Blagg: Middle East missiles
The news from the Middle East just keeps getting worse and worse.
Teenagers kidnapped and murdered, young children hit by artillery fire, thousands of rockets being fired at random into neighborhoods and now the Israeli army is making forays, with tanks, into Gaza — it’s just madness.
As the weeks of violence and vengeance go on, one question seems to surface again and again:
Why is it that so many Palestinians are being killed, while Israelis seem to lead charmed lives?
What’s going on?
The answer is deceptively simple.
Hamas, the terrorist organization that is dedicated to wiping Israel from the face of the Earth, is firing blind. True, its rocket teams are using relatively sophisticated missiles — they’ve moved on from their original, fairly crude “Qassam” rockets, which were made locally out of steel pipe, and are now firing Katyusha, WS-1B and Grad rockets from North Korea and China.
The 122 mm (5-inch) Grad rocket, based on a Soviet model, is about 9 feet long and has a range of 12 miles. It has a 44-pound warhead, which can carry explosives, chemicals or phosphorus. The Iranian-made Fajr-5, on the other hand, is 333 mm (13 inches) in diameter, is about 20 feet long, and has a range of some 50 miles, which means it can reach Tel Aviv.
These and other rockets are mostly smuggled in from Egypt through tunnels.
Missiles, rockets and mortars have killed 65 people within Israel over the past few years, mostly civilians. But casualties have been light because of the extraordinary efforts put into civilian protection by the government.
Every school, hospital and bus stop in Israel is required to have hard shelters (which include chemical and biological warfare-proof systems), and most homes in the border areas have them as well. For example, the town of Sderot, the Israeli city closest to the Gaza Strip, has a reinforced children’s recreation center, “$1.5 million worth of reinforced steel,” to provide a rocket-proof place for children to play. Sderot also has a missile-protected playground with concrete tunnels painted to look like caterpillars. Nonetheless, studies there document a post-traumatic stress disorder incidence among young children of almost 50 percent, as well as high rates of depression and miscarriage among adults.
Small wonder, given the constant barrage of attacks from over the border.
Nationwide, an alert system called “Red Color” is triggered by the launch of a mortar or rocket in Gaza and rings on cell phones as well as public address systems, TV and the radio. It’s designed to allow Israelis time to run to the nearest shelter.
“Iron Dome,” an anti-missile system to intercept short-range rockets, was first deployed in the spring of 2011. And U.S.-designed Patriot missiles have been successful in stopping longer range Fajr-5 and Scud rockets.
That explains why so few Israelis have been killed or wounded in the latest exchange of fire.
But what about the toll in Gaza?
Israel’s Self Defense Force is using the latest in “smart weapons,” but is targeting an enemy that flourishes amongst one of the most densely populated areas of the world. The IDF has gone to great lengths to avoid “civilian” casualties, even to the extent of calling a home that is to be destroyed, firing a preliminary “small” missile at it, and then knocking it flat with a bomb or rocket.
That’s unprecedented in modern warfare and is only possible because of the IDF’s complete control of the air over Gaza.
But, as we’ve seen, even these measures have not prevented tragic deaths among Palestinians who are not active in attacking their neighboring country. An Israeli airstrike that killed four Palestinian boys on a Gaza beach Wednesday was just the latest in a series of terrible events in this latest round of attacks and counterattacks.
More than 200 Palestinians have been killed and more than 1,500 injured, according to Gaza health officials, in nine days of Israeli bombardments, which have struck nearly 2,000 targets.
Throughout this all, despite several attempts at cease fires and unilateral pauses by the IDF, Hamas has refused to stop its fusillade of rockets.
Why? When their fellow Palestinians are paying such a price, what keeps the barrage going?
The hard fact is that terrorists thrive on these situations. It’s in Hamas’ interest to provoke Israeli attacks that kill innocent people.
That creates even more hatred of the Jewish state in the Arab world, brings more money and recruits to their cause, and tilts the world’s perception against Israel.
Hamas and other similar organizations have played this card over and over in past decades, and it continues to work.
I don’t condone all that Israel does in the West Bank and Gaza — particularly the continuing encroachment of new settlements. And I think there is little to choose between in the right-wing hardliners of either side.
But mere casualty figures don’t tell the whole story in an outbreak like this — the truth is more complex.
Blagg has been Editor of The Recorder since 1986. He lives in Greenfield and is a military historian with an interest in local history. He can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org or 413-772-0261, ext. 250.