Thursday, March 22, 2007

Sderot 1: The Qassams

Previous related posts on the history of Gaza and Sderot:

Gaza of the Phillistines
Gaza in History 1: The Romans through Israeli Independence
Gaza in History: After Independence
Sderot and the UNRWA
Gaza until the Peace Process

During the first intifada, and even more intensely during the peace process, the walls began to rise again. As Israel weakened its grip on Gaza, and its will to fight as a nation ebbed, the Arabs continued to increase terrorist attacks. After Israel had withdrawn from Gaza and major Arab cities, it was no longer possible to gather intelligence on the ground. Prevention of terror turned into fortification against the inevitable attacks. Prior to the intifada Arab representative issued only words of protest and condemnation against Israel. As Israel gradually came to accept Arab arguments, in the moral vacuum in which Israel refused to make its own case for a Jewish presence in Gaza, words turned into stone throwing at passing vehicles in the late 1980s. So Jews bought special shatter-proof windows for their vehicles. So the Arabs changed tactics and began suicide bombings. To prevent the suicide bombs, the Israeli Army set up makeshift checkpoints to search for explosives. Bombers figured out how to get around the checkpoints, so the checkpoints became fences. The Arabs figured out how to penetrate the fences, and the fences became walls.
Torn up dirt marking the ruins of Jewish Elei Sinai, destroyed in last summer's disengagement. The strip to the right is the new border wall.

On the other side of the wall, antitank rockets, C4 explosives, and small arms poured into the areas in Gaza recently abandoned by Israel. Any and every freedom and all humanitarian aid won through negotiations was immediately invested in intensifying the war against Israel. During the second intifada starting in 2000, and even more so after the Hitnatkut, the various terror gangs deployed small rockets.

The rocket is a crummy, barely airworthy baby brother of the Russian-made Katyusha, which gained infamy in last August's Second Lebanon War. Built from scrap metal and anything that could be stolen, including sewage pipes donated by international aid organizations, the rocket is wildly inaccurate but packs a 10-kilogram (22 pound) payload.

The Qassam rocket

The ease of construction makes it very difficult to control the import and distribution of the weapon. Rather than purchasing the rockets on the black market and importing them whole, they can be easily assembled from household goods. The critical component, the explosive warhead, is much easier to come by now that Israel has withdrawn from Gaza and surrendered all border controls to the Palestinian Authority. Launchers can also be readily assembled from spare parts.

Qassams, fired from makeshift launchers, can be assembled in seconds.

Hamas named the "Qassam" after a local Muslim fundamentalist preacher and highway bandit of the 1920's. Izz Adin Al Qassam formed his own terror gang, the "Black Hand," which attacked Jews and British living in the land of Israel during the 1920's and 30's, until he was surrounded by British police in a cave in Jenin and killed, thus entering local folklore.

Logo of Hamas' Qassam Brigades

Iz Adin al Qassam. Islamic fundamentalist, highway robber, and Gazan folk hero, killed by the British colonial rulers of Palestine in the 1930's

One thing I had never understood until arriving in Gaza was their ability to consistently hit the city of Sderot. After all, if these rockets are so crudely constructed, and wildly inaccurate, how could they make such precise hits? Maps appearing on the news showing firings from Arab Beit Hanoun into Jewish Sderot show the cities as two tiny dots.

A map showing the range of the Qassam

But travelling to the outskirts of the city, and viewing the proximity of the two cities gives a much better understanding why the rockets have been so successful.

Sderot is less than half a mile from Beit Hanoun, and the city of Sderot sprawls over several kilometers. One only needs to fire a rocket in the general eastward direction and it's bound to hit something, or someone.

Stay tuned for Part 2: Attack and Response

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