Sunday 27 March 2011

This Really Feels Like War

The security situation in Israel has deteriorated dramatically over the past week. Although we have unfortunately become accustomed to having to endure persistent shelling from Gaza over the past few months and years, the events of the past week have even superseded that. Such has been the level of the escalation over the last 7 days, that the situation is feeling more and more like all-out war.

The latest onslaught started last weekend when no fewer than 50 missiles were launched from Gaza towards Israeli territory during a 40 minute period on Saturday. As always, missiles were launched in a random sort of way and were directed at civilian neighbourhoods. A Grad missile was launched into a neighbourhood of the seaside city of Ashkelon. Under the circumstances, it was miraculous that only two people were lightly injured in this barrage. The bombing did not let up in the first few days of the week. On Monday, further Grad missiles were fired on Ashkelon and Beer Sheva. Again, it is only due to good fortune that a few people were lightly hurt and that more serious injuries did not result. This set the pattern for the week which did not see a day without missiles being launched into Israeli territory.

The week's violence culminated on Wednesday when an explosive device detonated at a busy bus stop in Jerusalem. Although the device was relatively small (when compared to other bombs that the city has been forced to endure in the past), it was clearly intended to reap as much havoc and destruction as possible. A number of buses were at the stop at the time of the explosion, and many pedestrians were waiting or walking in the area. It was only due to the actions of one hero, David Moyal, that many more injuries and deaths were prevented. In this incident, 1 foreign national was killed and 60 others injured including children.

These events continued into Thursday when missiles were fired towards the most populous part of Israel. A missile landed not far from Rishon Le Tzion, and a mere 25km from Tel Aviv. Further missiles were fired on Friday and Saturday resulting in damage to people's homes, and it was again miraculous that deaths and serious injuries were avoided.

In the wake of the terror attack on the streets of Jerusalem, Prime Minister Netanyahu vowed to return the "quiet" that Israel has experienced over the past two years, back to its streets. It is a sad indication of our situation that the prime minister can say that we have experienced quiet despite the incessant firing of missiles towards innocent civilians. More than this, Israelis simply accepted his words without any fuss at all. This is not quiet by any independent standards, and we should not be forced to accept this situation as normal.

It is difficult to see how this situation can be brought under control without further escalation. The Israeli authorities are quoted as saying that Gaza is ruled by anarchy and it seems as though chaos is the order of the day. Although it is clear that not all the attacks have been initiated by the Hamas rulers in the Gaza Strip, they have created an environment which makes it acceptable for splinter groups to do as they please. It is increasingly difficult to know who is responsible for individual attacks or missile launches. It is obvious, however, that Hamas is doing little to prevent these attacks from taking place. Even if the attacks are not all directly initiated by Hamas, it seems clear that they are taking place with at least the tacit support of the rulers of Gaza. These attacks come and go without so much as a word of condemnation from the so-called "free world" countries.

Much is being made of Israel's "Iron Dome" protection system which is due for implementation this week, after many months of development and preparation. This is an anti-missile system that is designed to intercept the Kassam and Grad missiles which have been repeatedly launched towards Israel. The Iron Dome system is unique in that it is designed to intercept short-range missiles. They are more difficult to intercept by virtue of the fact that there are only a few seconds from the moment that the missile is launched, until it hits its target. During this short period of time, the anti-missile interceptor needs to be launched and hit its target in order to be effective. Iron Dome is designed to do this.

Ultimately, Iron Dome and similar systems will not prove to be a quick fix for the problem that we have. No matter how effective our defence systems prove to be, we will not be able to rest until we can bring a permanent halt to the firing of missiles from Gaza. Operation Cast Lead brought such a halt for a short period of time, but it was unfortunately only a temporary lull. If we are to believe the statements being made by Hamas, the only way in which they will stop their missile fire is if the Jews are no longer resident in the Land of Israel. Because this is obviously not an option, we have a stalemate situation.

The uprisings that are taking place in many countries around the Middle East form part of the background for the increase in the attacks on Israel. It seems like the protests and violence occurring elsewhere in the region are giving Hamas and its fellow terror groups further appetite for confrontation with Israel. The escalation on our doorstep feels more and more like we are headed into another war, as it is difficult to see how the violence will suddenly recede after having reached this level. This is despite statements today by Hamas that they are interested in returning to a "ceasefire" in the event that Israel refrains from its retaliation strikes. The offer of a ceasefire usually signals the need to rearm ahead of the next round of hostilities.

As much as I feel pessimistic about the prospects for a peaceful period ahead in the short-term, I also feel extremely optimistic about our continued existence in the Land of Israel in the longer-term. We are ready for the next war, both militarily and psychologically. In a sense, we are also resigned to the fact that this is unfortunately inevitable. As much as war, violence and terrorism kills a piece of our heart due to the casualties suffered, so it stokes the fire in our belly to continue to fight for our future here. This fire burns strong, and nobody has the power to extinguish it. Am Yisrael Chai - the People of Israel lives!

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