New BESA Center publication now available online:

The Missile Threat from Gaza: From Nuisance to Strategic Threat
by Uzi Rubin

The attrition war along the border of the Gaza Strip has been going on for roughly a decade, mainly featuring incessant rocket fire from Gaza on the communities of southern Israel.

The study asks:
· Did the various Israeli governments, the Israeli armed forces, the local leadership and the public act appropriately in facing the rocket fire from Gaza?
· Were all the necessary and possible steps taken to optimally withstand this trial and to minimize the costs in casualties, property damage and social stress?

Among the conclusions:
· Israel’s response measures in the face of the southern rocket campaign were colored by the circumstances of the time – namely, the economic recovery from the Second Intifada – which brought out a lower level of decisiveness in the defensive realm in comparison to past cases.
· In order to “justify” the hesitancy of the defensive response, some government officials opted to trivialize the threat – for example, calling it a “mere psychological threat.”
· The price paid by Israeli society for this hesitancy and indecisiveness was damage to the social fabric and a sense of alienation among the afflicted residents.

“Iron Dome” in Action:
· Since this study was written, the “Iron Dome” anti-rocket active defense system was used with great technical success during two rounds of escalation in the fighting along the Gaza Strip. The success of Iron Dome has dispelled any misgivings within Israel’s political leadership over the need for active defense.

Mideast Security and Policy Studies No. 91
The Missile Threat from Gaza:
From Nuisance to Strategic Threat
Uzi Rubin
© The Begin-Sadat Center for Strategic Studies
Bar-Ilan University, Ramat Gan 52900 Israel
ISSN 0793-1042
December 2011The Begin-Sadat (BESA) Center for Strategic Studies
The BESA Center for Strategic Studies at Bar-Ilan University was founded by Dr. Thomas O.
Hecht, a Canadian Jewish community leader. The Center is dedicated to the memory of
Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin and Egyptian president Anwar Sadat, who
concluded the first Arab-Israel peace agreement. The Center, a non-partisan and independent
institute, seeks to contribute to the advancement of Middle East peace and security by
conducting policy-relevant research on strategic subjects, particularly as they relate to the
national security and foreign policy of Israel.
Mideast Security and Policy Studies serve as a forum for publication or re-publication of
research conducted by BESA associates. Publication of a work by BESA signifies that it is
deemed worthy of public consideration but does not imply endorsement of the author’s views
or conclusions. BESA Colloquia on Strategy and Diplomacy summarizes the papers delivered
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debate on, and consideration of, contending approaches to problems of peace and war in the
Middle East. The BESA Memorandum series consist of policy-oriented papers. The content
of the publications reflects the views of the authors only. A list of recent BESA Center
publications can be found at the end of this booklet.
International Advisory Board
Founder of the Center and Chairman of the Advisory Board: Dr. Thomas O. Hecht
Vice Chairman: Mr. Saul Koschitzky
Members: Prof. Moshe Arens, Ms. Judy Ann Hecht, Ms. Marion Hecht, Mr. Robert Hecht,
Prof. Riva Heft-Hecht, Hon. Shlomo Hillel, Mr. Isi Leibler, Amb. Yitzhak Levanon, Sen.
Joseph I. Lieberman, Mr. Robert K. Lifton, Maj. Gen. (res.) Daniel Matt, Rt. Hon. Brian
Mulroney, Maj. Gen. (res.) Ori Orr, Mr. Seymour D. Reich, Amb. Meir Rosenne, Mr. Greg
Rosshandler, Amb. Zalman Shoval, Amb. Norman Spector, Mr. Muzi Wertheim
International Academic Advisory Board
Desmond Ball Australian National University, Ian Beckett University of Kent, Eliot A.
Cohen Johns Hopkins University, Irwin Cotler McGill University, Steven R. David Johns
Hopkins University, Yehezkel Dror Hebrew University, Lawrence Freedman King’s College,
Patrick James University of Southern California, Efraim Karsh King’s College, Robert J.
Lieber Georgetown University, Barry Posen Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Jasjit
Singh Centre for Strategic and International Studies
Research Staff
BESA Center Director: Prof. Efraim Inbar
Research Associates: Dr. Efrat Aviv, Dr. Yaeli Bloch-Elkon, Prof. Stuart A. Cohen, Dr. Gil
Feiler, Prof. Jonathan Fox, Prof. Hillel Frisch, Prof. Eytan Gilboa, Col. (res.) Aby Har-Even,
Dr. Tsilla Hershco, Dr. Mordechai Kedar, Prof. Avi Kober, Dr. Yaakov Lifshitz, Prof. Ze’ev
Maghen, Prof. Amikam Nachmani, Mr. Amir Rapaport, Dr. Jonathan Rynhold, Maj. Gen.
(res.) Emanuel Sakal, Prof. Shmuel Sandler, Dr. Eitan Shamir, Dr. Danny Shoham, Dr.
Shlomo Shpiro, Dr. Max Singer, Prof. Gerald Steinberg, Dr. Joshua Teitelbaum
Director of Public Affairs: David M. Weinberg
Program Coordinator: Hava Waxman Koen
Publication Editor (English): Ilana Hart
Publication Editor (Hebrew): Alona Briner Rozenman The Missile Threat from Gaza: From Nuisance to
Strategic Threat
Table of Contents
ORIGINS OF ARTILLERY ROCKETS……………………………………………………………….8
ROCKET ARTILLERY IN ISRAEL’S WARS………………………………………………………..9
THE OFFENSIVE’S EARLY STAGES………………………………………………………………13
Technical Features of the Homemade Gaza Rockets……………………………….14
THE COURSE OF THE OFFENSIVE………………………………………………………………..16
From the Outbreak of the Al-Aqsa Intifada to Operation Cast Lead………….16
Operation Cast Lead…………………………………………………………………………..23
Cast Lead Aftermath……………………………………………………………………………26
ISRAEL’S RESPONSE MEASURES……………………………………………………………27
Israel’s Offensive Measures………………………………………………………………….28
The Effectiveness of the Offensive Actions……………………………………………..33
Active Defense in Israel……………………………………………………………………….40
Active Defense and the Gaza Rocket Campaign……………………………………..43
PASSIVE DEFENSE……………………………………………………………………………………49
Passive Defense in Israel…………………………………………………………………….49
Passive Defense and the Gaza Rocket Campaign……………………………………50
CONCLUSION…………………………………………………………………………………………..63This research paper was supported by the
Greg Rosshandler Family The Missile Threat from Gaza:
From Nuisance to Strategic Threat
Uzi Rubin
When the first Qassam rocket landed in the town of Sderot in October
2001, few observers, if any, perceived it as the harbinger of a
protracted and increasingly furious campaign by the radical
Palestinian groups in Gaza against Israel’s population centers adjacent
to the Gaza Strip (the so called “Gaza envelope” communities) by
ballistic weapons. This campaign, in the ensuing eight years, would
see the firing of close to 5,000 rockets and 2,500 mortar bombs,
killing 27 people,
causing heavy economic losses and leading to
partial evacuation of residents. It would swell to such intolerable
proportions as to compel the State of Israel to embark on a high
intensity offensive that threatened regional stability, jeopardized its
peace agreements with neighboring countries and eroded its
international status.
In hindsight, the scant attention paid to the campaign at its onset in
2001 is easy to justify against the backdrop of violence of the Second
Intifada and the suicide terror offensive raging at the time through the
heart of Israel’s major cities, an offensive which reached its peak in
April-May 2002. This absorbed all the attention of the general public
as well as Israel’s political and military leadership. The few hits, the
negligible damage and the insignificant casualties inflicted by the
primitive rockets launched at the time from Gaza were justifiably
regarded as a minor nuisance compared to the ongoing terror
campaign against Israel’s traffic, public transportation, shopping malls
and civic centers. Daily life in the border town of Sderot – the town

The author was head of the “Arrow” defense program against long-range missiles
in the Israel Ministry of Defense. This paper is an updated version of an original
Hebrew study, published in January 2011 by the Begin-Sadat Center for Strategic
Studies (BESA Mideast Policy and Security Studies No. 87). MIDEAST SECURITY AND POLICY STUDIES
that would be subsequently hit by more rockets than any other
community – was calmer and more secure at the time than
metropolitan areas like Netanya, Hadera or Jerusalem.
It is more difficult, however, to explain the continued lack of attention
to the Gaza rockets after Operation Defensive Shield in April 2002,
which broke the momentum of the Second Intifada and led to a
gradual but steady decline in its ferocity. It would be reasonable to
assume that the declining number of suicide attacks on the one hand
and the escalating number of rocket attacks on the other hand would
eventually redirect public and government attention to the threat
coming from Gaza, a threat rapidly growing in volume, range and
lethality. During the peak of the suicide offensive from the West
Bank, only 35 rockets were fired from Gaza. In comparison, when the
suicide offensive was clearly petering out in 2004, the number of
rockets from Gaza grew eightfold to 281 confirmed impacts. In 2006,
Gaza-launched rockets first landed in downtown Ashkelon – an
occurrence of profound symbolic significance given the declarations
of the Israeli leadership during the Oslo Agreement period that there
was no danger of Ashkelon being hit by Katyusha rockets from
The possibility that the Palestinian groups in Gaza
intentionally targeted Ashkelon due to the symbolism of this act
cannot be dismissed.
While the Second Intifada was reaching new peaks of violence, the
impression within Israel was that of a demoralized society and a
clueless leadership. In retrospect, the opposite was true: Israeli society
faced the crisis with fortitude and endurance, and its soldiers showed
impressive resourcefulness in combating the terror attacks from the
West Bank. With the decline of these attacks it was reasonable to
expect that the same civil determination and military resourcefulness
would be redirected toward the menace of the intensifying rocket
offensive from Gaza. This, however, did not occur. For many years,
the State of Israel adopted a mixture of ineffective military and
civilian measures, controversial policies, and a budget policy which
was interpreted at the time as dismissive of the threat and its
implications. Moreover, the same Israeli public that withstood so
determinately the suicide attacks from the West Bank, demonstrated a THE MISSILE THREAT FROM GAZA
lack of unity and determination in contending with the Gaza rocket
The political leadership chose to trivialize the seriousness of the
threat. In a notorious statement from 2005, Dov Weisglass, a senior
advisor to Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, referred to the rockets
launched during that period as “flying objects” and declared that “in
terms of national risk management, they do not constitute a
significant factor.”
The defense establishment, too, chose to tone
down the severity of the threat and the wider implications of the Gaza
rocket offensive. In an interview with Ynet news in early 2006, Koby
Toren, then Director General of the Ministry of Defense, dismissed
the Qassam rockets as a mere “psychological threat” due to their low
It is reasonable to assume that he was representing the
position of Israel’s high command at the time. Such statements by
senior government officials did not raise any outcry and were
seemingly accepted by the public.
One particularly surprising finding of this study is that the threat’s
significance was trivialized as well by the local leadership in the
afflicted communities – this was done for various reasons, both
rational and emotional. It seems that in the first three years of the
rocket attacks against southern Israel there existed an informal yet
strong coalition of local and national leaders whose purpose was to
downplay the severity of the rocket attacks and their consequences.
With rocket fire disrupting and endangering life and property in the
Gaza envelope communities, particularly in Sderot, and with the first
signs of residents abandoning their towns and villages, Israeli Prime
Minister Ehud Olmert still found it expedient to voice his objection to
the provision of shelters for the threatened residents with his now
infamous statement: “We will not shelter ourselves to death.”
when the rate, range and accuracy of the rocket fire started to exact an
intolerable price in casualties, damages and disruption of daily life
were some concreted measures taken – some slow and ineffective,
others quick and helpful – to contend with the threat.
