Alan Elsner: Some Lessons From the Latest Gaza Confrontation

The Huffington Post, Mar. 17 - The latest confrontation between Israel and Iranian-backed terrorists in the Gaza Strip seems to be coming to an end. In four days of violence, Palestinians fired over 200 rockets, most at major Israeli population centers, such as Ashdod (pop. 200,000), Beersheba (pop. 190,000).

Responding to rocket fire, the Israel Air Forcecarried out 37 airstrikes in the Gaza Strip, 19 strikes targeted rocket-launchers and 18 targeted weapons warehouses in response to rocket attacks.

Twenty-six Palestinians were killed as a result of IAF strikes on Gaza. Out of these 22 were militants and 4 were civilians who were in the area of IAF strikes, but were not involved in the rocket fire.

According to the Israel Defense Forces, 59 rockets and missiles were intercepted by the Iron Dome missile defense system.

So what are some of the lessons from this episode?

1) Islamic Jihad has taken the lead as the group most willing to engineer a military confrontation with Israel, while Hamas has lost support and prestige within the Gaza Strip. As commentator Roni Shaked wrote:

"In the latest round of escalation, Jihad managed to push Hamas into a corner. In recent months, Islamic Jihad gained much strength -- not only militarily, but also publicly. Iran provides it with money and arms, while the difficult state in Gaza, with problems in the supply of electricity and water, are prompting criticism against the Hamas government."

Hamas, which still runs Gaza, has been pushed into an uncomfortable corner because of the uprising in Syria. For years, the Hamas leadership in exile was headquartered in Damascus and received logistical support from the Assad regime. But events in Syria have forced the organization to look for a new home and its decision to come out in support of the rebels has created a rift with Iran -- which is now putting its weight behind Islamic Jihad.

Iranian support is crucial to Hamas. Without Iranian money, the New York Times said last month,Hamas would have never been able to pay its 45,000 employees in the bloated and corrupt Gaza government.

Of course, if Iran ever acquired a nuclear umbrella, its terrorist allies in Gaza and Lebanon would become emboldened to launch even more outrageous attacks on Israeli civilians.

2) The Syrian uprising has taken the focus in the Arab world away from the Palestinians. Avi Issacharoff wrote this week in Haaretz:

"At the height of the crisis in Gaza, with 23 dead and dozens wounded, the fighting was only the third or fourth item on Monday's Arab news broadcasts, especially after the scope of the massacre in Homs' Karm el-Zeitoun neighborhood was revealed. 

"Both the large Arab satellite networks, Al-Arabiya and Al Jazeera, were repeatedly broadcasting the horrific pictures of the more than 20 children who were killed in Syria, and of the bodies of men and women who had been butchered and burned to death. The Palestinian issue was being treated as secondary, at best."

3) The Iron Dome system has proved amazingly effective at defending Israeli population centers. Most of the most dangerous rockets and missiles were shot down and the system provided the Israeli government the time and space to effectively respond without escalating the conflict. But there are some in Israel who still doubt whether the system could stand up to a massive and sustained rocket barrage from the Iranian-backed Hezbollah terrorists who have an estimated 45,000 rockets and missiles in southern Lebanon aimed at Israel.

How effective Iron Dome would be against Hezbollah is also the subject of some discussion in the Lebanese media. An analysis this week in the Beirut Daily Star noted that in the Lebanon War of July 2006, Hezbollah fired some 4,000 rockets toward Israel, an average rate of 125 a day, four times the rate of the latest Gaza escalation. The bulk of the rockets fired in 2006 were 122mm Katyushas and Syrian 220mm Uragans.

"Since then, Hezbollah's rocket arsenal is believed to have increased significantly not only in size but also variety. Iron Dome would struggle to defeat the larger Zelzal-2s and M600 missiles, which could strike targets in Tel Aviv and beyond. The David's Sling system which is supposed to deal with larger caliber rockets is not yet operational," wrote author Nicholas Blanford.

"It can be expected that in the event of another war with Israel, Hezbollah will attempt to overwhelm the Iron Dome system with heavy barrages of shorter-range Katyushas and Uragans, allowing the larger Zelzals and M600s to slip through and strike strategic targets such as military and infrastructure sites."

And he also notes that the main effect of these rockets and missiles would be to terrorize the civilian population, disrupting normal life and forcing mass evacuations and population displacement.

Of course, Israel would not stand idly by while that happened. As it has in the past, it would take all steps necessary to protect its population, eliminate the threat and restore normal life as quickly as possible. Iron Dome would play a part in this -- but it is not a total solution.

As long as Iran's extreme leaders are around, sponsoring terrorism and making mischief, Israelis will face threats to their lives and their safety.

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