These Qassam attacks from Gaza are more than just stupid

These Qassam attacks from Gaza are intended to kill and to make damage, even if they are puny and weak. They are indiscriminate weapons, and do not distinguish between small school children, or a woman going to get her mother a sweater in the chill of a spring evening, or a group of some 69 Israeli Defense Force soldiers sleeping in a tent last night on some kind of training mission in the Zikkim Army Base about 1 km outside the Gaza border.

The pressure inside Israel to respond massively has now reached critical mass.

What do those Palestinians firing these rockets think they will have achieved? Even if these rockets have steadily, though slowly, increased in range, they are no match for the Israeli capacity for reprisal. And even if these firings have occasionally hit a target, as they did today — and it was a real military target, for a change — they are still largely being fired blind.

So, is the idea just to be provocative?

It is significant that last night’s attack followed a covert Israeli kidnapping of a Hamas person inside the Gaza Strip last Friday. What is going on is, after all, a war — though a very lopsided one.

The Israeli newspaper Haaretz reported today that: “Public Security Minister Avi Dichter, partially lifting an official veil of secrecy over Friday’s capture of senior Hamas commander Mahawesh al-Qadi, said Monday that the Hamas Executive Force officer is a bargaining chip in the effort to free abducted IDF Corporal Gilad Shalit. The IDF and Israeli officials have refused to comment on Palestinian accounts of the kidnapping, in which undercover Israeli soldiers, dressed in the uniform used by the Executive Force, reportedly lured al-Qadi out of his car by having one of their members pose as an old man needing help at the side of a rural road. The soldiers, waiting in a Subaru in a grove on the outskirts of Rafah, then allegedly bundled him into the car and drove to the nearby Dahaniya airfield from which witnesses said he was flown by IAF helicopter to an unknown destination. Al-Qadi is also a senior operative in Hamas’ military wing. He is believed to have been closely involved in the June 2006 kidnapping of Shalit during a Hamas-led attack on an IDF post within Israel and adjacent to the Gaza Strip. Without mentioning al-Qadi by name, Dichter confirmed in an interview with Army Radio that the government viewed him as a bargaining chip in negotiations for Shalit’s freedom…” Read the Haaretz story here.

Still, the firing of these rockets is, both militarily and politically, little more than an expression of Palestinian petulance — except for the fear they inspire in Israelis residing in their range (this fulfils the definition of terrorism, doesn’t it?), and of course for the damage done to the victims who are hit.

No responsible political entity could or should support such action.

Earlier in the summer, the Israelis were making a distinction between Qassams fired by Hamas (the last was apparently on 29 May), and those fired by other resistance groups. Today, Israeli Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni said that as Hamas is now in charge in the Gaza Strip, Israel will hold Hamas responsible for this rocket fire. Reprisal is on its way.

This plays very nicely, of course, into the hands of those in the Palestinian Authority in the West Bank who would like nothing more than to see Hamas crushed.

But many other Palestinians will also pay the price.

A few days ago, the Jerusalem Post carried an article debating whether or not it would be “legal to shut off water and electricity to Gaza, It argued that: “The question of Israel’s status in Gaza has been a matter of intensive debate, especially among academics and human rights organizations, for the past two years. Interestingly enough, the diplomatic echelon of the government has never made an official statement declaring its position on the matter. When prime minister Ariel Sharon addressed the UN three days after completing the disengagement, he did not declare that the occupation of Gaza had ended. In fact, the only unequivocal statement of the government’s position on the Gaza Strip comes from the State Attorney’s Office in response to several petitions charging that Israel still occupies Gaza and is therefore still responsible for the welfare of the Palestinian population there. In response to a petition by 10 Gaza physiotherapist students to study in the West Bank, the state’s representative wrote, ‘Israel is not responsible for worrying about the various interests of the residents of the Gaza Strip. To whatever extent the residents have complaints about conditions in the Gaza Strip, they should direct them to the Palestinian Authority’. The human rights organization Gisha sharply disagrees with this position. According to Gisha, Israel completely controls the Gaza Strip’s territorial waters, airspace and land border crossings. It collects the Gaza Strip’s customs and is in charge of its population registry. Therefore, it continues to ‘effectively’ occupy the Gaza Strip. This position is backed internationally. The UN secretary-general’s spokesman issued a statement saying: ‘The UN welcomed the Israeli disengagement from Gaza in August 2005. However, there has been no change in our characterization of the Gaza Strip as occupied territory’. According to Hebrew University international law expert Yuval Shani, if one believes that Israel still occupies Gaza, the measures being considered by the government are patently illegal. This is because, as an occupying power, Israel would be actively responsible for the welfare of the civilian population and would be violating the law if it did the opposite. However, the question of Israel’s status vis-à-vis Gaza is not the only factor that needs to be considered. The laws of war demand that parties at war must distinguish between military and civilian targets and must do everything possible not to harm civilians. Even when striking at the enemy’s military targets, the army must make sure that only a small number of civilians will be hurt. Another basic rule in warfare, as well as occupation, is that the army is forbidden to carry out collective punishment … According to Shani, who maintains that Israel no longer occupies the Gaza Strip, the legal situation is complex. According to the laws of war, the warring parties must direct their attacks against military targets rather than civilian targets. In this case, however, Israel can cut off Gaza’s electricity and water supplies without attacking any target since it supplies these commodities to Gaza. Would such an act be equivalent to an overt attack on the enemy’s civilian targets? ‘It is my opinion’, said Shani, ‘that in this situation, and given the question marks regarding Israel’s status in Gaza and Gaza’s long-standing dependency on Israel, cutting off its water and electricity supplies would be equivalent to a direct attack on a civilian target, especially given that the motive for doing so is one of collective punishment, which is, in itself, a problematic motive’.” In an interview with the Internet site Ynet, former Foreign Ministry legal adviser Roby Sabel said, ‘Halting the supply of water hurts the civilian population disproportionately and is illegal. But since electricity and fuel supplies help manufacture rockets, we may harm them, but not to a degree that would cause too much injury to the civilian population’. Shani’s bottom-line conclusion is similar to one that comes from a surprising source – National Infrastructure Minister Binyamin Ben-Eliezer. On June 28, Ben-Eliezer wrote to Gisha: ‘The minister of national infrastructure gave clear instructions that the question of water and electricity supplies to the Gaza Strip is beyond the boundaries of the dispute. In doing so, the minister is continuing his policy and the policy of the ministry, according to which the supply of humanitarian needs is not part of the conflict’.”