The response measures taken by Israel had two goals: First, to stop
the rocket fire or at least reduce its intensity, and second, to minimize
its casualties. To achieve the first objective, the Israel Defense Forces MIDEAST SECURITY AND POLICY STUDIES
(IDF) launched air strikes against the rocket production facilities and
against the launching teams, invaded and occupied nearby launching
areas and used artillery fire against the more distant ones. To realize
the second objective, a civic alert system (“Color Red”) was
established, protective shelters were built for pedestrians, and public
institutions and residences were structurally shielded. At the same
time, active defense – that is, anti-rocket systems that could destroy
Gaza rockets in flight – was shunned repeatedly until about five years
into the campaign when the shock of the Second Lebanon War
prompted Israel’s incumbent minister of defense to initiate the
development of an active defense system against short-range rockets.
The failure to do so earlier is another indication of the low
significance attributed to the rocket campaign against the south of the
country by the political leadership of the time.
There is no doubt that in the race between the rocket offensive, with
its ever increasing volume, range and lethality, and Israel’s responsive
and preventive measures, the rocket offensive had the upper hand. By
the end of 2008, the situation came to a head and Israel was
compelled to launch a powerful military offensive in order to change
the situation on the ground. At the time of writing, there is a lull – but
not a total cessation – of rocket attacks, and the situation remains
fragile, its duration unclear. This partial and probably temporary lull
has been achieved at a heavy political cost to Israel’s image and
stature in the global arena.
Those very same primitive rockets from the earlier part of the decade,
the “flying objects” referred to by Weisglass, have turned out to be
one of the gravest strategic challenges ever faced by the State of Israel
– the significance of which will only grow with the increase in range
and power of the rocket weapons held by the hostile organizations in
Gaza. In retrospect, two important questions spring to mind: First,
could Israel have crafted an alternative political and military strategy
that might have prevented the Gaza rocket offensive from ever being
launched? And second, once the rocket campaign began, could Israel
have responded to it more effectively?
The first question, that of a hypothetical alternative strategy that
would have dissuaded or disabled the Palestinian organizations in THE MISSILE THREAT FROM GAZA
Gaza from firing rockets at Israel, warrants in depth historical
research, which is beyond the scope of the present study. Rather, this
study focuses on the second question, namely, did the various Israeli
governments, the Israeli armed forces, the local leadership and the
public act appropriately in facing the rocket fire from Gaza? Were all
the necessary and possible steps taken to optimally withstand this trial
and to minimize the costs in casualties, property damage and social
Addressing this question has practical and immediate significance.
The Gaza rocket campaign is not yet behind us, and is likely to be
resumed with greater intensity than before, targeting larger
populations in the south and center of the country. Furthermore,
renewed fighting could bring hitherto unaffected areas under rocket
attack, such as the southern Negev and the Sharon district. While
hoping for the best, the lessons of the past must be used to prepare for
the worst.
The attrition war along the border of the Gaza Strip has been going on
for almost a decade, mainly featuring incessant rocket fire from Gaza
on the communities of southern Israel. The present study reviews the
characteristics of the campaign and its evolution, as well as the Israeli
offensive and defensive responses to it. One of the major conclusions
derived from a quantitative analysis of the rate of rocket fire from
Gaza is that the watershed event that transformed the rocket fire from
a nuisance to a strategic threat was Israel’s Disengagement from Gaza
in August 2005. The quantitative analysis offered in this study shows
clearly how, in the wake of this event, a leap occurred in the
capability of Palestinian groups in Gaza to manufacture, store,
transport and fire rockets into the Gaza envelope communities.
The present study does not offer a comparison of the Gaza rocket
campaign with previous attrition wars such as the 1968-1970 attrition
war along the Jordan valley or the decades-long attrition war along
the Lebanese border. A cursory comparison, however, shows that
Israel’s overall response to the Gaza rocket offensive ran along similar
lines to that of previous attrition wars. Yet, the impression is that the
response this time was feebler and less decisive than in previous
campaigns – predominantly in the defensive realm. In order to justify MIDEAST SECURITY AND POLICY STUDIES
this hesitant response, some of the country’s leaders adopted a public
stance that trivialized the severity of the offensive against its own
The apparent motivation for downplaying the Gaza threat was the
priority Israeli leaders assigned instead to the economic recovery
following the Al-Aqsa Intifada. This prioritization, however, came at
a heavy cost – that of the loss of social cohesion and increased feeling
of abandonment by the residents in the attacked areas. While this
motivation is understandable, it cannot in any way be condoned. It is
the duty of the national leadership to lead the nation rather than
merely acting as its bookkeeper.
Israel currently faces a complex and dynamic military threat. The
present study commenced during a shaky ceasefire with Hamas
(November 2008) that collapsed one month later. The study was
concluded about 18 months after Operation Cast Lead, which saw for
the first time rocket attacks against large Israeli cities like Be’er Sheva
and Ashdod. At the time of writing, Hamas already possessed rockets
with a range reaching cities beyond Tel Aviv. Hopefully, then, this
study will contribute to overcoming the challenges Israel has yet to
For research purposes, interviews were conducted with several senior
officials and public figures who were decision makers during most of
the surveyed period and whose positions influenced Israel’s responses
to the Gaza rocket campaign. They are: Lt. Gen. (res.) Dan Haloutz,
who served as Commander of the Israel Air Force between 2000 and
2004, Deputy Chief of General Staff of the IDF between 2004 and
2005 and Chief of General Staff of the IDF from 2005 to 2007;
Knesset member Shai Chermesh, who was Head of Sha’ar Hanegev
Regional Council from 1987 to 2002 and was elected in 2006 to the
Knesset as a member of the Kadima party. In both capacities,
Chermesh was intimately involved in the debates and decisions
pertaining to the rocket campaign against the south; Maj. Gen. (res.)
Amos Yaron, Director General of the Ministry of Defense between
1998 and 2008; Alon Schuster, who replaced Shai Chermesh as Head
of Sha’ar Hanegev Regional Council in August 2002 and is still
serving in this capacity; and Eli Moyal, Mayor of Sderot from 1998 to THE MISSILE THREAT FROM GAZA
2008. All interviewees generously dedicated their time and gave
detailed responses, which were invaluable for clarifying numerous
points – for this, the author expresses his gratitude to them.
Additionally, extensive use was made of the many reports available in
the open literature. Two of those sources were particularly useful: the
series of reports by the Israel Intelligence Heritage and
Commemoration Center (IICC), whose publications shed light on all
the operational aspects of the rocket campaign, from the detailed
technical descriptions of the rockets themselves to the comprehensive
statistical data on the campaign’s development and intensity; and the
State Comptroller’s January 2006 report on the Disengagement:
“Population Sheltering of Communities around the Gaza Strip,
Decisions and Implementation.”
Regrettably, the IDF spokesperson did not respond to a request for
cooperation. A further difficulty in collecting materials was the
apparent “evaporation” of information. Despite the abundance of
sources available on the internet, important details on crucial dates
and key events were not accurately recorded and the possibility that
many details were intentionally deleted cannot be dismissed,
particularly pertaining to quotes by political figures.
The task of collecting and sorting out material was ably and diligently
carried out by Mrs. Hila Shalmon, to whom I owe a debt of gratitude. MIDEAST SECURITY AND POLICY STUDIES
Origins of Artillery Rockets
The use of rockets as weapons of war rather than for entertainment
(such as firework shows) probably began in China about 1,000 years
ago. In the 17
century, local rulers of India already possessed
effective rocket artillery with a range of several kilometers, some with
explosive warheads fired from multiple-barrel launchers. The rapid
rate of fire achieved by simultaneous launchings (“salvo fire”)
compensated, to a large extent, for the poor accuracy of each
individual rocket. The British, embarking upon the conquest of the
Indian sub-continent, were so impressed by the rocket weapon of their
local foes that they adopted the idea for themselves. In the 18
century, the British military engineer Sir William Congreve
developed an artillery rocket similar to that of the Indians. This
weapon was used by the British Army for decades and left its historic
mark in the lyrics of the US national anthem.
The rapid development of highly accurate barrel artillery in the 19
century eventually eclipsed the role of rocket artillery. Nevertheless,
it was reintroduced by the Soviet Union at the onset of the Second
World War since its mass production was cheaper than that of barrel
artillery. The Soviet rocket weapons sere immortalized in military
history by their nickname, “Katyusha”, given to them by the troops of
the Red Army due to their crushing effect on the Nazi army – a
nickname that to this day strikes fear among army veterans and
civilians who have experienced first hand the terrifying effects of
Katyusha fire. While rocket artillery was also used by other armed
forces during WWII (mostly by the US and Germany), the Soviet
Katyusha became etched in historical memory as representing, more
than any other, this type of weapon. Artillery rockets are today
included in the order of battle of most world armies. They were
recently used extensively in the short Russo-Georgian War of August
Rocket Artillery in Israel’s Wars
Rocket artillery was first introduced to the Middle East in the mid-
1950s as part of extensive military acquisitions from the Soviet Union
by Egypt and other Arab states. An early model of the Katyusha was
used by the Egyptian Army against the IDF during the 1967 Six Day
War. The IDF captured Egyptian Katyusha launchers and ammunition
which it later used in the October 1973 War. Shortly afterward, the
IDF lost interest in this type of weapon, probably due to its poor
accuracy, and removed it from its order of battle. The IDF currently
deploys heavy rocket artillery,
but does not purchase or deploy light
rocket artillery with a diameter equivalent or similar to that of the
Katyusha (122 mm).
Katyushas were first used for terror attacks against Israel when the
Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) fired them from its bases in
Jordan toward the communities in the Beit She’an district at the end of
Following the expulsion of the PLO from Jordan in
September 1970 (“Black September”) and its regrouping in Lebanon,
the PLO launched a war of attrition using Katyusha fire against
northern Israel, particularly the town of Kiryat Shmona. The
intensifying PLO rocket offensive precipitated the First Lebanon War
in June 1982, the aim of which was to halt the rocket threat against
Israel’s northern border.
In the wake of the Lebanon War, Hizballah replaced the PLO, which
had been forcibly evicted to Tunisia. In 1985, Hizballah opened a
guerrilla campaign against IDF forces in Lebanon, accompanied by
persistent rocket attacks on Israel’s northern towns. The intensifying
Katyusha fire on Kiryat Shmona, Nahariya and other towns in the
north, which killed Israeli civilians and caused extensive property
damage, elicited two Israeli counteroffensives against Hizballah:
Operation “Accountability” in 1993 and Operation “Grapes of Wrath”
in 1996. In neither operation did the IDF succeed in halting
Hizballah’s rocket fire, and both operations ended with a ceasefire
brokered by external mediators. Following Israel’s unilateral
withdrawal from Lebanon in May 2000, Hizballah embarked on a
massive buildup of its rocket arsenal, including heavy rockets such as
the 250 km-range Iranian-made Zelzal. MIDEAST SECURITY AND POLICY STUDIES
A border skirmish instigated by Hizballah in July 2006 escalated into
the Second Lebanon War, during which about 4,200 artillery rockets
rained down on northern Israel, most of them “Katyushas” (122 mm
BM 21 Grad rockets). Over 33 days of fighting, these attacks claimed
the lives of 53 soldiers and civilians, injured hundreds, damaged
thousands of buildings and compelled about a quarter million Israeli
civilians to abandon their homes and head south. In this case too,
despite the IDF’s efforts, Israel was unable to suppress Hizballah’s
rocket fire, which continued unabated until the war’s end.
The Use of Artillery Rockets in Other Asymmetric Conflicts
The extensive use of rockets as weapons of terror against population
centers has, until recently, been a unique feature of the confrontation
between Arab and Palestinian armed factions and Israel. In the last
quarter of the 20
century, intense armed struggles were carried out
by nongovernmental entities against government forces in several
regions of the world, predominantly in northern Ireland (the IRA
against the British government), Sri Lanka (the Tamil Tigers against
the Government of Sri Lanka) and Afghanistan (Afghan guerillas
against Soviet forces; the Taliban against the post-Soviet government
and later against NATO forces). All of these confrontations employed
terror tactics familiar to Israeli citizens – roadside ambushes, suicide
bombings, assaults on buses and airplanes, etc. – but until fairly
recently, almost none made significant use of rocket weaponry against
civilian populations.
