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Israel's Iron Dome Trumps Gaza's Rockets

Prime Minister Netanyahu: ' On Gaza, Quiet Will Be Met With Quiet - Israel Will Continue To Prevent Any Attempt To Disrupt it!'

Egyptian Brokered Cease-Fire Taking Hold - Israeli Students Return to School

IsraCast Assessment: Iron Dome May Have Far Reaching Implications Not Only For the Israel-Gaza Arena: Cabinet Likely To Discuss Crash Program To Deploy More Batteries As soon as Possible

 After five days of intense exchanges, quiet is returning to southern Israel and Gaza. The question is for how long. Both Israel and the Islamic Jihad, the two protagonists, claimed victory while the Hamas government of Gaza looked on from the sidelines. The Egyptian military again played fireman in dousing the flare-up while the rest of the Sunni Arab world was enveloped in its own Arab Spring, the carnage in Syria and its own looming confrontation with a rival Shiite Iran bent on acquiring nuclear weapons. Although there have been frequent firestorms along the Gaza-Israel frontrier, analyst David Essing says this time may have longer lasting implications.

 The numbers don't lie, Israel won this latest slugfest with Gaza by a knockout. As of March 13th, Palestinian terrorists in Gaza launched some 250 rockets and mortars at Israel. Of the 166 that entered Israel's air space, Iron Dome fired interceptors at 74 rockets that were on target for population centers intercepting 56 before they could land. That is a batting average of 75%. However this is only part of the story. Iron Dome identified Palestinian rockets that were headed for open areas and let them land harmlessly without causing any fatalities. When the overall numbers are tallied, only 18 of the entire 166 landed anywhere on target for a success rate of nearly 90%!

Dozens of civilians were treated for trauma while one million men, women and children were forced to remain in or near bomb shelters. But that was all the terrorists had to show for their massive barrage on Israeli towns and villages adjacent to the Gaza Strip. On the other hand, Israeli aircraft carried out pin-point attacks killing 23 terrorists caught in the act of launching rockets - three nearby civilians also died. The IAF also demolished arms depots of the Islamic Jihad, that carried out most of the rocketing. By neutralizng the terrorists' favorite tactic of rocketing Israeli civilians, Iron Dome provided Israel's political and military echelons with freedom of movement to knock out the rocket squads. But bearing in mind their shahid mindset, maybe the Palestinians will view their casualties as all in a day's work. It was the first time, Israel had found an answer to the Palestinians having the initiative of rocketing Israeli civilians and then agreeing to a cease-fire. It was an intolerable situation and one that spiralled out of control in December 2008 leaving Israel no alternative but to launch the 'Cast Lead' ground operation into Gaza in order to suppress the rocketing.

Islamic Jihad & Iran... After Hamas pulled out of Damascus and sided with the Syrian rebels against President Bashar Assad, Islamic Jihad has taken over the role of Iran's top proxy in Gaza. In fact, this time Hamas did not participate in the fighting and in return, the IDF did not hit Hamas targets. Tehran has also criticized Hamas for its recent rapprochment with West Bank President Mahmoud Abbas, who has renounced terrorism against Israel. Now accused of going soft on the Zionists, Hamas is caught on the horns of a unique Palestinian dilemma. Its raison d'etre is also to wipe Israel off the map and that's why it carried out its bloody coup in Gaza against Abbas in 2006. As such it was Iran's Palestinian champion. However now it has cottoned on to ruling Gaza and knows full well that it will jeopardize its new found status if it again joins in the free-for-all rocketing of Israel.

After the cease-fire was announced, Islamic Jihad paraded in Gaza claiming 'victory over the enemy'; notably Hamas did not participate nor did it telecast the parade on its TV network. On the other hand, IDF Gen.(res.) Amos Gilad , a top adviser to Defense Minister Ehud Barak stated unequivocally that if Hamas governs Gaza, it bore ultimate responsibility for all terror attacks from its territory. Moreover, Hamas was powerful enough to rein in Islamic Jihad and other radical organizations but allowed them 'to let off steam'. Over in tranquil Ramallah on the West Bank, President Abbas sufficed by accusing Israel of 'war crimes' for apparently daring to attack the rocket squads trying to bombard Israeli civilians.

Arab Spring spawns new terror tactics...  What triggered the latest round? In Gaza, the Popular Resistance Committees were planning a repeat performance of their August cross border raid from Egyptian controlled Sinai into Israel. Last summer, Israeli intelligence had uncovered that plot in its early stage but it was decided not to intercept in Gaza in order to prevent the inevitable flare-up that would follow. The PRC plan was to exploit Egypt's weak military control of Sinai, since the troops are needed to maintain law and order back in Cairo, and launch another surprise raid into Israel. They also figured correctly that Israel would not dare intercept them on their way through Sinai for fear of violating the more fragile peace treaty with Egypt. The terrorists could again make it to the Israeli border unscathed and launch another murderous attack.