This Jerusalem Post article was published here.

The very interesting, accomplished, and impressive Daniel Levy, one of the main drafters of the Geneva Initiative on the Israeli team, is now in Washington, D.C., where he is hopefully having an impression on the local foreign policy scene. He is now director of a one-man band called “Prospects for Peace”, and writes regular postings to its blog-like site, including this recent comment on the Palestinian rocket fire at Sderot:

” There is significant local anger at the Government for not providing better protection for the schools, and, as is to be expected, even more anger at the Palestinians and the Hamas leadership in Gaza, in particular. The popular Israeli narrative is that when the settlements and army were withdrawn from Gaza, the occupation ended – and yet the Palestinian terror and indiscriminate shelling continues. Gazans will point out that not a day has passed since the evacuation without Israeli military activity in, or above Gaza, and that the sonic booms of Israeli jets strike fear into the hearts of Palestinian kids every day. Even before the Hamas takeover, movement in and out of Gaza was severely restricted, but since mid-June, an almost total blockade has been imposed. It has had devastating repurcussions for the entire population. Gaza has become one big prison with collective punishment the order of the day … Several Israeli Government Ministers have proposed cutting off utilities to Gaza, and the Defense Minister Ehud Barak is said to be checking the practicalilty and legality of some of these options. The line of argument repeated by these ministers goes, ‘if life in Sderot is not normal then life in Gaza will not be normal’. At face value, this really is an astounding statement of ignorance and/or apathy regarding what “normality” has become in Gaza. Here is a snapshot of the so-called normality that reigns in Gaza. Most likely, (one presumes) it is not actually the fate that Israeli leaders have in mind for Sderot.

As three-quarters of all Palestinians languish in poverty, 85% of manufacturing businesses are not operating, and 70,000 Gazans have already been laid off since the Hamas takeover. With no end in sight for private sector losses, tens of thousands more could lose their jobs at any moment. Severe restrictions on movement have left Gaza without the essential raw materials to support the manufacturing sector. Meanwhile, the Gaza Power plant is not producing enough electricity, and Gazans face up to 12 hours without electricity every day. Back in July, Filippo Grandi, the deputy commissioner general of UNRWA warned, ‘Gaza risks becoming a virtually 100% aid-dependent, closed down and isolated community within a matter of months, or even weeks’.

The Israel Channel 10 News military correspondent Alon Ben-David, normally well-briefed by intelligence and military sources, described Israel as considering three options in response to the Qassam fire on Sderot. [My summary translation of his report – DL]

1. A broad ground operation (invasion) of Gaza to destroy Hamas – but that would mean hundreds of Israeli and thousands of Palestinian casualties, long-term success would not be guaranteed and Israel might come under harsh international criticism.

2. Israel retakes part of Gaza – mainly the rocket launching areas closest to Sderot and establishes a security strip in northern Gaza up to Jabaliya, and at the area of the border with Egypt (Rafah and the old “Philadelphi Route.” The price again would be high, though less than in (1) above, and an end to the rocket fire could not be guaranteed.

3. Israel continues its current response – perhaps with a ratcheting up of the siege on the population and of the assassinations policy.

According to Ben-David’s Report, none of the options are considered ideal, but the third is most likely. Most commentators add that should one rocket inflict serious casualties, then options (1) and (2) come very much into the frame. The Israeli Cabinet is to meet inemergency session Wednesday to consider the various options.

What is just as telling, though, is the option that is not apparenty being considered – option (4): reach a ceasefire deal with the leadership in Gaza that could also include a prisoner exchange for Gilad Shalit (see previous post). Any deal would have to include an active prevention of Qassam rocket fire from Gaza and a moratorium on IDF operations there.”
Read Daniel Levy’s posting here.

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