The most intense asymmetric armed struggle took place in Sri Lanka.
The Tamil Tigers employed mixed tactics, which included urban
terror, guerrilla warfare and conventional warfare between two
armies. The organization was exceptionally adept at purchasing arms
from abroad as well as resourceful and innovative in developing
indigenous weapons such as suicide boats, light aircraft modified for
ground attacks and even miniature submarines. The Tigers carried out
a particularly ferocious level of urban terror that included
assassinating leaders, detonating truck bombs inside government
compounds, and killing civilians in suicide bombings. The
organization preferred frontal tactics, including direct contact between
the guerillas and their targets, rather than using standoff weapons and THE MISSILE THREAT FROM GAZA
other indirect approaches. As far as is known, rockets were seldom if
ever used. Towards the insurgency’s end, when the Tigers’ arms
caches were seized, they were found to contain imported, factorymade multiple barrel rocket launchers, probably intended for use in
conventional warfare against the government’s army. (The booty also
included anti-aircraft guns, ground-to-air missiles and, somewhat
incredibly, a single battle tank). In addition, sophisticated,
independently manufactured weapons were discovered, such as a
manned torpedo.
The Tamil Tigers could have easily acquired or
self manufactured rockets for terror attacks but refrained from doing
Similarly, the Irish Republican Army (IRA), in its protracted
campaign against British presence in northern Ireland, employed the
usual terror tactics including assassinations of public persons, terror
bombings within major British cities, and attacks against government
centers. Perhaps the most daring operation perpetrated by the IRA
was the use of improvised mortars against the residence of the British
prime minister at 10 Downing Street in London. Yet, this
organization, like its Sri Lankan counterparts, did not use artillery
rockets despite having no difficulty in obtaining or developing them.
After the Soviet retreat from Afghanistan in 1989, a bloody civil war
erupted, which ended when the Taliban occupied the capital city of
Kabul as well as most of the Afghan countryside. Throughout the
civil war, both sides made use of the vast weapons arsenal left behind
by the retreating Soviet troops, including artillery rockets of various
calibers. Kabul was bombed with every type of weapon possessed by
the warring sides, including Katyushas similar to those used by the
PLO, and later Hizballah, against Israel. Presumably, the decision to
use these rockets was based on expediency, as they were abundantly
It seems, therefore, that until the onset of the Gaza rocket campaign,
the extensive and deliberate use of rockets as weapons of terror
against civilians was more typical of Arab and Palestinian
nongovernmental entities than other terror groups.
The reason for
this, it seems, has to do with geographical factors. First, the
population density in Israel offers a large number of big targets that MIDEAST SECURITY AND POLICY STUDIES
do not require much precision for hitting them. Second, the aggressors
were based in territories inaccessible to Israel (i.e. within Jordan until
September 1970 and later on deep inside the sovereign territory of
Lebanon). Third, due to their residence within the sovereign
territories of host countries, these guerillas had direct access to the
seaports and airports of their hosts, which meant they could import as
many rockets as they wished without hindrance. The combination of
convenient targets and acquisition opportunities gave standoff rocket
weaponry a clear advantage over proximity weapons that could be
used only by physical infiltration into Israeli territory. Such
conditions did not exist in the struggle of the IRA against Britain. In
contrast, the Tamil Tigers were able to purchase and import a large
variety of weapons and had ample large-scale civilian targets in Sri
Lankan cities. It remains unclear then why they did not opt for
The Offensive’s Early Stages
The first rocket was fired from the Gaza Strip toward the Israeli town
of Sderot, located northeast of Gaza, in October 2001 – about one
year into the second Palestinian uprising (the “Second Intifada” or
“Al-Aqsa Intifada,” which broke out on September 28, 2000). In
contrast to the rockets hitherto fired on Israel, mostly from Lebanon,
this harbinger of the Gaza offensive was a homemade rocket designed
and manufactured by the Izz ad-Din al-Qassam Brigades, the military
arm of Hamas. The available literature does not offer many details on
the motives of Hamas’ military wing in selecting rocket artillery as its
main instrument of warfare against Israel. In all likelihood, this idea
took shape as a result of the vivid impressions of Saddam Hussein’s
ballistic missile attacks on Haifa and Tel Aviv in 1991, or possibly as
an offshoot of Hizballah’s success in wearing down Israel in its rocket
barrage on the country’s northern cities in the 1990s.
Opting for rocket artillery was not an easy decision to make. In
contrast to Hizballah’s capabilities to import rockets from abroad and
store them almost anywhere within Lebanon, Israel’s control of the
maritime and land borders of the Gaza Strip (including the
“Philadelphi Route” that runs alongside the Egyptian border) made
the smuggling of rockets into Gaza extremely difficult. Israel’s
security fences enclosing the land borders of the Gaza Strip also made
it difficult for Hamas terrorists to cross into Israel proper and launch
suicide attacks within Israeli population centers as done at the time by
West Bank Palestinian organizations. This limitation threatened to rob
Hamas of the prestige within Palestinian society gained at the time by
killing as many Israelis as possible. The solution was to “leap” over
Israel’s security fence by technological means – that is, by rockets.
Since acquiring ready-made rockets from the outside was nearly
impossible, the rockets needed to be developed and manufactured
locally. This innovation was attributed by Hamas to Adnan Al-Ghoul
who is lauded in the organization’s literature as a “first-class
explosives engineer” and who has served as the main explosives
devices expert of its military arm since 1988.
his assistants received their technical know-how from the Internet and
via cyber communication with terror groups in Saudi Arabia and other
terror experts. The core innovation of these independently developed
rockets was the use of locally obtained raw materials – mainly sugar
and fertilizers imported from Israel – for producing the rocket
propellant. The manufacturing process is simple and can be carried
out in most domestic kitchens. The rocket casings were cut from
irrigation pipes, traffic light poles or similar objects made from steel
tubing that were widely available in the Gaza Strip. The warhead was
filled with military grade explosives salvaged from abandoned
artillery shells and landmines or with improvised explosives made of
fertilizers available in the open market.
Most warheads were laced
with metal shards or balls to increase their lethality. Tools for
machining the rocket nozzles and forming the stabilizer fins from
steel cans, for welding the various parts and for finishing the product
were widely available in numerous machine shops and light industries
in Gaza City and its suburbs.
Hamas’ first rocket was launched against Sderot on October 26, 2001,
roughly one year after the outbreak of the Second Intifada. It is likely
that Hamas realized the need for standoff weapons shortly after the
outbreak of the Intifada when its attempts to send armed skirmishers
into Israel were largely foiled. If so, it means that the time it took
from deciding to manufacture the rockets until they became
operational was less than one year – evidence of the resourcefulness
and determination of Ghoul and his team.
Technical Features of the Homemade Gaza Rockets
Hamas named the first version of its homemade rockets after its
national hero, Izz ad-Din al-Qassam, or in short “Qassam.” This name
became a generic term for all types of homemade rockets
manufactured in the Gaza Strip, whether by Hamas or by other
Palestinian organizations.
The advantage of these rockets lay not only in the availability of raw
materials, but in two additional features: First, their small dimensions
and relatively light weight (the weight of the first Qassams did not
much exceed five kilograms) facilitated their transportation from the THE MISSILE THREAT FROM GAZA
factory to the launch point. In fact, Qassams are essentially “man
portable rockets” that can be transported manually. Second, the firing
of a Qassam did not require complex launching devices – any suitable
metal scaffold would do. This simplicity allowed for the quick
manufacturing and production of Qassams in large quantities,
rendering irrelevant the loss of any individual launcher to a
preemptive strike, as they were essentially disposable.
Immediately after fielding and firing the first rockets against Israel,
Hamas embarked upon an improvement program, aimed mainly at
extending the range of the rockets and increasing the lethality of their
warheads. The range was gradually extended from three kilometers to
more than 10 km, and the weight of the warhead grew from half a
kilogram to more than 10 kg. Improvements were also made to the
impact fuse and to the explosive power of the warhead. The available
literature describes several models of Hamas-manufactured rockets:
The Qassam-1 has a range of 3 km and carries a warhead weighing
0.5 kg; the Qassam-2 has a range of 8 km and carries a warhead
weighing over 5 kg. The Qassam-3 is also mentioned, with a range of
10 km and a warhead weighing more than 10 kg. However, this
model’s overall weight is estimated at 90 kg, which means its mobility
is restricted and thus it is less useful for Hamas than the previous
Other Palestinian organizations in Gaza set up rocket industries of
their own and developed a variety of indigenous rockets. After the
Hamas takeover of the Gaza Strip in June 2007, it began smuggling in
factory made rockets (122 mm BM 21 Grads) via tunnels dug under
the closed Egyptian border. These rockets were increasingly used
against Israeli population centers. Interested readers can find copious
details on the rockets used by Islamic Jihad and (until the Hamas
takeover) of organizations affiliated with the Palestinian Authority in
the publications of the Israel Intelligence Heritage and
The Course of the Offensive
From the Outbreak of the Al-Aqsa Intifada to Operation Cast Lead
Hamas commemorates October 26, 2001 as the inaugural day of its
rocket offensive. The following year (2002), 35 rocket impact sites
were recorded, most of them in the Gaza envelope area and a few near
Israeli military bases within the Gaza Strip. This number increased
significantly in 2003 to 155 rockets, most of which were aimed at
Israeli towns and communities in the vicinity of Gaza. Even in this
initial period, it was possible to discern the influence of external
events on the rate of fire. For instance, a ceasefire that followed the
Aqaba Summit on June 4, 2003 brought about a month-long break in
the rocket launching from Gaza.
Likewise, after the death of Yasser
Arafat (November 2004) there was a significant, albeit short, decrease
in the rate of rocket fire from Gaza.
The volume of fire doubled the following year. Throughout 2004, 281
rocket impacts were recorded near Israeli communities. The lethality
of the fire also increased significantly. In June of that year the rockets
claimed their first Israeli victims
– evidence of the rise in reliability
and lethality of the Gaza-made warheads. The following month, a
record of 63 rocket impacts near Israeli targets was recorded,
indicating an accelerated production rate in the Gaza workshops. In
2005, the growth curve of the rocket campaign slackened, and only
179 impacts were recorded – a decrease of 40 percent in comparison
to the previous year. This decrease could be attributed to two factors:
first, the Cairo Agreement between the Palestinian organizations
(March 2005), in which they declared a “lull” in the fighting,
second, the unilateral Israeli Disengagement from Gaza, which,
although considered controversial by the Israeli public, was
welcomed by the Palestinians. The Cairo Agreement “lull” collapsed
in less than a month, and the renewed rocket attacks of April that year
(albeit at a relatively moderate rate) intensified with the approach of
the Disengagement.
During the month of the Disengagement (August 2005), however, the
firing ceased almost completely. This could be ascribed to the
Palestinian organizations’ appreciation of Israeli internal politics and THE MISSILE THREAT FROM GAZA
their concern not to provide Israeli opponents of the Disengagement
any reason for halting it. Once the withdrawal was completed and all
Israeli troops and civilians had left the Gaza strip, the rocket
campaign resumed, though at a relatively moderate rate due to a
Palestinian mishap. (In September 2005, during a victory parade in
downtown Gaza to celebrate the Disengagement, a truck carrying
Qassam rockets exploded killing 19 civilians and wounding 80). This
moderate rate of fire continued until the end of that year. The next
year, 2006, saw a quantum leap in the number, types and ranges of the
rockets fired from Gaza. During that year no less than 946 rockets
were fired against Israel, of which 35 percent (331 rockets) were
launched during a two-month period (June: 134, July: 197). This
escalation was seemingly connected to a deliberate radicalization in
Hamas’ policy toward Israel, which was expressed in a series of
commando raids into Israeli territory, in one of which the soldier
Gilad Shalit was captured. This attack triggered a major counterattack by the IDF. Moreover, during the same year, the Israeli city of
Ashkelon was hit for the first time by rocket fire from Gaza. These
rockets were of the factory made 122mm Grad type that were likely
smuggled into Gaza from Egypt, via the abandoned Philadelphi Line
(Israel’s fortified line along the Egyptian border), which had been
vacated by the IDF in the course of the Disengagement.