Last August, the IDF counted on intercepting the terrorists when they made their move over the Sinai frontier. But in a gross error of judgment, the commander opened the border road in daytime which resulted in eight Israelis being killed, seven of them civilians. This time, Israel decided to take no chances and carried out a targeted killing of PRC chief Zohair Qaissi and one of his aides by an air strike inside Gaza. IDF Chief of Staff Benny Gantz later said this disrupted the plot but did not eliminate it altogether. It still posed a 'strategic terror threat' - that means a massive terror attack to kill many Israelis. In any event, Israel has now signaled that it will pre-empt terror attacks being planned in Gaza at the risk of rocketing flare-ups while counting on Iron Dome to protect its civilians. Terrorist leaders will have to go back to the drawing board after their rocket teams got clobbered in this latest confrontation. The IDF will assess Iron Dome's laudable performance and do some more 'fine-tuning'. Military commentators say the only problem is there are only three Iron Dome batteries and that's not enough. Another is expected to go operational shortly and Defense Minister Barak has already called on the cabinet to allocate additional funding; Prime Minister Netanyahu can be expected to approve a crash program.

Egyptian military role... Despite the Arab Spring in Cairo, Gen. Gilad praised the role of the Egyptian military in brokering an end to the five days of cross border exchanges. Although the Muslim Brotherhood now dominates the new parliament, Field Marshall Tantawi is still commnader-in-chief until after the presidential election this summer. Although the Brotherhood called for severing diplomatic ties with Israel, the Egyptian military does not brook Palestinian terrorists taking control of its backyard in Sinai. What policy the new Egyptian president will adopt is still an open question.

Hassan Nasrallah

Hezbollah watching from the north... In south Lebanon, Sheikh Hassan Nasrallah if not shocked obviously took notice of Iron Dome's success in knocking out incoming missiles, which is also his weapon of choice. Nasrallah has said that his Hezbollah force would not necessarily attack Israel in the event of a war with Iran. Whether or not that's true, Iron Dome has bolstered Israel's deterrent capability. In a recent interview, Netanyahu stated that Israel has learnt the lessons of the Second Lebanon War and would respond with 'far greater force' next time. The civil war in Syria is threatening Hezbollah's flow of missiles from Iran and the fall of President Assad could weaken Hezbollah in its ongoing power struggle inside Lebanon. Leaders of the Christian and Druze communities no longer fear Assad and openly condemn his brutal crackdown of his own people.

A Lebanse newspaper has reported that Nasrallah and a senior Hamas official Musa Abu Marzuk held a rare meeting in Lebanon at which they discussed the escalation. They concluded: 'Israel initiated the flare-up to test if Palestinian organizations in Gaza would participate if a regional war broke out with Israel'. In another arena, Israeli intelligence has warned Israelis to get out of Turkey; Hezbollah and Iran were planning to strike Israeli targets there in the near future.

Israelis under rocket fire... Not only did Iron Dome perform admirably, so did the one million Israeli civilians under rocket fire. After a number were killed in previous barrages, this time they followed instructions from the IDF Home Guard. Israel has long had an early warning alert system known as 'Code Red' that sounds sirens in real time that rockets from Gaza are on the way. Those communities within five miles or so from the border, have all of fifteen seconds to make it to the nearest bomb shelter in their building or 'reinforced room' in their apartment. If the sirens sound when the kids are in class, it is quite a sight to see them move swiftly from their classrooms, no panic, to the bomb shelter.

Things are more hectic in kindergartens. If you happen to live in the more distant city of Beersheba, you have a full sixty seconds to make it to cover. If you happen to be driving don't panic by slamming on the brakes! This has caused at least one vehicle pile-up with the cars behind. Instead, slow down and then brake and let other drivers follow suit. If you can make it to a nearby bomb shelter, leave your vehicle where it is in the middle of the road, get out and run for it. If there is no shelter nearby, get out of the car and lie down on your stomach with your arms around your head. Stay under cover for ten minutes after the sirens or if you hear the boom of an explosion. When it became known, that Iron Dome was knocking out so many of the incoming missiles, camera freaks started trying to film the mid-air interceptions. The danger was the debris could also seriously injure people in the open beneath the explosions. If Iron Dome may serve as an Israeli deterrent, it is also a morale booster. The project has been supervised by the Israel Air Force and its personnel man the batteries (one battery commander is actually a very young woman).

People abroad often wonder why the Israelis, who Iran threatens to nuke off the map, are not panic-stricken these days. Rightly or wrongly, many people here really believe that Israeli pilots are the best and bravest in the world. Now after Iron Dome, if the Israel Air Force says it can eliminate the Iranian nuclear threat, it should be taken seriously.

David Essing

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