Israel’s New Rocket Defence System

The Screw Turns Tighter Still on Gaza

Israel unveiled “Iron Dome” last week, a missile-defence system that is designed to strike a knock-out blow against short-range rockets of the variety fired into Israel by Hamas and Hizbullah. In the short term, Iron Dome is supposed to herald the demise of the rocket threat to Israeli communities near Gaza four years after Hamas won the Palestinian elections.

The period in-between has been marked by a series of inconclusive moves by both sides: Israel’s crippling siege of Gaza has yet to break the will of Gazans; negotiations for the release of Gilad Shalit, an Israeli soldier captured by Hamas more than three years ago, have gone nowhere; reconciliation talks between rival Palestinian factions Hamas and Fatah have borne no fruit; and even the savage offensive against Gaza last year, Operation Cast Lead, achieved little in strategic gains for Israel.

Now Israel says it has a winning card in its hand. From May, the first batteries of Iron Dome — developed at a cost of $200 million — will be installed around Gaza, foiling the efforts of militant factions to continue their struggle against a policy that denies the enclave’s inhabitants all but the most essential humanitarian items.

Militant groups in Gaza have done their best to remain defiant. A spokesman for Islamic Jihad declared last week to Maan, a Palestinian news agency, that the rocket defence system “cannot stop the projectiles of the resistance”, as it launched sustained volleys of rockets and shells into Israel for the first time since Cast Lead. Ehud Barak, Israel’s defence minister, has accused Hamas of turning a blind eye to this activity.

Certainly, several big question marks hang over the Israeli project, despite the large claims being made by Israeli officials.

Analyst Reuven Pedatzur noted today in the Haaretz newspaper that Israel was peddling “deceptions and half-truths” over Iron Dome. He pointed out that the flight time of a few seconds for rockets fired at Israeli communities close to Gaza, such as Sderot, is far shorter than the time needed by Iron Dome to calculate an interception.

Even more significantly, what economic sense does it make for Israel to try to destroy home-made rockets when each interceptor missile costs an estimated $100,000?

Military analysts reckon that, in addition, Israel will be forced to spend $1 billion on 20 batteries needed to protect Israeli communities next to Gaza and more in the north that are currently in the line of Hizbollah’s fire from Lebanon. That cost will rise rapidly as Hamas and Hizbollah extend the reach of their arsenals. Another system, Magic Wand, can reportedly shoot down medium-range missiles, but each interception costs close to $1 million. And then there are additional costs to be factored in when groups in the West Bank begin launching rockets, too.

Israel’s siege of Gaza could quickly be matched by a war of attrition by Hamas and Hizbullah against Israel’s defence budget — at a time when Israel is pondering expensive military adventures further afield, such as in Iran.

Nonetheless, signs of unease have become apparent in Gaza over the past week. Militant groups have again risked engaging in serious clashes with Israel. On Sunday, Israel claimed that more than 20 rockets and mortar shells had been fired out of Gaza in a few days, while Palestinian sources said at least eight Palestinians, including a 14-year-old boy, had been killed in Israeli air strikes.

But even if Iron Dome is little more than a new development in Israel’s programme of psychological warfare against Gaza, the pressure is most definitely building on Hamas on several fronts. Israel has significantly tightened its chokehold on the enclave over the past year.

One of Israel’s most significant moves has been forcing Palestinians to abandon productive rural land in Gaza, much of it situated just inside the fence that surrounds the Strip.

According to Palestinian officials, Gaza once produced half of its own food, with one-quarter of its 1.5 million inhabitants dependent on agriculture. Today, about half of this land is no longer usable. Some of it was destroyed by the Israeli army during Cast Lead. Other areas, according to Italian researchers last week, have been contaminated with a cocktail of toxic metals from Israeli munitions. And yet more land is off limits because it falls within a buffer zone of 300 metres Israel has declared inside the perimeter fence, as a leaflet drop last week by the Israeli air force reminded Gazans. Farmers say in practice the zone often extends much deeper into the enclave.

As Gaza’s chief means of subsistence has been steadily eroded, the lifeline provided by hundreds of smuggling tunnels from Egypt into Rafah, under the one border not controlled by Israel, has come under imminent danger of being severed, too.

