Sunday, March 25, 2007

Sderot 2: Attack and Response

To every measure, there is a countermeasure. Israel has set up watch stations along the border with Gaza. Heat-sensitive cameras trained on Arab villages on the other side detect the high temperature of the rocket engines as they rev to full speed. This heat signature triggers an announcement over loudspeakers throughout the town, "Red Color! Red Color!" which sends Jewish civilians running for cover. After fifteen seconds, no more, the rocket impacts.

Thermal imaging equipment on a hilltop overlooking the Gaza border watching for the heat signature of a missile launch.

The frequency of missile strikes against Jewish civilians varies as the security situation heats up or cools down. On an average day, the city is bombarded with three Qassams. During a cease fire, when Israel refrains from all defensive military actions, the number of bombardments can reduce to as few as one or two. During a particularly bad spell, sixty Qassams landed in one hour, during Shabbat. Missile strikes are carefully timed for commuting hours, when people are out and unsheltered, to increase their chances of hitting innocent civilians.

Map showing Qassam strikes, as well as fatalities, during the Sderot Blitz.

There are small victories. An observation blimp with , tethered to the Israeli side of the Gaza border, peers over the border into the wastes of the now-destroyed Jewish settlement of Elei Sinai.

While the residential areas of Gazan Beit Hanoun are a mere half-mile from Sderot, they aren't far enough to fire into the neighboring, much larger city of Ashkelon. Occasionally, rocket crews set up in the ruins of Elei Sinai and the race is on. Can the Israeli army spot and kill the rocket launchers before they can fire their deadly weapons?
Locations of the strategic assets on the Gaza Border.

The Ashkelon power plant.

Despite the Palestinian Authority's abrogation of the Oslo Accords, Israel still fulfills its requirements, supplying Gaza with electric power and clean water free of charge. The rocket crews have therefore been quite hesitant to hit the power plant itself, lest they knock out their own electricity, which they are totally incapable of generating on their own. This has not prevented them, however, from firing over the power plant and into the city of Ashkelon itself.
The observation blimp, tethered to the ground.
Observation blimp closeup.

Israel is stuck in a precarious situation. Every military response necessarily results in the death of Arab civilians the Palestinian Authority uses as human shields. Rockets are launched from the rooftops of UNRWA schools or crowded apartment complexes. The terror gangs which make up the Palestinian Authority understand Israel's hypersensitivity to enemy civilian casualties, a hypersensitivity largely caused by the fact many Israelis in the decision-making class do not regard the civilians supporting these rocket attacks as enemies but merely future friends whose grievances and demands have not yet been accommodated. In order not to poison future negotiations, if they are ever to start again, and Israel attempts to reduce the suffering of the civilians living on the other side of the Gaza fence, and therefore does not respond militarily to prevent attacks from the civilian areas in Gaza. Similarly, Israel does not wish to poison relations with the rest of the international community, which expresses shock and outrage every time Israel enters Gaza to cleanse the place of rocket launchers and manufacturing facilities.
And so, the working class people of Sderot, without the friends in high places necessary to get anything done in this country, are left to their own devices. As Labor Party leader and Nobel Peace Laurete Shimon Peres put it, "What's the big deal? Kiryat Shmonah was shelled for years. Qassams, shmassams."
Ruins of exploded Qassam Rockets

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