Rockets galore

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Aside from suicide bombers, the weapon most emblematic of the Palestinian terrorist war against Israel that began three years ago in September, is the Kassam rocket.


The Kassam, a crude rocket that contains between 10-15 kilograms of explosives, made its debut in Gaza during the first months of the war. Ever since, Kassam rockets have been fired extensively, if sporadically, at the town of Sderot, as well as at smaller Israeli towns abutting the Gaza Strip that fall within its 6-8 kilometer range.


As an imprecise weapon, the Kassam rocket has no military value. It cannot target tanks or aircraft. It is an indiscriminate weapon of terror aimed against civilians for the purpose of killing and hitting random targets.


During Operation Defensive Shield, IDF forces uncovered workshops with lathes for Kassam rocket production in Jenin and Nablus. These were shut down and to date, the Palestinians have not deployed Kassam rockets in Judea and Samaria.


This may soon change.


Testifying before the Knesset's Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee, a senior IDF intelligence officer explained last Monday that Hamas is now assembling Kassams in Nablus, and receiving assistance from Hizbullah in developing the rocket.


Moreover, Hamas members in Gaza are now working intensively to increase the range of the Kassam to 15-17 kilometers. Over the past few weeks, several rockets with extended ranges have been test-fired into the Mediterranean. This would bring Ashkelon within rocket range.


According to former IAF commander Maj.-Gen. (res.) Eitan Ben-Eliyahu, "Increasing the range of the Kassam from 6-8 kilometers to 15-20 does not present a great technical challenge. The problem is that the longer the range is extended, the less precise the rocket becomes."


For Israeli leaders as well as for military planners and commanders, the advent of a Kassam threat in Judea and Samaria can easily change the calculus of the war. Ben-Eliyahu explains, "When the Palestinians are limited to fielding Kassams in Gaza only, the question of precision is important. Sderot is the only relatively large target they can reach. In Judea and Samaria on the other hand, if you make a 20-kilometer circle around a Kassam, you see that Kfar Saba, Ra'anana, Netanya, Petah Tikva and Jerusalem, as well as Ben-Gurion Airport, are all in range. The concentration of populated areas is much, much higher and so the probability that an imprecise weapon like a Kassam rocket will hit something is much greater."


Former head of Military Intelligence and commander of the War Colleges, Maj.-Gen. (res.) Ya'acov Amidror views the extension of the Kassam range and its development in Judea and Samaria as symbolic of the trap that Israel has fallen into by accepting the hudna.


"Today, by accepting the hudna, the government has enabled three processes to take place in the PA that could not have taken place beforehand," he says.


"First, it has enabled the Palestinians to acquire and develop new and more sophisticated weapons systems. Before the hudna and the IDF's curtailment of counter-terrorist operations, we would destroy the weapons smuggling tunnels and the weapons workshops. Today, we are not doing this, and of course the PA under Prime Minister Mahmoud Abbas is doing nothing against these activities.


"Second, they are rebuilding their terrorist cadres. Because of the limitations we have placed on our operations – like the cessation of targeted killings – we have no ability to thwart their mobilization. The recruitment and training of new cadres is taking place intensively everywhere that the IDF is not deployed. Again, the PA is doing nothing to stop this.


"Third, both Islamic Jihad and Hamas are using the respite from IDF operations to revamp and strengthen their political leadership and influence over the PA areas and Palestinian society. The fact that both the EU and the Egyptians met officially with Hamas leaders in the talks that preceded the hudna has transformed Hamas into a partner of equal weight with the PLO in the Palestinian leadership."


In sum, Amidror notes, "in accepting the hudna, Israel has not only taken away its ability to act against the terrorist infrastructure, it has transferred the initiative of when the fighting will restart to the Palestinian terror organizations. And all the new weaponry they will be able to field will be a direct consequence of the hudna."


AS FOR the Kassam, both Amidror and MK Dr. Yuval Steinitz, chairman of the Knesset's Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee, define the threat of Kassam rockets in Judea and Samaria as a "strategic threat" to the state.


Steinitz explains, "With the Kassam rockets in Judea and Samaria, the Palestinians will be able to attack strategic targets at will. Everything from the Knesset to major highways to Ben-Gurion Airport will be within range."


Amidror adds, "Can you see British Airways continuing its flights to Israel after the first Kassam falls on a runway at the airport?" Then too, "Because the Kassam is a weapon of terror, the Palestinians don't even need to fire off that many to completely change the fabric of life in the country. It will be enough for them to fire one rocket every two weeks into Ra'anana or Kfar Saba and one rocket every few weeks into Jerusalem to make life unbearable for all Israelis."


Amidror points out that in using the hudna to rebuild and improve their terror capabilities, the Palestinians are simply following the same strategy they have used since the PA was formed in 1994.


"Consider the fact that in the Palestinian uprising in 1987-1993, the most deadly weapon Israel deployed against the Palestinians was a jeep. We never used tanks or aircraft to fight them. Our resort to those weapons in the current war is simply an indication of how much deadlier their abilities have become over the last decade.


"Since the PA's establishment, they have worked steadily to build a deterrent against Israel to force Israel to erase any red lines it has in negotiations. In this they are following the exact strategy used by Hizbullah to such great effect in Lebanon. They believe that through terror they will be able to get Israel to leave without an agreement. With the Kassam they are telling us that they can commit terror attacks against us without actually having to deploy terrorists to our cities to carry them out."


From Israel's perspective Steinitz says, "The next two or three weeks will be critical for the country. If over the next few weeks Abbas continues to take no action against the Kassam rockets and the rest of the weapons build-up in the PA, we will have to end the cease-fire. No country can accept a rocket or artillery threat that can target 70 percent of its population. That is what the Kassam involves. Non-action is not an option."


Originally published in The Jerusalem Post.

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