In November 2006, then Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and
Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas agreed on a
ceasefire, yet the rocket fire continued unabated at a fairly constant
rate of 20 to 40 rockets per month. During the period of internal
Palestinian struggles leading to Hamas’ takeover of Gaza, the increase
in rate of fire reached hitherto unprecedented level when in a single
month (May 2007) 257 rockets were fired at an average rate of eight
to nine rockets daily. This outburst of intense rocket fire, which
coincided with the short Palestinian civil war in Gaza, was attributed
by Palestinian observers to a deliberate attempt to provoke a strong
Israeli response that would unite the quarreling factions in Gaza and
stop the internal war. Overall, in 2007, a total of 1,137 rockets were
fired at Israel – an increase in 20 percent from the previous year.
In 2008, the intensity of the rocket fire kept growing, setting a new
record in April (373 launches). The suffering caused by the rocket MIDEAST SECURITY AND POLICY STUDIES
offensive against the Gaza envelope communities and in Ashkelon
compelled Israel’s Prime Minister, Ehud Olmert, to enter into indirect
negotiations with Hamas over a six-month ceasefire. Mediated by
Egypt, a ceasefire agreement was reached and the rocket fire subsided
almost completely for five months. In the last month of the
agreement, however, rocket attacks were resumed in response to a
targeted killing by the IDF within Gazan territory.
With the expiry
of the ceasefire in December 2008, Hamas presented a series of harsh
political demands as preconditions for another short-term ceasefire.
Upon rejection of its demands, in December of that year, Hamas
launched a massive campaign of Qassam and Grad rockets. As a
result, the Israeli government decided to launch a counteroffensive
called Operation “Cast Lead.” A description of the rocket attacks
during Operation Cast Lead and Israel’s efforts to subdue it is
reviewed in the next chapter. Despite the five-month ceasefire, which
Hamas generally adhered to, Israel was hit by a record number of
1,689 rockets that year – a 50 percent increase from the previous year.
From the rocket campaign’s commencement in late 2001 to Operation
Cast Lead at the end of 2008, 4,320 rockets of all types were fired
against population centers in Israel. This offensive, which began as a
minor nuisance, grew to previously unimaginable dimensions toward
the end of the decade. More than 40 percent of the rockets launched at
Israel’s south during this eight-year period were fired during the year
before Operation Cast Lead.
The growing rate of fire over these eight years can be seen in Figure I.
The gradient of the curve in Figure I shows two “knee” points, each
signifying a sharp increase in the rate of fire. The first is at the end of
2005, marking a transition from the relatively moderate firing rate of
the first four years or so to a steeply increased rate. The second
“knee” point, indicating another leap in the average rate of fire, occurs
at the end of 2007, presumably showing the effect of the Hamas
takeover of the Strip in the middle of that year and its newly gained
“free hand” to intensify the rocket offensive.
The number of rockets fired over a 12-month period does not give a
full picture of the Palestinians’ growing firepower. The monthly
number of rocket attacks fluctuated considerably over time, probably THE MISSILE THREAT FROM GAZA
reflecting non-military political and economic constraints. In some
instances, internal Palestinian fighting sometimes restrained the rate
of fire but other times prompted its increase. As well, deaths of
Palestinians inside Gaza prompted “revenge” attacks against Israel.
Perhaps, then, a better indication of the realistic capacity of the
Palestinian organizations to generate rocket fire can be found by
tracking the number of rockets fired during the “busiest” month of
each year of the offensive. This gives a more accurate picture of the
true capabilities of the Palestinian organizations in marshaling their
production and operational resources and in managing the logistics
and human resources necessary to generate concentrated rocket fire. It
is only when they utilize maximum effort that we can see the true
extent of their rocket capability – tracking these peak rates over the
years shows the true growth curve of these capabilities.
Figure I: Cumulative Number of Launches over Time
Figure II charts the peak monthly number of fired rockets for each
year of the offensive. The graph shows that over the first four years
(2002-2005) the maximum rate of fire in any single month was
relatively constant, totaling 40 to 50 rockets. After 2005, however,
this maximum monthly firing capability increased to 200, 250 and MIDEAST SECURITY AND POLICY STUDIES
finally to almost 400 rockets per month prior to Operation Cast Lead
– a tenfold increase from the first years of the offensive.
Figure II: Timeline of Monthly Peak Launch Rates up to
Operation Cast Lead
The above two graphs show that of the two decisive events that
determined the course of the conflict between Israel and the
Palestinian groups in Gaza – the Disengagement of 2005 and the
Hamas takeover in 2007 – the former was more significant as far as
the rocket campaign is concerned. From both graphs it is clear that at
the time of the regime takeover by Hamas, the rocket offensive was
already exhibiting a steep increase in both the average and peak rates
of fire per month. This steep increase became noticeable in early
2006, just a few months after Israel’s withdrawal from the Gaza Strip.
Moreover, the graphs clearly show that until 2005 there was no
tendency toward a significant increase in rate of fire, and
consequently, no enhancement in firing capabilities. It appears, then,
that the decisive event in the rocket campaign – the event that
transformed the offensive from a nuisance to a potential strategic
threat – was the August 2005 Disengagement from Gaza. THE MISSILE THREAT FROM GAZA
The description of the Palestinian rockets in the IICC reports indicates
that the Qassam rockets that were overwhelmingly used until
Operation Cast Lead were of two kinds: a 5 kg warhead model and a
heavier 10 kg warhead model. Assuming that equal numbers of both
types were fired during this period, then on average each rocket
carried 7.5 kg of explosives. Multiplying this by the number of
rockets that hit southern Israel during the seven years from the
beginning of the campaign until Cast Lead, about 32,400 kg (32.4
tons) of explosives were shot at Israel’s south during that period. This
quantity greatly exceeds the total weight of explosives used by West
Bank Palestinians during the suicide bombing campaign of the
Second Intifada. In fact, the amount of explosives dropped on
southern Israel from early 2002 to late 2008 is equivalent in weight to
the bombing capacity of five or six F-16 fighter planes.
From the start of the Gaza rocket offensive until Operation Cast Lead,
in Israel and Israeli controlled territories, rocket fire killed directly
and indirectly a total of 17 people,
most of whom were Israeli
Almost half of these fatalities occurred in the town of
Sderot, a clear indication of the intensity of the attack on the town and
its surroundings. Figure III charts the number of fatalities as a
function of the accumulated number of rockets. The slope of the curve
provides insight into the average lethality of the rockets, or in other
words, how many rockets were required to kill one person.
Figure III shows that the rockets’ average lethality decreased over
time. In the initial phase of the campaign, about 100 rockets caused
one fatality – yet the average for the entire offensive was 254 rockets
per fatality. This finding seems to contradict the data of the IICC
report concerning the increase in weight and quality of the warheads
installed in the rockets, which should imply enhanced lethality of
each individual rocket. This apparent contradiction can be explained
by the difference between the specific lethality of each individual
rocket and the effective lethality of all the fired rockets. Specific
lethality is determined by the weight and composition of the warhead.
Effective lethality, on the other hand, is a function of rocket accuracy
(rockets hitting open areas don’t cause casualties) and civil defense
measures (people inside shelters are secure even from direct hits). MIDEAST SECURITY AND POLICY STUDIES
Figure III: Cumulative Number of Fatalities as a Function of the
Number of Rockets Fired
The same phenomenon was observed in the Second Lebanon War.
During the early stages of the Gaza rocket offensive, no alert system
existed to warn the population to take cover, and there were
insufficient shelters to protect the population. Once an early warning
system was put in place and timely alerts were sounded, the public
learned to rely on these alerts and take cover, reducing the effective
lethality of the rockets and the number of casualties in spite of the
ever increasing rate of fire and specific lethality of the rockets. Over
time, public and private sheltering arrangements further reduced the
number of casualties. While the Palestinians tried to justify the blatant
war crime of deliberately attacking uninvolved civilian populations by
claiming that the rockets were essentially non lethal “political
statements,” it was in fact Israel’s costly but effective civil defense
measures that reduced what could have been a massacre into a
painful, but acceptable, low level of casualties. THE MISSILE THREAT FROM GAZA
The positive outcome of efficient public warning systems coupled
with responsible citizen behavior and which saved many lives also
had its downside: By minimizing casualties, it encouraged the
continued complacency of the Israeli government and the public at
large, as discussed below.
Operation Cast Lead
As already mentioned, Hamas’ refusal to extend the June 2008
ceasefire led that December to the resumption of full scale rocket
attacks more severe than those prior to the ceasefire. At the end of
December 2008, the Israeli government ordered the IDF to launch a
counteroffensive, dubbed Operation Cast Lead. Its declared goal was:
“Dealing a blow to the Hamas government hard enough to bring about
a new, improved and long-lasting security situation around the Gaza
Strip, strengthening deterrence, and minimizing the rocket fire as
much as possible.”
The Israeli military offensive commenced on
December 27, 2008 with a massive bombardment by the Israel Air
Force (IAF) of Hamas’ infrastructure in Gaza. Following a week-long
air offensive, IDF ground forces entered Gaza and seized areas from
which rockets were being launched at Israel’s southern communities.
The operation ended with Israel’s unilateral declaration of a ceasefire
on January 19, 2009 and the rapid evacuation of the seized Palestinian
areas. A detailed review of the operation’s military progress is beyond
the scope of this study, but Hamas’ use of rockets during the
campaign deserves closer scrutiny.
Approximately two hours after the first attacks by the IAF, Hamas
and other Palestinian organizations launched an intense barrage of
rockets at the Gaza envelope communities and other communities and
towns deeper within Israel. The Palestinian rocket offensive did not
come to a full stop upon the declaration of a unilateral ceasefire by
Israel on January 19, 2009. Rather, its intensity tapered off gradually
over time, reaching a “steady drizzle” after several weeks. This
“drizzle” of rockets has continued ever since.
During the 22 days of Operation Cast Lead, a total of 660 rockets
were fired into Israel,
resulting in three fatalities, dozens of severely
wounded, hundreds of lightly wounded and thousands plagued by MIDEAST SECURITY AND POLICY STUDIES
psychological shock.
The effective lethality of the rocket fire
throughout Operation Cast Lead – around 220 rockets per fatality –
was only slightly higher than the effective lethality in the preceding
years, which attests more than anything to the efficiency of passive
defense (early warning, sheltering and the cooperation of the general
public with civil defense instructions) during the operation.
