In Gaza they know that Israel has enjoyed a clear victory over the last three days [Friday-Saturday and Sunday], thus a lull is in everyone’s interests. But Israel knows that the next round, after the Palestinians arm themselves with improved missiles and learn the Iron Dome method, will be much more violent.
We’ll start with the good news: within the next ten days, another Iron Dome battery [anti-missile system] will join the defense line-up of the Israel Air Force. Rafael, the project’s major contractor, has succeeded in speeding up its production by at least four months, so that the new battery will be operational within a few weeks. In addition, a central, integrated radar system will also join the line-up in a few months. It will serve all the batteries positioned in Israel’s South, and should improve their efficiency by several notches.
Israel is in a very handy position these days to terminate the current confrontation-cycle against the Islamic Jihad in the Gaza Strip. If Israel doesn’t have long-range objectives, such as damaging the Islamic Jihad infrastructure or undermining the Hamas regime—and currently it has no such plans—then it’s best to get an early start and put out the fires. Another day or two of fighting won’t achieve better results. So far, Israel has demonstrated a clear qualitative military advantage opposite the rocket terror from Gaza; this is visible to Hamas, the Islamic Jihad and Hezbollah too. The last three days [Friday, Saturday and Sunday] show that Israel has the winning hand: not a draw, no winning on points. Islamic Jihad has found itself, to its surprise, shocked into silence. But this achievement can disappear at any moment—should one rocket duck under the radar and demolish a populated building in Israel’s territory.
The scope of fighting has been relatively limited so far, because Hamas is not in the picture yet. Islamic Jihad’s rocket arsenal contains only about 20% of the number of rockets held by Hamas, and the Jihad’s rockets are also less accurate and of lower quality. If the large, high-quality mass of Hamas rockets ever enter the game—that will be another war altogether.
Israel currently has more weighty political-military issues than dealing with Islamic Jihad missiles. Any deterioration is likely to shift national and international attention away from the central issue—Iran. Every day that passes, can bring unnecessary embroilment. And indeed, on Sunday the Israel Defense Forces started to adjust its assault activity to the pace of the enemy’s activity. There was a decline in the scope of the barrage in the late morning hours, and Israel had begun to believe that the pressure of Hamas and Egypt on Islamic Jihad had begun to bear fruit. But the pace picked up again more intensely in the afternoon hours, probably after it became publicized that a 14-year-old boy was killed in one of the IAF’s strikes. The IAF reacted accordingly.
Now Israel is tensely following internal developments in the inter-organizational arena in Gaza. If they stop the fire? Very good. And if they don’t? The Southern Command says that their target list is long enough for many more days of fighting. The assessment is that Islamic Jihad is still not willing to swallow its pride, so that the present round will last until at least the middle of the week.
Hamas wants to stop the rockets, and the problem is how to create an arrangement that will bring Islamic Jihad to stop. There will be no agreement here—Israel won’t agree to stop its targeted strikes [on terrorists], and the Jihad won’t agree to stop firing its rockets in response and stop its terrorist activities. The arrangement should be simply to stop the fire—until the next round. Egypt, the natural mediator, also wants quiet. Their military regime is approaching presidential elections, and the Egyptian appraisal of the situation is that it will not be a quiet period on the Egyptian streets. Any flare-ups on the Gaza Strip may provide a pretext for the radical Islamic organizations in Egypt to run wild.
But even before the end of the current round, the IDF has to begin to think how the next round will look. There is no doubt that the Jihad and Hamas will try to draw conclusions in light of Israel’s active defense system. There is no doubt that in the next round, they will try to fire missiles on more settlements simultaneously, to overcome the limited number of batteries in Israel’s possession. It is likely that more cities will enter the rocket range. In such a situation, the race will be between the number of operative Iron Dome batteries that Israel will erect, and the number, and depth, of the targets that the enemy can effectively attack.