A 660-pound war crime

As long as Gaza remains intact, with an inherently hostile Arab population, the aggression against Israeli population centers will continue, and Israel will eventually be faced with the specter of Jewish depopulation of the south.

Israeli armored vehicles at a staging area in southern Israel near the border with the Gaza Strip on Nov. 13, 2019. Photo by Yonatan Sindel/Flash90.
Israeli armored vehicles at a staging area in southern Israel near the border with the Gaza Strip on Nov. 13, 2019. Photo by Yonatan Sindel/Flash90.
Martin Sherman
Martin Sherman
Martin Sherman spent seven years in operational capacities in the Israeli defense establishment. He is the founder of the Israel Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS), a member of the Habithonistim-Israel Defense & Security Forum (IDSF) research team, and a participant in the Israel Victory Project.

“Such a missile would pulverize a house to dust. It blasted a crater that is impossible to describe. … There is no protection that defend us in the case of missiles like this.” — Gaza-border resident  

“The IDF is investigating the incident [in which Arab civilians were hit in the latest round of fighting in Gaza]; Hamas and the Palestinian Islamic Jihad are investigating why [Israeli] civilians were NOT hit.” — MK Benny Gantz (Blue and White Party) in an exchange in the Knesset with MK Ahmad Tibi (Joint Arab List), over recent events in Gaza

I have written on Gaza in my last two columns: one just before the latest round of fighting and one just after it. So, I guess it would have been reasonable to focus on some other topic.

Indeed, as it happens, there was an abundance of other events that were eminently worthy of attention, such as the decision to indict Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu; the failure to form a governing coalition; the major Israeli airstrike on Iranian targets in Syria; the momentous declaration by U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo that America no longer considers the Jewish communities across the 1967 “Green Line” inconsistent with international law; the boneheaded denouncement of the Pompeo declaration by the head of U.S. Reform Jewry, Rabbi Rick Jacobs, alleging that it somehow undercuts the fight against BDS; or the asinine allegation by the Jewish Democratic Council of America that U.S. President Donald Trump is “the biggest threat to American Jews,” blithely ignoring the blatant and burgeoning anti-Semitism in its own party ranks.

However, despite the adequate menu of prospective alternatives, I have decided once again to focus on Gaza and to highlight an ominous aspect of the recent fighting that I feel merits far greater attention than that which has been accorded it so far.

Last Thursday morning, residents of an unspecified community near the Gaza border in the Eshkol region—somewhere between the cities of Ashkelon and Beersheva—awoke to discover a dismaying sight not far from their homes. All that remained of what once was a modern greenhouse was a gaping crater more than 6 feet deep and 50 feet wide—the result of a single rocket that had landed there at 2 in the morning.

‘We need to flee like mice … ’

According to Israeli sources, the cause of the unusually large explosion was a relatively new acquisition by the Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ)—a short-range missile with range of reportedly up to five kilometers, but capable of carrying a huge explosive warhead of more than 300 kilograms (660 pounds). It is believed that Hamas also has similar weaponry.

Significantly, these deadly rockets—named “Burkan” and previously used in Syria and Iraq—are now thought to be produced locally in the Gaza Strip.

According to veteran military correspondent, Roni Daniel, “The PIJ is developing capabilities—with Iranian funding and engineers—that to some degree surpass those of Hamas.

The reactions of the residents to the explosion, as reported by Tamir Steinman, Channel 2’s correspondent for the south are both alarming and edifying. 

One concerned resident remarked: “This is obviously not an ordinary missile, and if something like this were to hit a house, little would remain of it.” 

Another resident, clearly shaken to her core, exclaimed: “It happened at 2 a.m. The door of our shelter shook with great force. Against a missile of this sort, our shelter is not worth anything. It cannot cope with this. No matter how protected and calm you think you are, and follow all the safety regulations, under these conditions, we simply need to get into our car and flee like mice.” 

With evident trepidation, she continued: “Such a missile would pulverize a house to dust. It blasted a crater that is impossible to describe—something completely out of the ordinary. There is no protection that can meet these requirements to defend us in the case of missiles like this.” 

Summing up her concerns, she confessed: “I have lived here all my life. This is the first time I feel exposed, completely unprotected. We are simply dependent on the whims of the other side. If they do something extreme, we will have to flee for our lives.” 

The emerging use of such high-explosive missiles and the reaction of the Gaza-border residents reflect two disturbing phenomena, of which I have warned (repeatedly) for almost a decade.

The one is that no matter what ingenious defensive countermeasure Israel manages to devise to deal with each offensive measure that the Palestinian-Arab terror groups employ against it, eventually those terror groups manage to find some measure to circumvent or undermine the effectiveness of Israeli defenses.

