:

Mr. Melman does not address the effects of Patriot missile systems in Israel and Jordan and elsewhere, intended to deal with Iranian missiles, at least in part. Additionally, he understates the Arrow’s successes.

Most of the comments above are quite cogent and astutely note Mr. Melman’s prejudice as well as his employer, the “Israel is always wrong” rag, Ha’Aretz. But kudos to Ed Kendrick above, who cracked the case how Israel has penetrated Islamic Jihad in Gaza and has masterminded the rocket launching against a Jewish school, and populated metropolitan areas like Beer Sheba. Is this the same Mr. Kendrick who so astutely discovered that the CIA initiated 9/11 to justify a US war in Afghanistan? Will he next conclude that it was the Jews who caused the Holocaust to gain favor later? No sir, the Israeli government is not going to launch more than 100 missiles many of which would have been direct hits on cities, schools and hospitals were it not for Iron Dome (which is not yet 100% effective).

Finally, to Mr Melman, the day a country’s defense becomes a matter of the Haaretz-Melman budgeting cost/benefit analysis is the day it may as well give up. Iron Dome is not cost efficient (yet) but if it didn’t exist, Gaza would be a wasteland if one rocket hits an occupied Israeli school as it almost did last night.

What to do? take cynanide or recite pslam 46 and pray.

Is there a website forming soon? I want to be an affiliate member of those Jews who recognize that twisted narratives are leading the human journey to ruin.

For Zlota says:

Cheaper to die?

John DeLancy says:

The Palestinian Arabs want to kill all of you. That is what they have been taught from early childhood. They do not want a “Two-State Solution”, they have already said that they will accept a “Two-State Solution” only as an interim step in their goal of removing the Jews from Israel.

You need to stop pretending that you can make peace with people whose charter demands that you disappear, wholly and permanently.

But you need not live in fear of an Islamic jihad; that is what the perpetrators thereof want you to do. That’s why it’s called terrorism; they want you to be terrified. Instead, you need to remove the threat against Jews in Israel.

Because until you do, they will keep trying to kill every Jew that they can.

Eric Weis says:

I have been a Meretznik for a very long time, and opposed Operation Cast Lead from the get go.

I am against attacking Iran, for many reasons and not just because I fear the consequences. The Persians are entitled to peacefully use nuclear energy. The more isolated they become, the greater the chance that they will weaponize. Take this from someone who has been involved with the nuclear industry over 50 years.

Now, the Palestinians are another matter. Israel cannot afford this festering sore at its southern border. It needs to level the playing field and give Egypt something of value. For that reason, I support re-occupation of Gaza, at all costs – with the understanding that Egypt will be given the territory to administer when Gaza City is stabilized.

Israel would then have a nation-state at its southern border, rather than a bunch of backyard rocket-launching terrorists. Whether Egypt would be friendly or hostile is another matter. In short, Gaza needs to be cleansed.

When that happens, the PA will have a clear field so that two-state peace negotiations can proceed.

John DeLancy says:

Ed, Islamic Jihad’s victory parade seems to indicate that the attacks were theirs …

The NYTimes is read by a similarly small percentage of Americans and it is often critical of American policies. And yet somehow, it doesn’t need to constantly deal with accusations of “anti-Americanism” simply because it asks hard questions.

Large numbers of Americans, for example, cannot find the state of Iowa (much less Israel or Iran) and they are shaky on the concept of evolution. The New York Times does not hire any columnists from this statistically significant American demographic and yet, somehow, it remains our newspaper of record.

If American ex-pats gave Ha’aretz half of the respect they continue to give the Times, it might be a different ballgame. Alas, liberal democracy is one of the many things most American Jews choose to leave behind on aliyah.

Preventing a nuclear Iran is an important Israeli concern and rightly so. This goal is shared by the Israeli Right and the Israeli Left. How to achieve that goal with a minimum of damage to Israel (economically, militarily, politically) is a legitimate debate. Melman represents a legitimate Israeli position.

If you disagree with someone, take the time to dismantle their ideas. Calling a writer “anti-Israel” because you simply disagree with him or her is the ultimate in laziness, especially in the comments section of a Jewish publication.

I am confused on one point:

Israel lost? This reminded the world of the Palestinian problem?

Anyone who has been following the conflict over the past few years will know that this was easily the most muted response to a Gaza flare-up since Israel withdrew. There was barely even a UN condemnation!

If anything, this shows that the world is finally wising-up to two facts:

a) There are worse things in the Middle East than the Palestinian/Israeli conflict (just look at Syria!).
b) Palestinian Islamic Jihad and the Popular Resistance Committee are genuinely only interested in bloodshed, while Hamas are covering for them, often with misinformation (e.g. blaming accidental deaths on Israeli airstrikes).

For Zlota says:

Is there any reason to fear solutions suggested by ideologues?


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Under Fire

The latest round of Grad rockets from Gaza paralyzed much of southern Israel for days. It’s hard to imagine what Iranian Shihab missiles might do.

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