Figure IV: Monthly Peak Launch Rates Over Time, including
Operation Cast Lead
The rocket campaign during Operation Cast Lead had two unique
features. The first was a higher rate of fire than ever before – the
Palestinian organizations managed to fire about 660 rockets in the
span of three weeks, compared to a maximum of 380 rockets during
the “busiest” month of their offensive prior to Cast Lead. Moreover,
the Palestinians’ ability to double their rate of fire in a short period of
time – within just a few hours – indicates, quite unsurprisingly, that
the five-month ceasefire in summer 2008 was well utilized to expand
the human and material resources dedicated to rocket warfare against
Israel. This leap in capability stands out clearly when we add the
equivalent monthly peak from December 27, 2008 to January 28,
2009 to the chart of peak monthly rates over time (see Figure IV). THE MISSILE THREAT FROM GAZA
Figure V: Number of Rockets that Fell Between 28.12.2008 and
19.1.2009 around Midnight
The second feature was the use Hamas made, for the first time, of
improved Grad rockets, whose range was double that of the standard
Grad rockets previous launched from Gaza. These improved rockets,
first used by Hizballah in the Second Lebanon War, enabled Hamas to
strike deeper into Israel and reach communities beyond the Gaza
envelope, which had hitherto seemed safe from the Gaza rockets. The
cities of Be’er Sheva and Ashdod were attacked almost daily, as were
smaller communities such as Yavneh and Gedera, by rockets with an
estimated range of 43 km. Hamas claims also to have attacked the air
force base at Tel Nof,
although this report was never confirmed by
any Israeli source. According to the information collected on the
communities that suffered from rocket attacks during Operation Cast
Lead and their distance from the Gaza borders, it can be concluded
that during this three week-long operation, approximately 130 longrange Grad rockets were fired. Figure V offers a comparison of the
daily rate of fire during Cast lead, distinguishing between long-range
Grads and all other types of Hamas rockets. It can be seen from this
figure that in contrast to the situation during the Second Lebanon
War, when Hizballah’s rocket firing rate gradually increased MIDEAST SECURITY AND POLICY STUDIES
throughout the campaign, in Operation Cast Lead the opposite was
true – rocket fire peaked in the first few days and then gradually
subsided. While most Israeli analysts attribute this decline in rate of
fire to the effectiveness of IDF preemptive strikes and the
overrunning of certain launch sites by the ground forces, other factors
may have played a part here. For a brief discussion of alternative
explanations, see a previous paper by the author.

Cast Lead Aftermath
The end of Operation Cast Lead and the retreat of IDF troops from
the Gaza Strip did not lead to a complete cessation of rocket fire by
Hamas and the other Palestinian organizations; rather, it led to a
gradual decline.
At the same time, Hamas and other Gaza groups
have been renewing, increasing and improving their rocket arsenal.
According to media reports, Hamas currently stockpiles an arsenal of
5,000 rockets of various types.
Several sources reported in
November 2009 that Hamas had conducted its first test launch of a
long-range rocket, which impacted 60 km away. In all likelihood this
rocket arrived from Iran via the tunnel smuggling system, hence, it
can be assumed that it was a Fajr-5 with a potential range of 75 km. If
this is the case, it means that Hamas possesses rockets capable of
hitting targets north of Tel Aviv and as far east as Dimona.
The rocket threat from the Gaza Strip, which began as a sporadic
offensive with several inaccurate and short-range homemade rockets
improvised by Hamas engineers, has become, within less a decade, a
significant threat to Israeli population centers, national infrastructure
and central military installations. The rocket offensive has evolved
into a war in its own right, exacting a significant cost in life, damage,
and economic disruption. The threat, initially affecting about 50,000
Israeli citizens in the Gaza envelope communities, has increased more
than twenty-fold and now threatens more than one million civilians in
southern and central Israel. It is no longer mere harassment, but a
strategic threat capable of inflicting severe civilian casualties and
paralyzing Israel’s economy.THE MISSILE THREAT FROM GAZA
Artillery rockets of all kinds, including those fired by the Palestinian
organizations, are in essence indirect fire weapons – for all intents and
purposes indistinguishable from artillery shells or mortar bombs,
except for their mode of propulsion. Direct fire projectiles have low
flying, flat trajectories that can be blocked by erecting barriers across
their path (such as protective walls around buildings). However
indirect fire projectiles, like artillery rockets, follow high ballistic
trajectories that overfly ground barriers; hence, they require more
elaborate responses. Four categories of responses – both offensive and
defensive – can be envisaged:
a) Preemption – Denying the aggressor’s capability to fire rockets
into the defender’s territory by seizing prospective launch areas,
destroying deployed rockets and their launchers, and destroying
rocket stockpiles in the aggressor’s rear areas.
b) Deterrence – Reducing the aggressor’s willingness to risk
launching rockets into the defender’s territory using painful
punitive measures. Deterrence works best after such punitive
measures have already been applied in the past.
c) Passive Defense – Hardening prospective targets to withstand
rocket damage and providing shelters for the general population.
A precondition for effective population sheltering is an effective
public alert system that provides timely warnings to the
population to take cover.
d) Active Defense – Interception and destruction of rockets in
flight. This option became viable technically and financially only
Preemption, deterrence and active defense were the responsibility of
the IDF, who carried out vigorous offensive actions to preempt the
rocket fire and deter its perpetrators. Overall, these actions were
ineffective with the exception of Operation Cast Lead. The IDF was
reluctant, however, to pursue active defense for reasons that are
discussed below. Passive defense fell under the jurisdiction of Israel’s
government civilian agencies (mostly the Defense and Finance MIDEAST SECURITY AND POLICY STUDIES
Ministries), whose responses were on the whole slow, hesitant and
lagging behind the growing threat. The reasons for such failures are
discussed below.
In summary, the response measures that were vigorously applied were
barely effective, while the response measures that might have been
effective were barely applied.
Offensive Responses: Preemption and Deterrence
Israel’s Offensive Measures
Although the Second Intifada, which started in October 2000, did not
feature a significant number of incursions from Gaza into Israeli
territory, it did bring about direct fighting and exchanges of fire
within the Gaza Strip between the IDF and Palestinian militias.
Initially, the IDF’s military actions dealt exclusively with the threats
to its forces and to the Israeli communities inside Gaza. It was only
during the second half of 2004, when the rocket fire on the Gaza
envelope communities intensified and the first Israeli civilians were
killed, that the IDF switched tactics and commenced dedicated
military operations aimed at suppressing the rocket attacks. These
operations included ground incursions to seize launching sites, aerial
attacks on raw material warehouses, production facilities and rocket
launch teams, and targeted attacks on key operatives in the rocket
While all offensive measures were characterized by the IDF as
preemptive, they were also punitive with an aim to enhance
deterrence, especially after the unilateral Disengagement when a
policy of retaliatory artillery fire was practiced for a time. The most
significant military offensive in this context was Operation Cast Lead
in December 2008 and January 2009, the expressed objective of
which was deterrence: “to deal the Hamas government a powerful
blow in order to bring about an improved and long-lasting security
situation around the Gaza Strip, strengthening deterrence and
minimizing the rocket fire as much as possible.”
Prior to Operation Cast Lead, the IDF launched at least five dedicated
air and ground operations whose sole aim was to reduce rocket fire.
The other military operations carried out during the same period had
multiple objectives, one of which was the prevention of rocket fire.
The first dedicated military operation, codenamed “Days of
Atonement,” started on September 29, 2004, and lasted 17 days. The
operation was launched following the death of two civilians by a
Qassam rocket in Sderot. During the operation, the Gaza Strip was
divided into three zones. The IDF seized areas in the northern Strip
and the IAF carried out intensive air-to-ground attacks on rocket
launch teams. The operation ended on October 15, 2004, with the
withdrawal of the IDF from the areas it had seized.
Despite the
IDF’s intensive activity, 15 rockets were fired from Gaza during the
operation, killing one Israeli civilian. Moreover, two IDF soldiers lost
their lives in the fighting.
Then Palestinian Prime Minister Abu Ala
announced that 140 Palestinians were killed during the operation.
According to IDF estimates, 130 of these were armed combatants.
Following the Cairo Agreement of March 17, 2005, in which the
Palestinian organizations agreed to a cessation of hostilities (tahdiya),
and later on during the Disengagement, which began in August 2005,
the Palestinian organizations showed some restraint and scaled down
their rocket fire so as not to provide Israel with any reason to delay or
halt its pullback. Once the unilateral Israeli withdrawal was
completed (September 12, 2005) the rocket offensive was promptly
resumed on a larger scale than before. This was partly due to a Hamas
“industrial accident” – during its victory rally in Gaza City marking
the Disengagement, a truckload of Qassam rockets exploded, killing
20 Palestinian civilians. Hamas held Israel accountable and launched
a massive rocket offensive on Sderot (September 23-24, 2005). The
episode aroused public fury in Israel, as this was contrary to the hopes
and expectations that the Palestinians would refrain from firing on
Israel after its evacuation from the Gaza Strip. In response, the IDF
launched Operation “First Rain,” which included extensive aerial
attacks on Palestinian military targets and rocket production
infrastructure as well as “targeted killings” of key Hamas rocket
operatives. As well, the IDF’s field artillery teams, for the first time,
started shelling prospective rocket launch sites within the Gaza Strip
to deny their use to rocket launch teams (September 27, 2005). It was MIDEAST SECURITY AND POLICY STUDIES
perhaps the targeted killing of a senior Hamas commander that
spurred Mahmoud al-Zahar, one of the organization’s senior leaders,
to proclaim Hamas’ commitment to a period of calm. The operation
ended on October 1, 2005, when Israel’s political leadership reached
the conclusion that the operation had exhausted itself.
As shown in
Figure I, the period of calm was brief, quickly replaced by renewed
fighting and further escalation in the rocket offensive.
An escalation in hostilities was evidenced not only in the increased
rate of fire but also in the increased range of the rockets. In the
months following “First Rain,” the rocket fire approached Ashkelon’s
industrial zone, raising Israel’s concern over the safety of nearby
“strategic installations,” an oblique reference to the Zikim power
station and the Eilat-Ashkelon oil pipeline terminal. In order to
preempt this threat, the IDF launched Operation “Blue Skies” on
December 28, 2005. Its aim was to create a buffer zone in the
northern Gaza Strip by forcing back the rocket launchers and denying
the use of these areas as launching sites by prohibiting Palestinian
presence in them. The two month-long operation, which ended in
early February 2006, included the use of field artillery and numerous
ground attacks by the IAF to keep Palestinians away from the
prohibited areas.
Immediately afterward, the Palestinian
organizations proved their ability, nonetheless, to hit the “strategic
installations” when, for the first time, rockets hit both installations
and the nearby southern industrial zone in Ashkelon.
About two months after “Blue Skies,” on February 3, 2006, a Qassam
rocket hit a building in Kibbutz Carmia, south of Ashkelon, injuring
four Israeli civilians, including a baby who sustained severe injuries.
Following this incident, the IDF launched yet another military
offensive – Operation “Lightning Storm” – which included air-toground attacks, artillery shelling and targeted killings of Hamas
operatives. However, this operation too did not seem to make an
impression as the rocket fire continued to intensify in the Gaza
envelope communities, including in Kibbutz Carmia, where the cycle
of violence had begun.
The continued Gaza rocket offensive and the IDF’s vigorous
counteroffensives led to one of the most damaging incidents (for THE MISSILE THREAT FROM GAZA
Israel) in the entire campaign. On June 9, 2006, there was an
explosion on the beach of Beit Lahia, a northern Gaza Strip town,
which killed an entire Palestinian family of eight. The tragedy
happened amidst an Israeli artillery barrage on suspected rocket
launch sites. The Palestinians, backed by various human rights
organizations, were quick to blame the IDF artillery for the incident,
which caused an uproar in the Arab world and spurred international
condemnation of Israel. An IDF internal probe exonerated the artillery
units, suspecting that the real culprit was an explosive charge placed
by Hamas on the beach as part of its defense against Israeli seaborne
incursions. Needless to say, Israel’s version of the story hardly made a
ripple in the world media.
The incentive for the next military operation was a Hamas raid inside
Israel during which several Israeli soldiers were killed and one
soldier, Gilad Shalit, was captured alive and taken into Gaza.
Consequently, the IDF launched on June 28, 2007 Operation
“Summer Rains,” a protracted, five-month long military campaign.
The official goal of the operation was predominantly to apply
pressure on Hamas to release Shalit. However, the massive rocket fire
unleashed by Hamas at the onset of the Israeli operation diverted part
of the IDF efforts toward suppressing the rocket fire. The campaign
consisted of nine distinct sub-operations, interspersed with continuous
fighting, which included targeted killings of Hamas operatives,
attacks on infrastructure, and artillery barrages on rocket launch sites.
At least two of these sub-operations – “Oaks of Bashan,” launched on
July 6, 2006 and “Autumn Clouds,” launched on November 1, 2006 –
were aimed specifically at suppressing the rocket fire and included
incursions into the Gaza Strip and the seizure of prospective
launching zones.
