Israel Walks Fine Line in Responding to Rocket Attacks

By Julie Stahl | July 7, 2008 | 8:18 PM EDT

Jerusalem ( - Israel was considering its response on Tuesday to the continuing Kassam rocket attacks from the Gaza Strip, the day after a rocket fired from there landed in the yard of an Israeli pre-school.

Analysts said while it might be possible to stop the attacks altogether, the government might not consider it "cost effective."

Islamic Jihad claimed responsibility for launching seven rockets that slammed into Israel on Monday, including one that almost hit a pre-school on the second day of the new school year. No one was injured but 12 children were treated for shock.

Islamic Jihad said the attack was "a gift to the Israelis for the new school year" in retaliation for "crimes against Palestinian children." Last week, three Palestinian cousins ages 10-12 were killed when the Israeli military mistook them for would-be rocket-launchers. The army later said the children apparently were playing tag.

Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert reportedly plans to convene a security meeting on Wednesday to discuss Israel's response.

Olmert said on Monday that Israel would not let the rocket attacks "pass quietly." The army has been instructed "to destroy every Kassam rocket launcher and anyone who is involved in their launching against the residents of Israel," he said.

Israeli Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni said on Tuesday that Israel would have to take action to prevent or decrease the rocket fire from the Gaza Strip, "even if the world isn't thrilled with the Israeli response."

Israeli Vice Prime Minister Haim Ramon called on the Israeli government to cut off utilities to the Gaza Strip. "We will not continue to supply 'oxygen' in the form of electricity, fuel, and water while they are trying to murder our kids," Ramon said in a radio interview.

Israel filed a formal complaint against the rocket fire at the United Nations, Israel Radio reported on Tuesday.

Israeli Foreign Ministry spokesman Mark Regev said Israel is taking "many steps" to limit the rocket attacks. "It's an illusion to presume there is a magic solution," he said.

The Sderot Parents Committee is demanding that children be transferred to schools outside rocket range until the Sderot facilities are fully protected against the rockets, which could take years.

Meanwhile, schools are closed in the battered town, and the parents committee plans to send some of the children to Jerusalem on Wednesday to protest near the Knesset.

'Cost efficiency'

Despite occasional periods of quiet, Israel has yet to permanently put an end to the rocket fire.

Terrorists have launched some 7,000 rockets at Sderot and surrounding Israeli communities near since 2001, the army said on Tuesday.

Most have not fallen inside Israel but some have caused extensive damage. Twelve Israelis have been killed inside Israel in the last six years. Another seven were killed in rocket attacks on Israeli communities inside the Gaza before Israel's unilateral pullout in 2005.

Amotz Asa-El, a lecturer at the Shalem Center, said there is a clear reluctance on the part of both the political and military establishments to mount a decisive response to the Kassam rocket attacks. He said any Israeli military operation targeting the Gaza Strip would be costly in terms of human lives and diplomatic fallout.

The military reluctance is more of a tactical dilemma, said Asa-El. The landscape in the Gaza Strip is both "densely built" and "furiously hostile." The army wants to ensure as little loss of human life as possible during any operation there, he said.

But the biggest reason is political.

"Severe indecision" is the "plague of this government," Asa-El said in a telephone interview. He noted that the Israeli government has lost both public support and self-confidence after the perceived failures of last summer's war against Hizballah,

Olmert is indecisive because he is "overly invested in dialogue" with Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas and his government in the West Bank, Asa-El said. Olmert has higher hopes than most Israelis in his ability to reach an agreement that would bring "harmony" to Israel, he added.

Cameron Brown from the Global Research Center in International Affairs in Herzliya said many Israelis understand that the cost of ground operation in the Gaza Strip would be high and many also wonder about its effectiveness.

Thousands of soldiers would be needed to invade the Gaza Strip, and even if they managed to whittle down the terrorist infrastructure and capture territory, what would come after that? Brown asked.

Nevertheless, he said, with the improving range of the rockets it is only a question of time before the rockets start hitting Ashkelon - a city of 100,000; and Kiryat Gat - a city of 50,000. The question is, at what point can the rockets no longer be ignored? he said.

There are other factors involved in making such a decision, said Brown.

If Israeli troops have to return to the Gaza Strip, it says something (negative) about Israel's decision to have pulled out unilaterally from the Gaza Strip two years ago. Those who favored the pullout in the first place are those running the government now and they don't want to bring up the issue by re-entering Gaza, he said.

Then there is the media war, he said, and the international condemnation that usually accompanies any Israeli military action, regardless of the provocation.

Military solution

Brown believes there is something to be said for mounting a military operation. In 2002, when Israel launched its Operation Defensive Shield to essentially re-take security control of the West Bank, skeptics said it would not work. But it did -- and terrorism was drastically reduced.

There are also those who think it is politically incorrect to say there might be a military solution to the rockets and terrorism. Everyone wants to believe that the only answer is political. But sometimes the only way to defeat such an enemy is militarily, he said.

Ilan Abecassis, a history teacher at the Amit Sderot High School, said he understands how parents feel.

"We want the government to [make it possible] for us to teach. We want security," Abecassis told Cybercast News Service by telephone.

From Wednesday on, all children will be kept home from school, the Sderot Parents Committee said.

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