Last update - 06:27 23/11/2006
ANALYSIS: No technological solution to ongoing Qassam rocket fire
By Ze'ev Schiff, Haaretz Correspondent
Israel wasted many years in fruitless debate over a technological solution to the problem posed by the Qassam rockets fired against Sderot and the western Negev. It is best not to delude the citizens of Israel with false promises: Even if a miracle does take place and a decision on the appropriate technological solution is made, it would be two to three years before emergence of the first results.
The Qassam problem has been characterized to date by a great deal of talk and false promises. A variety of committees were set up - even an intraservice team of various experts - and funds wasted, without any serious solution appearing on the horizon. At one point, the debate centered around the question of whether efforts should concentrate on developing a laser gun that could intercept Katyusha and Qassam rockets, or on building missiles capable of countering rockets and missiles. Israel invested in the development of the Nautilus (a weapons system) in cooperation with the United States; a few successful interception tests took place and the development was stopped. Among other reasons, the Americans argued that one of the Israeli firms participating in the project was suspected of trying to acquire secret technologies and was asked to leave the project.
In any case, there is no serious technological solution on the horizon. Even if such a solution is found in the coming years, it is doubtful whether it would be able to provide defense over large areas. It is much more likely that it will be more of a "pinpoint" defense. Experts have concluded that at this time, Israel has no possibility of fully countering the threat posed by the Qassam and Katyusha rockets.
Serious delays also exist in provision of fortified protection against the Qassams. Proof of this is the report by State Comptroller Micha Lindenstrauss from January of this year, which says that the government decisions on this matter were not carried out, neither by the Defense Ministry and the IDF, nor by the Finance Ministry. Another draft report was recently brought before the State Comptroller, one that has yet to be published, regarding the technological, operational and intelligence problems related to the Qassam attacks.
The IDF is making great efforts to strike at the crews firing the Qassams, either at the time of launch or immediately afterwards. Success has been partial, even though the IDF has radar, advanced electro-optic systems and precision weapons.
As a result of these failures and the delays, the IDF has found itself in an operational "corner." It is increasingly inclined toward undertaking a large-scale ground operation, or to extensive assassinations. Each of these solutions has advantages, but also major disadvantages.
After Israel's departure from the Philadelphi Route, smuggling of weapons into the Gaza Strip has increased. The smuggling provides Hamas with additional operational possibilities, and so it's just a matter of time before the range of the rockets is extended to include targets north of Ashkelon.
To date, the IDF and the Shin Bet have prevented the build-up of a rocket arsenal in the West Bank, but it is clear that the Palestinians will persist in their efforts to achieve this. It is also clear that the Palestinian population will suffer even more when Israel takes off its gloves - justifiably - and sets aside the restrictions it has imposed on itself.