Even when not directed specifically against the rocket threat, military
operations during “Summer Rains” kept unceasing pressure on the
Palestinian rocket firing capability, with frequent air to ground strikes
on rocket launching teams and on the chain of supply of the rocket
industry in Gaza. Yet the data shows no slackening of the rocket
offensive in 2006
. If anything, the opposite was true. In three of the
five months of the operation, new records were reached in the
intensity of rocket fire, surpassing for the first time 100 rockets per MIDEAST SECURITY AND POLICY STUDIES
month. In November of that year, during Operation “Autumn
Clouds,” the rocket fire on Sderot became so heavy and lethal that it
prompted many residents to leave town – the first partial evacuation
of a Gaza envelope community since the start of the offensive.
same month, the IDF’s use of artillery against the rocket launch teams
resulted once again in a politically damaging event when an artillery
shell accidentally hit a Palestinian residence, killing 19 people, among
them women and children. This time, the IDF admitted its error and
assumed responsibility for the tragedy. This incident led to a UN
condemnation and the decision by the IDF to stop using artillery fire
in its counteroffensive.
Operation “Summer Rains,” in the course of which two Israeli
soldiers were killed, officially ended on November 26, 2006 when an
“understanding” (i.e. an unofficial agreement) was reached between
then Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Palestinian Authority
Chairman Mahmoud Abbas, according to which Palestinian
organizations agreed to halt their rocket fire in exchange for the
retreat of IDF forces from the Gaza Strip.
Hamas and other Palestinians groups did not adhere to this
“understanding” and the rocket campaign continued unabated. It
further intensified during the Hamas takeover of Gaza in June 2007, a
month in which a new peak rocket fire intensity was recorded. In
parallel, the IDF launched a series of brief ground incursions into the
Gaza Strip. In February 2008, the situation once again deteriorated in
the wake of a targeted killing of Hamas operatives, which led to the
firing of 42 rockets toward Sderot and Ashkelon, killing one Israeli at
Sapir Community College just outside of Sderot. In response, the IDF
launched on February 29, 2008 Operation “Warm Winter,” which
included a ground assault and the seizure of launching sites in
northern Gaza. The operation ended on March 3, 2008 with the
withdrawal of IDF forces from the Gaza Strip. As in previous
operations, here too the data does not show any mitigation of the
rocket offensive, the level of which was among the highest since the
start of the campaign seven years earlier.
The rocket fire – and, in parallel, the IDF counteroffensives –
gathered momentum in the subsequent months. However, in June THE MISSILE THREAT FROM GAZA
2008, a six-month ceasefire was reached, with Egyptian mediation,
between Israel and the Hamas government in Gaza. At the end of the
six months, on December 18, 2008, Hamas resumed its fire against
southern Israel. In response, the Israeli government decided to launch
Operation Cast Lead, a three-week massive incursion of Israel’s
ground forces into the Gaza Strip. Ten Israeli troops were killed
during this operation, many from “blue on blue” incidents.
At its
end, the rocket fire gradually petered out into a “drizzle” that still
continued at the time of writing (September 2010), more than two and
a half years after Cast Lead. (See the postscript at the end of this
The Effectiveness of the Offensive Actions
When the military operations first began, it was generally assumed by
the IDF and the Israeli public that such action might suppress or even
halt the rocket fire by hampering the capability of the Palestinian
organizations to manufacture and launch rockets as well as by
dissuading them from doing so through painful retribution. Erosion of
the Palestinian capability to launch rockets was expected to be
achieved as a cumulative effect of destroying the rocket production
facilities and eliminating key personnel in the rocket manufacturing
and launching network. Lt. Gen. (res.) Dan Haloutz, who was IAF
Commander, IDF Deputy Chief of General Staff, and then Chief of
General Staff during the relevant period, stated that as IAF
Commander, his approach was to attack every component in the
rocket “food chain,” from the destruction of raw material stockpiles to
the destruction of the means of production (machinery, etc.), rocket
storage depots, transportation and launching facilities, while
emphasizing the human infrastructure of the rocket array.
Operation “Days of Repentance,” the media reported that “the IDF is
content overall with the operation’s outcome and has expressed
satisfaction with the number of destroyed terrorist cells, including
‘nine Qassam units.'” Unidentified senior IDF officers told the media,
“The IDF reached impressive achievements,” but cautioned, “We
cannot allow this success to go to our heads.”

Deterrence as a major motive for military action was emphasized by
then Minister of Defense Shaul Mofaz after the deployment of MIDEAST SECURITY AND POLICY STUDIES
artillery units near Gaza: “We will hit them until they understand that
as a sovereign state we will not allow shooting into the State of
At the end of Operation “Lightning Storm” in 2006, Maj.
Gen. Yoav Galant, IDF Southern Command Chief, warned that “the
IDF will act more severely if there will be no calm on the Israeli
Countless articles in the press during this period reflected the
expectation that military actions alone would wear down the
Palestinian organizations’ motivation to launch rockets against Israel.
However, the dry statistics of the Gaza rocket campaign in the years
leading up to Operation Cast Lead clearly indicate that Israel’s
military measures neither stopped nor slowed down the rocket fire.
On the contrary, despite Israel’s offensive actions and expectations,
the rocket attacks increased steadily over time in rate, range and
lethality. It can be deduced then that the military measures taken prior
to Cast Lead were on the whole unsuccessful in seriously damaging
the rocket manufacturing and launching network in Gaza. They were
also ineffective in dissuading Hamas from continuing to attack Israel.
The disappointment from the results of Israel’s offensive military
actions could already be discerned during the fighting. In July 2007, a
former commander of the IDF Gaza Brigade conceded that “there was
no airtight military solution to the Qassam challenge.”
Following a
week of intense fighting toward the end of Operation “Autumn
Clouds,” Brig. Gen. Yuval Halamish, an intelligence officer, admitted
at a Tel Aviv University conference that the IDF was experiencing
some difficulties in countering the Qassam rockets and often luck was
the most significant factor. In the same vein, an unnamed Southern
Command officer was quoted as saying, “There is no magic solution.
This [counter rocket] activity is an uphill climb, but it is showing
In other words, it was unrealistic to expect immediate
results in suppressing the rocket fire, but let’s be hopeful. Lt. Gen.
(res.) Dan Haloutz said frankly, “We felt we were investing a lot of
effort but with no satisfactory results.”
The only offensive action that achieved tangible and relatively longlasting results was Operation Cast Lead, which constituted a quantum
leap in the application of Israeli firepower against the Gaza rocket THE MISSILE THREAT FROM GAZA
offensive. Unsurprisingly, it also resulted in an immense increase in
damages and casualties to the Palestinian side, causing political
damage to Israel. So why did all of the preceding, limited IDF
offensives fail to achieve similar results? This might be attributed to
two major factors: first, the inherent difficulty in preempting missile
and rocket fire, and second, the limitation on the use of force in the
particular circumstances of the Gaza fighting.
The first difficulty derives from the basic properties of missiles and
rockets. Unlike aircraft or UAVs, which require a runway or complex
catapulting facilities for takeoff, missiles and rockets can be fired
from virtually anywhere without much preparation. Moreover, once
fired, their launchers can vacate the launching sites and take cover
within a remarkably short time. As far back as World War II, the
Allies used powerful air raids to try to destroy the launching facilities
of the V2 ballistic missiles fired at London by Nazi missile launchers
situated in the Netherlands. This approach failed since the German
Wehrmacht, anticipating such preemptive action, drilled its rocket
teams to dismantle and conceal all launching apparatus within less
than 60 seconds of the missile’s takeoff. Earlier than that, the Allies
bombed the Peenemünde Research Center on the Baltic coast to
prevent Germany from completing the development of the V2 missile.
However, this attack did not significantly delay the missile’s
development, as the industrial infrastructure and production lines of
the V2 ballistic missile continued in the full scale production of
thousands of missiles (in addition to their special fuels) under a
veritable rain of Allied bombs. Attempts to prevent the firing of
missiles by destroying their launchers were carried out repeatedly in
both the Iran-Iraq War (1980s) and the First Gulf War (1991) –
similarly to no avail.
In the case of the Gaza rocket campaign, the situation is even more
complex. Here, the rocket production facilities employ the most
elementary industrial infrastructure found in small, non-specialized
machine shops that are abundant in Gaza, and on commercially
available raw materials intended for civilian use. The rocket launchers
are simple welded frames that can be manufactured cheaply, quickly
and in large quantities, making them easily replaceable. The rockets
themselves are simple to operate, and the training of new launch MIDEAST SECURITY AND POLICY STUDIES
operators is relatively quick, enabling the swift replacement of teams
that have suffered casualties. Simply put, the suppression of what
Haloutz called the “food chain” of rockets and missiles is always
problematic, even more so in the case of the Gaza rocket network.
The second difficulty derives from the specific conditions of the Gaza
theater, where the armed militias operate within a dense, supportive
civilian population. This considerably restrains the type of weapons
and level of force that are appropriate for the IDF to implement. Israel
could theoretically have abandoned all restraint – for instance, by
recapturing the entire Gaza Strip in a powerful ground operation –
and subsequently could have “cleaned out” the rocket infrastructure,
house by house. This would have completely halted the rocket
offensive, but at an unacceptable cost to Israel’s international relations
and to its own social fabric, as such a move would be strongly
protested by segments of the Israeli public. An additional restriction
on the IDF’s use of force was its desire to minimize casualties among
its troops.
The use of artillery in the Gaza counteroffensive clearly illustrates the
limitations on the use of force in this arena. Intended as a deterrent,
artillery fire turned out to be a political boomerang. Rather than
dissuading the Palestinians from firing rockets into Israel, it generated
sympathy for them in global public opinion, damaging Israel’s
international standing and embarrassing it into abandoning this
practice. Part of the Israeli public was also dissatisfied with the use of
artillery, and some residents of the Gaza envelope region even
complained about its disruptive effects on their daily lives. Similarly,
an IDF attempt to use non-lethal sonic booms (by flying
supersonically over Gaza) in order to dissuade the Palestinians from
firing rockets into Israel was vigorously opposed by Israeli and
international human rights groups, who complained that the noise
deprived Gaza children of their sleep.
Operation Cast Lead itself, whose negative repercussions on Israel’s
international standing are still reverberating, highlights the heavy
political price incurred in the extensive use of force against armed
militias embedded within a supportive civilian population. THE MISSILE THREAT FROM GAZA
The limited offensive actions prior to Operation Cast Lead not only
failed to achieve the desired results, but seem to have encouraged
continued rocket attacks while exacting a heavy price from Israel. No
offensive Israeli military measure, including Cast Lead, has
succeeded in seriously degrading the rocket capabilities of the
Palestinian organizations. On the contrary, according to reports
attributed to intelligence units, these capabilities are ever growing.
While Cast Lead brought about a significant decline (but not an
absolute halt) in the intensity of the rocket campaign against Israel, it
is still unclear what part the IDF’s counteroffensive played in this
decline. One cannot dismiss the possibility that the new political
realities that arose after Cast Lead were just as instrumental in
motivating Hamas to halt its fire as Israel’s punitive military operation
– predominantly the change of government in the US and the rising
wave of sympathy for Gaza’s civilians in Western public opinion, as
expressed by “Free Gaza” demonstrations and flotillas by human
rights groups to “lift the siege on Gaza.” Perhaps Hamas found the
role of victim more profitable than the role of aggressor.
In light of this negative balance sheet, three questions come to mind.
First, what was the point of pursuing military rather than diplomatic
measures? Second, why did the IDF persist for years in its limited
offensive policy despite the unsatisfactory results? And third, once the
unsatisfactory results became obvious, why didn’t the IDF add
defensive measures to its toolkit of responses?
