November 18, 2006

The Operational Aspects to Fighting the Qassam

Gabriel Siboni - Strategic Assessment Volume 9, No. 3 November 2006
The Institute For National Security Studies (incorporating The Jaffee Center For Strategic Studies at Tel Aviv university)

The primary manifestation of Palestinian terror from the Gaza Strip is Qassam rocket high-trajectory fire, supplemented by attempted fire with Grad-model Katyusha rockets. Although the rocket fire has not yet caused much loss of life, its impact, both in terms of emotional wear and tear on the local residents and in terms of public opinion, is considerable. Once the fighting in Lebanon ended, the focus of IDF activity returned to terrorist activities from Gaza and, in particular, efforts to curb rocket fire as much as possible. Interestingly, the Gaza arena, with its continued firing of Qassam rockets, is perceived as a more acute locus of terror than Judea and Samaria: even though terror emerging from Judea and Samaria in 2006 has claimed a not insignificant number of casualties, the Israeli public senses that this area is under control. In contrast, the firing of Qassam rockets from the Gaza Strip generates a sense of helplessness and lack of control. Analysis of this phenomenon is not the subject of this paper, but it provides the reader with a relevant context.

Much has been written about ways to stop the Qassam rocket fire. In an effort to provide a quick solution, various parties (including in the defense establishment) have occasionally offered ideas such as incursions into the Gaza Strip for an extensive ground operation, ranging from reoccupation of parts of the Strip to prolonged stays in Gaza of various durations. The questions regarding the objectives of such a campaign and how it could impact on Qassam rocket fire over time are far from answered and remain open. At the same time, the calls to focus on combating the Qassam with standoff fire continue, and this summer's fighting in the north provided a relevant platform for both supporters and opponents. Former air force commander Maj. Gen. (res.) Eitan Ben Eliyahu, in an article1 written after the assassination of Jamal Abu Samhadna (some argue his death was unintentional), suggests focusing on long range precision standoff fire. He argues that targeted strikes from the air, over time and in a systematic manner, will eventually destroy no less (!) than the will of terrorist elements to fight, or will cause it to subside to a level that will lose its political significance. Clear and penetrating words, indeed. However, in his article Ben Eliyahu does not refer to the depth of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the extent of the enemy's will (and ability) to harm Israel, and the need to harness substantial Israeli resources for targeted killings of a large number of targets. Ze'ev Schiff,2 who wrote about the cumulative failure of Israeli deterrence against Qassam rocket launches, correctly foresaw the situation. His prediction with regard to the rocket fire is not optimistic: "Sooner or later the Palestinians will improve the range, or will succeed in smuggling long range Katyusha rockets from the Sinai Peninsula. Then we will see Ashdod within firing range." If that is true, what can the IDF do in the face of such a gloomy forecast?

This paper will try to examine different aspects of the military-operational fight against the Qassam threat. First, it presents some basic assumptions that place the operational challenge in the context of realistic aims and clear constraints. Guidelines derived from the basic assumptions are followed by an initial analysis of the operational problem and the methods best suited to dealing with this challenge.

For the entire analysis of the operational aspects to fighting the Qassam, click here.