10 lessons from the Gaza fighting so far
So what have we learned from this latest round of fighting so far?
1. While the Iron Dome anti-rocket system is a big hit in battle with the relatively small Islamic Jihad group [it has frustrated their plans and provided the Israeli government with time and space not to launch a heavier assault on Gaza], it won’t stand up to a massive and sustained rocket barrage from the much larger, much more heavily-armed Hamas. Like King David and King Saul, Islamic Jihad has thousands of rockets, and Hamas has tens of thousands of rockets. If the Iron Dome won’t stand up to a massive and sustained rocket barrage from the relatively small Hamas terrorist group, it definitely won’t stand up to a massive and sustained rocket barrage from the Hezbollah terrorist group. If the Iron Dome won’t stand up to a massive and sustained rocket barrage from the relatively small Hezbollah terrorist group, it definitely won’t stand up to a massive and sustained rocket barrage from the Syrian army. The Iron Dome is a smart, but limited tool, effective only in a limited conflict.
2. In short, politicians’ call to produce more Iron Domes systems is cheap populist talk: the economies of scale and terror in these parts guarantee that Israel will never have enough Iron Domes to effectively protect its civilians from massive and sustained rocket attacks. Each Kassam and Grad rocket costs up to a thousand dollars and every Iron Dome interceptor missile fired at a Grad costs 40,000 dollars. We’ll spend ourselves into a recession and still not have enough interceptors. It costs $45 million to produce an Iron Dome battery. You do the math. While it’s a lifesaver for many people in the south now, it won’t deliver bang for its buck in a larger battle. It’s unsustainable.
3. Iron Dome batteries are effective for small-scale battles against small terror groups like the Popular Resistance Committees and the Palestinian Islamic Jihad. They are not effective against large terror groups and armies with tens of thousands of rockets in their arsenals. To deal with these threats, Israel has to strike in a way that makes it not cost-effective for the other side to fire its rockets. And that means that, apart from striking very hard at the terrorist leadership and infrastructure, the IDF has to sow massive damage to the civilian infrastructure of the areas under the control of the terror groups until they are unable to care for the civilians under their aegis. In any case, Hezbollah and Hamas fire from within civilian areas using them as human shields, and are thus forfeiting their lives. But this obviously then, puts Israel in a no-win situation: it creates a humanitarian disaster in Gaza and southern Lebanon, brings down world condemnation, and is forced into a ceasefire before it can exact a steep enough price from the enemy. Israel is then forced into a shape it doesn’t want to get into, like chasing rocket squads in built-up areas – which is the kind of warfare Hamas and Hezbollah want to drag the IDF into.
4. The mantra from the government and the IDF is that the resilience of the home front is the wind in the sails of the fighting armed forces. If that is truly the case, then the constant reports coming in of damaged bomb shelters is very worrying. Every day we’re hearing reports of shelters without water, electricity, toilets and such amenities. Some shelters have been taken over by civilians and turned into storage rooms or being used as synagogues. The government, through the police and the local authorities, need to go to every single public bomb shelter and make sure it is open, equipped and ready for use. Otherwise expect chaos in the home front, and massive pressure on the government to bring any fighting to a sudden halt.
5. The Israeli home front is able to contend with rocket barrages, but only for a limited amount of time. Not every home , shopping center, school and public institution in the land can be fortified, and, as I’ve said, we can’t afford, and neither should we, buy Iron Dome systems ad infinitum. This would be entering a war of attrition that Israel cannot sustain. The IDF knows this and will be looking to the political echelon for the green light to strike much harder at Gaza and Lebanon terrorists when the next round of fighting starts.
6. The longer the fighting in Gaza continues, the more likely it is that Islamic Jihad fires longer-range missiles, possibly to the outskirts of Tel-Aviv. A missile has already fallen in Gadera near the Tel-Nof airbase. If Hamas gets involved, it can definitely fire into Tel-Aviv. That will be a significant escalation and may force the IDF to escalate to target Hamas. All of this is to point to the fact that the lever of escalation is in the hands of the Palestinians. They’re the ones who decide. And that’s not good for Israel.
7. There is no such thing as censorship anymore in the age of Twitter. News of the rocket hitting Gadera traveled through Twitter faster than the Military Censor was able to send out a warning to newsrooms not to report it. The censor needs to start thinking about this, because information wants to be free, and it obviously cannot keep these kinds of things from getting out anymore. Is there even a point in trying? And should military reporters be censoring themselves if they’re unsure about their legal liability?
8. What we are seeing now in Gaza is a sign of things to come. Hundreds of rockets from the smaller terror groups there have placed over 1 million Israelis in the south into the direct line of fire, and into bomb shelters. It has brought daily life in the south to almost a complete halt. Israel has managed to kill a few dozen terrorists, mostly rocket crews, but there is no doubt that the terror groups have a million Israelis under direct terror threat. Alarms sound throughout the night, and a whole population has to spend the nights in bomb shelters. During the day, schools, factories, businesses are all out of operation. And this is only in battle with the Islamic Jihad, a small terror group directed by Iran and Hezbollah. We’re not even talking about the big boys yet [Hamas, Hezbollah]. We’ve let these terror groups arm themselves to the teeth, and now we’re going to pay for it.
9. In case of serious escalation in Gaza, with Hamas getting involved, and a potential ground incursion by the IDF, what will the response from Egypt be? How will the Egyptian military leadership react, now that it is entering into some sort of partnership with Hamas’ mothership, the Muslim Brotherhood? Is it even possible for Israel to conduct a wide-spread military operation in the Gaza Strip without raising the specter of a clash with Egypt? What if the Egyptians cancel the peace treaty and send aid to the Gaza population? What if the Muslim Brotherhood sends aid and fighters to Hamas? Will Israel stop them? To me, it seems that the era of ground incursions by the IDF into Gaza, and the idea of taking down Hamas, is over.
10. The world’s attention is still fixed on the massacre in Syria. Over the past few days the fighting in Gaza has not featured on the home pages of the Guardian or the New York Times. Russia and China have thwarted all Security Council attempts to stop Assad’s killing. They’re sticking with him. Today, China has already ‘urged’ Israel to stop its assault on Gaza. PA President Abbas, who once urged the IDF to destroy Hamas, has already asked the Arab League to take Israel to the Security Council over the latest Gaza fighting. How much time does Israel have now?