The answer to the first question depends on the worldview of the
readers. Those who believe that it was possible to stop the rocket
campaign using political measures can point to two interludes in the
fighting that were achieved by diplomacy: the first, in 2005, was a
product of Israel’s unilateral Disengagement, and the second, in the
latter half of 2008, was a result of the six-month tahadiya (ceasefire)
agreement with Hamas. Those who assume that the conflict could not
be resolved by diplomacy can point out that both interludes were
unstable and that the rocket fire was promptly renewed with even
more vigor. Diverging opinions on this matter are likely to persist.
In regard to the logic of continuing the counteroffensive despite the
unsatisfactory results, Haloutz stated, “We continued (with the MIDEAST SECURITY AND POLICY STUDIES
military measures) since it was the lesser evil. This is a war of
attrition, and the question is which side will be worn down first.” His
opinion was that the fundamental purpose of these measures was to
“exact a cost,” or in the terminology of prior generations, these
measures were “retaliation operations.”

Almost certainly no government in Israel, whether right or left wing,
would adhere to a policy of restraint in the face of rocket attacks
against its sovereign territory and the killing of citizens in their own
houses, without jeopardizing its political survival. Inaction would
have been unacceptable to the majority of the Israeli public, even if
Israel stood to gain from this the automatic sympathy of the
international community, as occurred when Israel remained passive in
the face of Saddam Hussein’s 1991 missile offensive. The question,
then, of whether there was justification for Israel’s limited offensive
measures despite the failure of this response, is irrelevant. The Israeli
government could not have acted differently towards the incessant
rocket offensive against its territory and citizens. It had to fight back
just as it did against the suicide terror campaign that emerged from
the West Bank.
The third question – why were no defensive measures added to the
offensive ones when it became clear that the latter were not achieving
their aim – warrants further examination. Israel’s response to the
suicide bombing campaign from the West Bank during the Second
Initifada initially relied on offensive measures such as targeted
killings and ground incursions, culminating in a major ground
offensive (Operation Defensive Shield in 2002). At the same time,
albeit after much deliberation, Israel’s government undertook a major
defensive measure by erecting an elaborate and costly security barrier
along the West Bank borders. In contrast, the Gaza rocket campaign
did not elicit comparable defensive measures. The developments and
decisions leading up to this situation will be subsequently discussed. THE MISSILE THREAT FROM GAZA
Defensive Response Measures: Active and Passive Defense
Aerial attacks on cities are a relatively new form of warfare that was
first applied during the Spanish Civil War in the 1930s. It was
subsequently implemented during WWII, when entire cities across
Europe were destroyed. The emergence of strategic air power capable
of sowing such widespread destruction compelled prospective victims
to adapt various response strategies, both offensive and defensive:
1. Deterrence: Establishment of powerful strategic air power to
dissuade aggressors from attacking the defender’s homeland;
further use of such air power as retaliation after an attack in order
to dissuade the aggressor from additional attacks.
2. Preemption: Destruction of the aggressor’s capability through
attacks on air bases, specifically on the production, maintenance
and operation infrastructure of its air power.
3. Active Defense: Interception and destruction of enemy
airplanes in mid-air, whether by manned interception aircraft or
by ground-based air defense systems (anti-aircraft guns and
ground-to-air missiles).
4. Passive Defense: Evacuation of non essential residents from
threatened population centers, provision of shelters to the
remaining residents and establishment of early warning and alert
systems to warn the population to take cover in time.
From the perspective of the civilian population under attack, there is
no real difference between aerial bombardment, missiles or rockets –
all are “threats from above.” Thus, defensive response options against
missiles and rockets are similar to those used against aerial threats –
deterrence, preemption, active defense and passive defense – the main
difference lying in the technical and operational challenges. First,
preemption of rockets and missiles is far more difficult than that of air
power, as argued in the preceding section. Second, the requirements
for shooting down manned aircraft are very different from destroying
missiles and rockets in flight since the latter are generally smaller and
much faster targets than most modern combat aircraft and therefore
infinitely more difficult to detect and destroy. Also, while the MIDEAST SECURITY AND POLICY STUDIES
technology for intercepting bombers by fighter aircraft matured in
WWII, the know-how for intercepting and destroying missiles by
other missiles has evolved only in the last two decades. And, the
technological ability to intercept and destroy shorter range rockets in
flight has matured only in the last few years.
When it comes to passive defense measures, sheltering against air
raids takes advantage of the relatively long period between threat
detection and threat arrival. Usually, there is enough time for people
to move in an orderly fashion to communal shelters. In contrast, the
warning time for impending missile and rocket attacks is too short for
civilians to reach such shelters. Instead, a large number of shelters in
close proximity to smaller groups of people – preferably within
individual residences – are required as it is only a matter of seconds
before the rocket impacts. The short grace period is also problematic
for foot and vehicle traffic, requiring the provision of numerous
roadside shelters for pedestrian and drivers.
While the previous section dealt with Israel’s efforts to stop or at least
slow down the Palestinian rocket fire into Israel using offensive
tactics, the related issue of minimizing damage and casualties by
defensive tactics and measures, both active and passive, is detailed
Active Defense in Israel
The term “active defense” refers to the interception and destruction of
missiles and rockets in flight. The technologies required to intercept
Scud-like ballistic missiles reached maturity during the latter part of
the 1980s. Israel was one of the few countries who took advantage of
this new technological capability for the development of a full scale
active defense system. The “Arrow” program that began in the late
1980s originated from a growing threat awareness that coincided with
a political opportunity. The threat at the time came from Syrian Scud
missiles, many equipped with chemical warheads. The opportunity
came when Israel joined US President Ronald Reagan’s Strategic
The Arrow program was conceived and supported by the Defense
Ministers at the time, Moshe Arens and Yitzhak Rabin, despite strong
and obstinate objections from the IDF High Command and against a
chorus of criticism from the Israeli media. There was a general
disbelief that intercepting missiles in flight was feasible (“You cannot
hit a bullet with a bullet”) and doubts about the affordability of active
defense (“an expensive Arrow against a cheap Scud”). However, the
IDF’s objections stemmed from the concern that resources allocated to
such defensive response measures would consume resources allocated
to offensive weapons, which the IDF had always viewed as the
backbone of Israel’s military doctrine.
Despite these objections, the
Arrow system was developed and reached initial operational
capability (IOC) in December 2000, three months after the outbreak
of the Second Intifada.
The Arrow system was designed against theater ballistic missiles such
as the Iraqi Al Husseins that hit Tel Aviv and Haifa in 1991 – sizable
missiles with a flight time of many minutes. These were fired
individually from complex transporter erector launchers (TEL) and
required a large crew for fuelling and launch preparation. In contrast,
artillery rockets are physically small, with a short flight time
(measured in tens of seconds) and rapid firing rate of up to 30 rounds
per minute. Neither Arrow nor its US equivalents were designed to
provide a solution for such threats.
Rockets were first fired against Israel in 1968 when the Palestine
Liberation Organization (PLO) launched Grad rockets (“Katyushas”)
from its bases in Jordan toward the valley of Beit She’an. After its
1970 expulsion from Jordan to Lebanon, the PLO resumed its rocket
campaign against northern Israel, firing Katyushas at the cities of
Kiryat Shmona and Nahariya – which suffered significant casualties
and material damage – from its bases in south Lebanon. In the early
1980s, the PLO rocket offensive intensified to an intolerable level,
prompting Israel to launch a high intensity counteroffensive – the first
Lebanon War – the official goal of which was to seize PLO rocket
launching sites as far as 40 km north of the border in order to block
the PLO’s capability to hit Israel with rockets. The expulsion of the
PLO from Lebanese territory left a vacuum soon filled by the newly
founded Hizballah organization. In 1985, shortly after Israel withdrew MIDEAST SECURITY AND POLICY STUDIES
from central Lebanon to its declared “security zone” in south
Lebanon, Hizballah commenced its own rocket offensive against
northern Israel. This led on two occasions to deliberate escalations by
Israel. In both cases the IDF used standoff fire power (mainly artillery
fire and air-to-ground attacks) to destroy Hizballah rocket depots and
launchers north of the border as well as to pressure the Lebanese
government to curtail the rocket fire. These two bouts of escalation –
Operation “Accountability” (July 1993) and Operation “Grapes of
Wrath” (April 1996) – were unsuccessful in bringing about the hoped
for result.
During Operation Accountability rocket fire reached hitherto
unimaginable ferocity. All IDF endeavors to suppress it by attacking
launchers and supply routes were futile, and the rocket fire stopped
only when Israel terminated the operation following an
“understanding” between Israel, Lebanon, Syria and Hizballah. The
unsatisfactory results of Operation Accountability first put the option
of active defense on the Ministry of Defense’s agenda. This occurred
at the same time that Israel began its cooperation in active defense
R&D programs with the US government, and Israel’s Ministry of
Defense believed that the road was clear to acquire more advanced
active defense technologies from the US. Among the US ventures in
missile defense was the development of high powered chemical lasers
for intercepting missiles in flight. A proof of concept system was
demonstrated by the Pentagon to Brig. Gen. (res.) Uzi Eilam, then
Director of the Defense Ministry’s R&D Directorate (MAFAT), with
an emphasis on its ability to destroy rockets in mid air. According to
Eilam, “It was already clear to us at that time that we must find an
additional response, preferably one of active defense, to the threat of
rocket fire from Lebanon – and this is how the idea of using a high
energy laser beam to hit rockets in flight came up.”

Operation “Grapes of Wrath” in 1996, during which over 770 rockets
were fired against Israel’s northern communities, further solidified the
need for active defense and led to a joint venture with the US Army to
develop a defense system based on a high powered laser called the
“Nautilus,” also known by the Americans as THEL (Theater High
Energy Laser). By the outbreak of the Al-Aqsa Intifada in October
2000, a few successful interception tests had already been conducted THE MISSILE THREAT FROM GAZA
in the White Sands test range in New Mexico, pitching a prototype
THEL against Israeli supplied Grad rockets. Since the prototype itself
was a fairly cumbersome device, a more compact, mobile system was
conceived, coined MTHEL (Mobile THEL).
Thus, when the first rocket from Gaza landed in Israeli territory in
October 2001, the Israeli government and the defense industry had
already gained valuable experience and accumulated some solid
achievements in the art of active defense: One kinetic missile defense
system (based on an interceptor missile, the Arrow) was already
developed and approaching initial operational capability, and a
second program – for the development of a directed energy system
(based on a high energy laser) – was providing invaluable experience
and know-how to the Israeli teams. It might have been expected that
the IDF and the Ministry of Defense would rush to put such assets
and experiences to good use by promptly employing them as an added
active defense layer in the array of responses to the Gaza rocket
offensive. This, however, did not happen.
Active Defense and the Gaza Rocket Campaign
The Gaza rocket campaign commenced at the same time that a high
power laser anti-rocket system was in the course of development.
When the first Israeli civilians were killed by rocket fire in June 2004,
the Nautilus program was underway with some impressive successes
at the US test range. Yet, during the first major IDF offensive aimed
at suppressing the rocket fire (October 2004), when Maj. Gen. (res.)
Amos Yaron, then Director General of the Ministry of Defense, was
interviewed on the prospects of employing defensive means against
the rocket threat, he stated unequivocally: “The Israeli defense
establishment has no breakthrough that could destroy Qassam rockets
in flight, nor do we have any intention of investing astronomical sums
that would anyway fail to bring about any breakthrough in this
Later on in the same interview, in reference to the Nautilus
system, Yaron made it clear that the defense establishment would
continue to support the Nautilus program on a minimal scale (around
$7 million annually) in the following years, but emphasized that “the
project had no completion date” and doubted whether such a system,
even if operational, could actually destroy Qassam rockets in flight. MIDEAST SECURITY AND POLICY STUDIES
Years later, Yaron explained that since no active defense system
could guarantee a “hermetic sealing” of the sky, the damages and
casualties incurred by the few rockets that might leak through the
defensive screen would defuse any public sense of security gained
from successfully destroying rockets. This, in his opinion, would
render as wasted the enormous investment made to build such
It is likely that Yaron’s objections to allocating a
significant budget to active defense, as well as his reservations about
the technical feasibility of intercepting Qassam rockets in flight,
reflected the IDF’s prevailing skepticism about the technology as well
as its doctrinal adherence to offensive weapons and tactics. Indeed,
the following year (in 2005), Nautilus budgets were cut completely
and the program shelved. The IDF, ready to risk its troops in
offensive operations, was reluctant to invest in defensive technologies
that could spare the lives of its soldiers as well as those of threatened
The termination of the Nautilus program in 2005 did not put the lid on
all active defense related activities. That same year, MAFAT issued
an RFI (request for information) to Israel’s defense industries for a
kinetic defense system (interceptor based rather than laser based)
against rockets of the Qassam and Grad classes. No less than 14
proposals were submitted, three of which – based on innovative, lowcost interceptor missiles – came from the major defense companies in
Israel: Rafael Advanced Defense Systems, Israel Aerospace Industries
and Israel Military Industries.
