It is disconcerting that Kassam rocket attacks on Sderot and the Negev are treated in the media as routine. On Wednesday a rocket landed near a kindergarten. Fortunately there were no casualties. To accept these assaults on our civilian population with equanimity is to court disaster.
Two Israelis, including a child, have already been killed and others wounded. The citizens of Sderot are nervous and angry.
We must not delude ourselves that this is a localized issue. The Kassam is a primitive short-range rocket, but there is every likelihood that in the near future terrorists will obtain access to more sophisticated, long-range versions that could threaten our major population centers.
The IDF response to date has been to extend its presence in Beit Hanoun, which is adjacent to the Jabalya refugee camp, from where most of the launches originate. The intention has been to push the terrorists back beyond range and induce the local population to pressure the perpetrators.
This is unlikely to succeed. The terrorists understand that by operating out of densely-populated refugee camps they inhibit the IDF from sending in soldiers or using air support to eliminate the rocket sites – which could involve the loss of many innocent lives.
There is of course an element of dèja vu.
It was almost two years into the war before the political leadership gave the IDF the green light to make incursions deep into enemy territory. Only with Operation Defensive Shield was the terrorist infrastructure disrupted.
But by then hundreds of Israelis had been killed because Israeli politicians held back fearing the reaction of a hostile international community.
Today it is morally and tactically wrong to adopt a policy of restraint and wait for the Kassams to inflict greater casualties. Besides, there is little doubt that the situation will deteriorate unless the government enables the IDF to initiate more drastic remedial action.
If the government procrastinates it will reinforce the prevailing Palestinian view that Prime Minister Ariel Sharon’s proposed unilateral disengagement is a retreat under fire and a victory for terrorism.
The security fence would become a meaningless farce if our enemies can shower rockets on us with impunity.
There should be no illusions. Irrespective of what we do, most of the international community will condemn us.
The reality is that today, on the international level, only the American administration displays a public sensitivity – albeit a qualified one – that recognizes we have an obligation to protect our citizens.
Therefore it is Washington whom we must convince that the present situation is intolerable; that in the name of self-defense Israel has no choice but to escalate its response to the missile threat.
We must act immediately before the American elections, because it would be an onerous burden on any newly elected administration to be asked to support a dramatic IDF escalation in Gaza.
WE HAVE a powerful case to act now. Prime Minister Sharon has to persuade President George W. Bush that the policy of unilateral disengagement is particularly painful because Sharon himself was one of the pivotal sponsors of the settlements, which were approved by successive governments.
Sharon should stress how domestic critics warn disengagement will be hailed by terrorists as a retreat and a victory for armed violence.
It would thus be utterly intolerable for his government to remain passive while terrorists shower Israeli civilians with rockets. To acquiesce in such a situation would demoralize our people and thereby endanger our future.
Neither the Americans nor even the Europeans would remotely contemplate tolerating such threats from neighbors to the life and limb of their citizens.
Therefore Sharon must inform Bush that unless the rocket attacks cease immediately, he will announce that henceforth every time a rocket lands on Israel’s soil the IDF will respond harshly.
It will identify the launching location, warn local civilians to evacuate immediately, and then demolish the focused area.
By deliberately operating from residential areas in which civilians are used as shields the responsibility for the resultant destruction rests exclusively on those who tolerate the rocket launches.
This would be a classic case of deterrence in which Israel would demonstrate concern for innocent civilians by providing them with advance warning and then raze the locations from which the killers operate.
I venture to say that if we adopt this course of action, despite the inevitable international condemnation, the rocket attacks will come to a speedy end.
The US will understand that determined acts of self defense are the sole means for any country to end unprovoked assaults on its population centers.
After all, this is precisely what the Americans themselves have been doing in Iraq.