Sealing the Rafah border was one of the main goals of Operation Cast Lead, but Israeli aerial bombardments only had limited success in destroying the tunnels there. Instead, Egypt is building a steel wall underground in an attempt to foil the smugglers. Although Cairo is taking the flak for the wall’s construction, and has its own interests in punishing Hamas, the driving forces behind the scheme are almost certainly Israel and the United States. US engineers are reported to be providing the technical expertise to make the wall as effective as possible.

Another wall, this one to be built by Israel along the border with Egypt immediately south of Gaza, was announced this week. Although chiefly intended to stop the flow of refugees and illegal immigrants reaching Israel, it is also aimed “to turn the screws on Hamas” by blocking the only way into Israel for terror attacks, Yaakov Katz, an analyst with the Jerusalem Post newspaper, argued yesterday.

The increasing isolation of Gaza — and the ratcheting up of pressure — is designed to send a message to Gaza: that Hamas has nothing to gain, and everything to lose, from resisting Israel’s occupation, and that ordinary Gazans should turn their back on the Islamic movement.

But there is also a message for Hamas’s rivals in the West Bank. Mahmoud Abbas, the Palestinian president, and his Fatah supporters are being daily reminded that their own chances of extracting significant concessions from Israel — through a policy of quietism — are even more anaemic than Hamas’s.

The hope in Israel is that sooner or later Mr Abbas, or his successor, will realise there is no choice but to sign up to whatever territorial crumbs of the West Bank Israel is prepared to concede as a Palestinian state.

Jonathan Cook, based in Nazareth, Israel is a winner of the Martha Gellhorn Special Prize for Journalism. His latest books are Israel and the Clash of Civilisations: Iraq, Iran and the Plan to Remake the Middle East (Pluto Press) and Disappearing Palestine: Israel's Experiments in Human Despair (Zed Books). Read other articles by Jonathan, or visit Jonathan's website.

5 comments on this article so far ...

Comments RSS feed

  1. william nomates said on January 13th, 2010 at 10:36am #

    thank you jonathan for this piece of uplifting news. you are working well for mossad.
    well done

  2. Ismail Zayid said on January 13th, 2010 at 11:12am #

    So if the Gazans can’t be eliminated by the F16s bombers and the phosphorus shells, the cocktail of toxic chemicals, that Israel is flooding the farm land in Gaza with, may assist in achieving this objective. Starvation, by denial of access to food, as well as the denial of medical needs, targetted by the siege imposed by Israel, will also contribute towards this objective, clearly complemented by the steel wall that the Egyptian government is constructing.

    Clearly, this gradual campaign, to eliminate the Palestinian people, is well-orchestrated by Israel and its allies, and tolerated by the deafening silence of the international community.

  3. bozh said on January 13th, 2010 at 11:20am #

    I am hoping and expecting that no pal’n wld sign away remnats of expalestine.
    And i think israeli warlords know this. Israel like US needs violence. Israel needs gaza badly.
    Above all else, US/israel needs occupation. Wld abbas concur with these observations?
    As far as i know, PA is silent on these matters. Probably because, such an elucidation being self evident? And based on facts! Thus, what is there to say when just one silent eye will suffice to see what is going on.
    Of course, two eyes wld be even better.
    Two mad ears wld also help in seing the writing on the wall. I have already said that pal’ns r morally and legally obligated to resist occupation by any means.
    But i have often said, military resistance keeps israeli warlords and feudal lords in power.
    Of course, this applies to US warlords and modern feudal lords.tnx

  4. kanomi said on January 13th, 2010 at 11:30pm #

    “what economic sense does it make for Israel to try to destroy home-made rockets when each interceptor missile costs an estimated $100,000?”

    It makes perfect sense, considering this whole grifter’s ball is paid for by U.S. taxpayers, thanks to the craven prostitutes in Congress that simply from us to fund Israel’s existence, no strings attached, every year.

    You also forgot to mention these improbable overpriced weapons are peddled by Rafael, “a former sub-division of the Israeli Defence ministry [that] is considered a governmental firm”, according to Wikipedia et. al.

    Sounds like just another case of graft and corruption.

  5. jon s said on January 14th, 2010 at 3:41am #

    I don’t see how anyone could have a problem with Israel deploying a defensive system, designed to protect the civilian population from the terrorist’s rockets, as much as possible..So, too, regarding the plan to install a fence on the border with Egypt.
    As to the “economic sense” – it is indeed difficult to assess the saving of an unknown number of lives in economic terms. That, however is up to the Israelis to consider.