The other is that, as long as Gaza remains intact, with a large, inherently hostile Arab population, the aggression against Israeli population centers will continue, and Israel will eventually be faced with the specter of Jewish depopulation of the south.

An inconvenient fact

Indeed, it will inevitably have to face the inconvenient fact that there will either be Jews in the Negev or Arabs in Gaza. But, in the long run, there will not be both.

In this regard, see for example:

On domes and drones (Sept. 13, 2019)
Will the growing use of drones by the Gaza-based terror groups make the billion-dollar Iron Dome and anti-tunnel barrier useless—or at least irrelevant?

The deadly detriments of a doctrine of defense (June 18, 2019)
Israel continually backs away from conflicts that it can win and by doing so, backs itself into a conflict that it cannot win or win only at ruinous cost.

Israel’s stark option: Arabs in Gaza or Jews in Negev (Nov. 16, 2018)
The problem in Gaza is not operational. It is conceptual. The failed formula of self-rule for Gaza must be set aside.

The ruinous results of restraint (July 10, 2014)
Israel can no longer enable its citizens to “live normal lives” without retaking Gaza. “Restraint” and “proportionality” have so degraded its deterrence that it can no longer dissuade enemies from attacking almost at will.

White flag over Gaza … (Aug. 25, 2011)
Political correctness has precluded the pursuit of strategic imperatives; Israel can no longer credibly deter terrorists.

Iron Dome is ‘not a hermetic’ defense

Without wishing to detract from the tremendous technological accomplishment of the Iron Dome, it is not, even as its most avid advocates would admit, a totally hermetic defense system. Indeed, according to Aviation Week, the Iron Dome has proved to be impressively 90 percent effective.

However, given the scope of the new menace of massive warheads, a 10 percent “leakage” or even less could have a catastrophic effect in terms of death and damage.

Indeed, as yet another distressed resident of the community, in which the heavy missile landed, stated: “This is something that can change the rules of the game—and we demand answers. This is not just another rocket or mortar shell. … We know that this is something extraordinary, something we have not seen before … .”

In the past, I have cautioned that as long as the situation in Gaza continues as it is, the terror organizations will continue to hone their Judeocidal capabilities, making the lives of Israeli civilians in the south and gradually beyond more and more hazardous and harrowing.

Indeed, we already know that the Palestinian Arabs are hard at work developing means to render the Iron Dome and other defense systems, which are designed to intercept high trajectory rockets and missiles, ineffective. These include efforts to procure low-flying weapons such as cruise missiles, to develop drones, to produce missiles with non-linear flight paths, (such as the J-80 missile that destroyed a residence in Moshav Mishmeret); to devise multiple warheads for their rockets and missiles; and/or coordinate attacks with Hezbollah in the north, in order to overwhelm Israel’s anti-missile defenses.

A war crime

But, apart from all the above, the current configuration of hostilities that Israel has chosen to conduct against the Gazan-based terror groups allows them, among other things, to:

  • Tighten their counter-intelligence to constrict information on targets;
  • Continue to improve concealment and hardening of targets, allowing them to fire continuous heavy barrages of missiles, despite Israeli air attacks;
  • Progress towards the establishment of an air-defense system to curtail the present, largely unrestricted freedom of action of the Israeli Air Force;

All this will, of course, allow them to continue, with relative impunity, to enhance their implements of death and destruction against the Jewish state and its citizens.

Indeed, as Blue and White Party leader Benny Gantz points out (see opening excerpt), the principal targets of the Gazan-based terror groups are civilians. After all, given the short range and inaccuracy of Burkan missiles, it’s clear that it is not designed to destroy military installations. Thus, as a Ynet news analysis points out: “The Burkan is meant to be used to rain down destruction on Israeli communities close to the Gaza border.”

Accordingly, every time it is deployed against civilian targets in the south, it is, in effect, a 660-pound war crime and should be treated as such.

Convergence to one conclusion

So, as I have argued repeatedly in the past, it matters little from which aspect the conflict in Gaza is approached. They all converge to one inescapable conclusion, which, as I have detailed in my last two columns, is as follows:

* The only way to ensure who rules—and does not rule—Gaza is for Israel to rule it itself.

* The only way for Israel to do this without “ruling over another people” is to relocate the “other people” outside the territory it is obliged to administer.

* The only way to effect such relocation of the “other people,” without forcible kinetic expulsion, is by economic inducements—i.e., by means of a comprehensive system of enticing material incentives to leave and daunting disincentives to stay

Implementing this inescapable conclusion is, without doubt, one of the greatest challenges facing the Zionist endeavor today.

Martin Sherman is the founder and executive director of the Israel Institute for Strategic Studies.

The opinions and facts presented in this article are those of the author, and neither JNS nor its partners assume any responsibility for them.
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