New York – Yesterday, Palestinians fired Qassam rockets and mortars at Israeli population centers in a serious attempt to murder Jews and destroy Jewish property; yet, despite promises by senior Israeli officials months ago to use overwhelming force if terrorism continues after the Gaza withdrawal, Israels only response was to fire back at empty fields in Gaza. A Palestinian Arab mortar shell struck an Israeli town north of Gaza, damaging a house while a rocket landed at an Israeli town close to the Gaza border. The IDF chose not to respond until a second rocket was fired at an Israeli Negev community, after which Israel Defense Forces (IDF) artillery returned fire with 40 artillery rounds at empty fields (Ynet News, Nov. 28).
This past summer, during the period leading to the implementation of the controversial Gaza withdrawal plan, those opposed to it said that it would only lead to increased terrorism. Senior Israeli government officials responded by saying that if there were any terrorist attacks emanating from Gaza after the withdrawal, Israel would hit back very strongly. Israels Ambassador to the United States, Danny Ayalon, told the ZOA mission to Washington DC in June that in the event of further terrorism, Israel would reply with overwhelming force that had not been seen before. Even more recently, in September, Israeli Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz said that any more terrorism from Gaza will be met with a crushing response. In fact, the response by Israel to continued Palestinian terrorism from Gaza has been woefully inadequate and deeply disappointing.
Examples of Palestinian attacks from Gaza and Israeli retaliation:
- September 27: After Qassam rockets are fired into Israel from Gaza, the IDF targeted three vacant access routes used by terrorists near Beit Hanoun in the northern Gaza Strip to reach the areas from which Qassam rockets were launched at Israeli targets.
- October 24-26: Following Palestinian rocket attacks from Gaza upon Sderot in the Negev, the IDF again fired into an empty field and at two empty buildings, launched a few missiles, including one at a Fatah office, and sent planes over Gaza creating sonic booms but firing at only a few targets.
- November 1-2: Nine Qassam rockets and mortars are fired at the western Negev, two hitting Netiv Haasara, a community close to the Gaza border. The IDF responded with firing artillery shells at the launching site south of Beit Hanoun, which is an empty field.
ZOA National President Morton A. Klein said, Israel promised that it would retaliate severely and relentlessly for attacks launched from Gaza following Israels withdrawal, but it has not. The questions must be asked: why is Israel refusing to defend itself? Why is it responding to missiles hitting Israeli homes by firing into empty fields? Is this the crushing response that Defense Minister Mofaz promised?
When Israel was preparing to leave Gaza, Israeli spokesmen were explicit that Israel would take serious, sustained measures to combat terrorism from Gaza, but it is now clear that Israel is responding with what Jerusalem Post columnist Caroline Glick rightly calls a sound-and-light show. These tepid responses by Israel are undermining Israeli deterrent power, not enhancing it. It is sending the clear message to the Palestinian terrorist groups that Israel does not take their aggression seriously and that their attacks are risk-free. This situation can only encourage the terrorists to carry out yet more strikes, since they are incurring no cost.
We urge the Bush Administration to give an unequivocal green light to Israels right and obligation to defend itself from Palestinian Arab terrorism. The Bush Administration should refrain from publicly stating, as it frequently does, that although Israel has a right to defend itself, it should take into account the consequences of its actions. This qualifying statement gives the strong impression that the Bush Administration may well consider a very strong response as inappropriate. The Bush Administrations attempt to limit Israels response is in complete contradiction to the policy stated by former Secretary of State and former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Colin Powell, The U.S. must use overwhelming force against our enemies in order to reduce American casualties.
As the ZOA noted at the time, IDF Chief of Staff Lt.-Gen. Dan Halutz stated last month that Israel has a military option to defeat terrorism and bring it down very close to zero. Israel must cease encouraging the Palestinian terrorists to think that they can operate with impunity. We strongly urge the Sharon government to live up to its promise of serious counter-terrorism measures and aim for reducing terrorism down to the lowest possible level. The first obligation of any government is to protect its people. Israel and the Jewish people cannot allow the risk-free murder and attempted murder of Jews.