The firing of the katyushas on Kiryat Shmona this week, as the launching of Qassams on Ashkelon and the Negev continues, testifies to a failure of Israeli deterrence. Many months ago, the brass of the Israel Defense Forces said that the day was near when technological means would be developed that would decrease the threat of the rockets. This promise has not been kept.
In the Gaza Strip, the security forces have also not succeeded in locating the workshops that produce the Qassams, and most of the metal shops and rocket developers have not been hit. Major General Gadi Eisencott was right when he said that the war on terror is much more difficult when conducted from a distance, without control of the ground and the population.
In the war against the rockets, a number of other assessments have been proven wrong. The assumption that following the disengagement and the withdrawal from the Gaza Strip the firing of Qassams would stop or be reduced to a minimum has been proven wrong. In 2004, 309 rockets were fired on Israel, whereas in 2005, 366 Qassams were fired. Former GOC Southern Command Doron Almog warned that if the withdrawal included the northern Gaza Strip, the Qassams would hit Ashkelon. Almog argues that the disengagement was not an end to the conflict, and a 100 percent withdrawal from the Gaza Strip should not be carried out while the fighting continues. It is best not to set a precedent like this for the West Bank.
The government's reply was that keeping the northern Gaza Strip in Israel's hands would be a Sheba Farm for the Palestinians, an excuse to continue the fighting, even if it is clear that those who are launching the Qassams see all of Israel as one big Sheba Farm. In retrospect, the creation of a circumscribing strip in northern Gaza as a no-man's-land in effect cancels out part of the withdrawal.
Also proven wrong is the assumption that the Palestinian Authority would take action on the ground against the launching of the Qassams. There are thousands of armed people in the security organizations in the Gaza Strip, and they do not want, or are unable, to stop a few cells of the Islamic Jihad. Egypt already has about 300 security people in the Gaza Strip, among them more than 10 colonels. The Egyptians, too, promised to take action against the Qassams, a promise that has not been kept.
As of now, another assumption that has been proven wrong is that pressure from the Palestinian public would bring about an end to the firing of the Qassams. The reason for this, apparently, is that Islamic Jihad has no commitment to the public, while Hamas does - unlike Hamas, Islamic Jihad has no public welfare institutions, and it does not care whether Palestinian workers work in Israel and whether they have difficulties, as the result of terror, at the crossing points between Gaza and the West Bank. The aid from Iran and Syria is more important to them.
In Israel, there are those who say the pressure from the Palestinian public has been too light. However, there are also those who are appealing to the High Court of Justice demanding that it order the cessation of the flights over the Gaza Strip because they cause sonic booms. The operational level has been consulting experts on international law - to the point of exaggeration - about what is permissible and what is prohibited in the operational context, like the proposal to turn off the electricity in the Gaza Strip every time the Palestinians fire on the power station in Ashkelon.
The forecast on the matter of the Qassams is not good. Sooner or later the Palestinians will improve their range, or will succeed in smuggling long-range Katyushas from Sinai. At that point we will see that Ashdod, too, is within the range of the rockets. There is also the possibility that they will succeed in smuggling similar weapons into the West Bank territories. In such a situation, escalation will be inevitable. The way of dealing with it will not be another unilateral withdrawal. In the unilateral move Israel in effect caused the elimination of the disarmament by agreement of the Gaza Strip.