In August 2005, MAFAT chose the
Rafael proposal as the lead one,
yet no development program was
initiated, probably due to the IDF and Ministry of Defense’s
objections as expressed by Maj. Gen. (res.) Yaron. While the Defense
Ministry embarked in early 2006 on a new active defense program
(“Magic Wand”), it was designed against heavy rockets of types
acquired by Hizballah at that time and had no capability against the
Qassam and Grad rockets terrorizing southern Israel. An unnamed
senior official in the defense establishment was quick to dispel any
hope that this system, or any other system, would ever be capable of
improving the situation: “Sderot will be hit by many more Qassams,
and similar rockets are bound to be fired in the future from the West
Bank. We must learn to live with this situation.”
This “situation,” so complacently advocated by that unnamed official,
continued until the shock of the Second Lebanon War in July-August
2006 jolted decision makers out of their apathy. The intense rocket
bombardment of Israel’s northern districts, the high number of
fatalities from rocket fire (53 civilians and soldiers), the colossal
material damage, and the mass evacuation of the civilian population
clearly demonstrated that tactical rockets have strategic implications
far beyond their sheer nuisance value. The failure to stop the
Hizballah rocket fire by offensive operations – either with reprisal air
raids on Beirut’s Dahia district or a furious campaign of destruction
against the rocket launchers in southern Lebanon – added to the
feeling of distress in Israel and to the growing awareness that
something new must be done.
Consequently, then Minister of Defense Amir Peretz, who as a
resident of Sderot had experienced first-hand the effect of Qassam
rocket attacks on southern Israel, instructed the director of MAFAT to
reexamine the available technologies for active defense against
rockets and recommend a full scale development program. MAFAT
Deputy Head Yaakov Nagel was appointed chairman of the
committee to examine proposals from Israel and abroad. These
included a rapid firing gun system,
a high energy chemical laser
system (actually an improved, compact version of the Nautilus), and
several kinetic (interceptor based) systems. The committee rejected
the rapid gun and directed energy options and instead selected
Rafael’s proposal from 2005 for a kinetic system, giving it the
somewhat bombastic name “Iron Dome.” Due to the urgent need for a
speedy response to the rocket threat, the head of MAFAT’s R&D
division, Brig. Gen. Danny Gold, initiated the project on his own
authority in November 2006, almost two months before Defense
Minister Peretz formally approved the recommendation of the Nagel
in February 2007. Ehud Barak, who replaced Amir
Peretz as Defense Minister on June 18, 2007, endorsed his
predecessor’s decision and the project won the support of the Israeli
cabinet in December 2007.
The program’s cost was estimated at
$300 million for development and initial production. It was expected
to reach its initial operating capacity (IOC) in the second half of 2010. MIDEAST SECURITY AND POLICY STUDIES
Iron Dome is one of the most ambitious projects ever pursued in
Israel’s weapon development history. The system is designed to
engage rockets fired from as close as 4 km away to as far as 40 km
away, ranging from the tiny Qassam rockets to the heftier Grad 122
mm factory-made rockets. Later on, the system’s operational capacity
was expanded to include rockets of up to 70 km in range – addressing
the threat of the Iranian Fajr-5 mid-size rockets that Hizballah had
already deployed from Lebanon.
Due to the urgency of the situation, the project received priority akin
to a wartime emergency project. The first interception tests were
successfully completed in March 2009 and a series of interception
tests using the full weapon system (including radar and a command
and control center) were successfully conducted in January 2010.
Subsequently, it was announced that the first Iron Dome system
would be delivered to the IDF by May 2010 – several months ahead
of schedule. Following another round of highly successful tests in
July 2010, the IDF started training to operate the system and the Air
Force’s Air Defense Command planned to achieve IOC in November
2010. Such a technological achievement – the full scale development
of a cutting edge program in less than 30 months – is impressive by
any standard.
Comments by senior officials in the defense establishment indicated
that once the development was complete, Iron Dome batteries would
be promptly deployed in southern Israel to protect the Gaza envelope
communities, in particular the long suffering town of Sderot. In late
2007 Defense Minister Barak estimated that in two and a half years
time it would be possible to deploy the first operational system in
“Iron Dome will bring back security to the south,” stated the
byline of an article on the successful tests of January 2010.
practice, however, the IDF had no intention of deploying Iron Dome
batteries on a permanent basis for the defense of Sderot and decided
that the delivered batteries would be stored in Air Force bases and be
deployed in the field only in cases of “significant escalation.”
Furthermore, the size of the acquisition program remained vague.
According to a senior official in the General Staff, “First we need to
see what the system is capable of and what it cannot do, and only then
we will decide the size of the purchase”
– a statement which reflects THE MISSILE THREAT FROM GAZA
the IDF’s ambivalence in regard to active defense. If it had been a new
aircraft acquisition program instead, it is hard to imagine any officer
of the General Staff suggesting that the IDF purchase only one
aircraft “to see what its capabilities are” and only then decide on the
size of the buy. Eventually, as a result of the IDF’s refusal to finance
the Iron Dome acquisition from the defense budget, Barak turned to
the US President who consented to allocate $205 million (an
insignificant sum in the terms of Israel’s overall defense budget) for
the procurement of several more Iron Dome batteries. Once produced,
these would cover about one third to one half of the total number of
batteries required to protect the entire country. The humiliation of
begging for the monies needed for this sorely needed self defense
weapon indicates that, even today, the IDF still has not accepted
homeland defense against missiles as part of its overall mission –
despite this being formally enshrined as “the fourth pillar” of its
The Nagel Committee, whose task was to choose between contending
rocket defense technologies, also examined rapid fire gun systems.
This was rejected on account of the miniscule size of the area that a
single gun system could defend, as several guns would be required
just to protect a modest sized town like Sderot. At the same time,
there was no doubt about the ability of a gun system to protect smaller
communities (such as a single kibbutz) or national infrastructure
installations like the “strategic target” (i.e. the Zikim power station)
near Ashkelon. As early as 2004, a joint team of representatives from
the IAF and MAFAT declared that “the Vulcan-Phalanx system (a
rapid fire cannon used by the US army) could provide a response for
the protection of strategic installations.” In 2008, the Israeli Ministry
of Defense submitted an RFI to the Pentagon as a preliminary step
toward the possible procurement of such a system. In early 2009, the
Israeli State Comptroller recommended that the IDF accelerate this
process “in view of the threat of rockets and mortar bombs to vital
and even strategic locations.”
Despite all of this, no such purchase
of rapid fire cannon systems is known to have been made by Israel so
far (October 2011).
From this chain of events, one can see that the IDF was consistent
throughout the Gaza rocket offensive in rejecting active defense MIDEAST SECURITY AND POLICY STUDIES
measures. This rejection was rooted in its inherent preference for
offensive weapons and tactics regardless of their indifferent results.
While the shock of the Second Lebanon War created an awareness of
the need to diversify the response options, including introducing
active defense, going so far as to enshrine it as the fourth pillar of
Israel’s defense doctrine,
it was nevertheless not really internalized
by the IDF. Maj. Gen. (res.) Yaron, speaking many years later, best
expressed this sentiment when he said, “[The Gaza rocket campaign]
will be resolved either politically or militarily by reoccupying the
[entire Gaza] territory. Whoever believes that investing billions of
dollars [in defense systems] will solve the problem is plainly
Lt. Gen. (res.) Haloutz, with his characteristic candidness,
spoke about the two contrasting philosophies in Israel’s defense
establishment concerning active defense: The Ministry of Defense
(i.e. the civilian staff of the Minister of Defense) maintained that
active defense was an acceptable solution while the IDF (i.e. the IDF
High Command) rejected it. Haloutz attributed this difference to the
“psychology of decision making and the reluctance to change one’s
priorities, which is difficult to do, since it is easier to deal with
something already on your desk than to pick up an issue from the
floor and put it squarely on your desk.” In addition, Haloutz attributed
the IDF’s approach to the low lethality of the rockets from Gaza.
As of September 2010 (time of writing), no active defense system,
Israeli or foreign purchased, had been employed against the rocket
offensive on southern Israel. Remarkably it was not the rockets from
Gaza that finally compelled Israel’s defense authorities to embark on
the development and acquisition of an active rocket defense system –
rather, it was the shock of the Second Lebanon War that did so. One
can conclude, therefore, that the Gaza rocket campaign was not
perceived by Israel’s defense establishment as a security risk
significant enough to justify a change in paradigm and priorities. The
residents of the afflicted communities, whose lives were at risk and
whose property and livelihood were jeopardized, thought otherwise,
as will be seen below. The gap in threat perception between the
civilians in harm’s way and the complacent officials in the IDF and
Ministry of Defense, ostensibly responsible for their safety, was even
more pronounced on the issue of passive defense, as described in the
Passive Defense
Passive Defense in Israel
Sheltering the general population against air raids has always been
part of Israel’s defense doctrine. During World War II, Tel Aviv and
Haifa were bombed several times by the Italian Air Force, killing
hundreds of residents.
The British administration of Palestine
encouraged the Jewish Yishuv (community) to establish a civil
defense system, consisting of residential shelters and an urban public
warning system to provide alarm sirens as well as “all clear” signals.
The experience gained during the Second World War and the
equipment that remained – namely the centralized public warning
system – were again put to good use during the 1948 War of
Independence, during which Tel Aviv and its suburbs were once
against subjected to aerial bombardment, this time by the Egyptian
Air Force, leaving dozens dead and causing heavy material damage.
For the next 43 years aerial bombing was regarded as the main threat
to the home front. Accordingly, underground public bomb shelters
were built and new legislation dictated that every place of residence,
including private homes, must have an underground shelter.
Similarly, all apartment buildings had to include a reinforced cellar
for sheltering the building’s residents.
After the Six Day War, the PLO launched rockets and mortar shells
toward Beit She’an and the Jordan Valley communities. One of
Israel’s responses was the extensive “shelterization”
of the targeted
communities, including the structural reinforcement of public
institutions and the construction of roadside shelters for drivers and
passersby. After the expulsion of the PLO from Jordan and its
entrenchment in Lebanon, Israel’s northern communities (including
the large towns of Nahariya and Kiryat Shmona) were in turn
subjected to ever increasing Grad rocket fire (“katyushas”). Here, too,
Israel’s government responded by extensively constructing public and
private shelters and by structurally reinforcing schools and other
public buildings.
The missile attacks on Tel Aviv and Haifa during the First Gulf War
(1991) prompted a reevaluation of the concept of air raid sheltering. MIDEAST SECURITY AND POLICY STUDIES
With the threat now coming from chemical agents, underground
shelters were deemed too risky since the heavier than air chemicals
could flow to low-lying places, which would essentially turn these
shelters into death traps. Consequently, shelterization requirements
were altered, replacing underground shelters with above ground
“protected spaces” – namely a designated room in each dwelling, with
blast resistant walls and ceilings as well as steel doors and shutters.
The “protected space” would be strong enough to withstand blasts and
shrapnel and the infiltration of chemical agents. The building code in
Israel was amended accordingly, new legislation was passed, and
local governments were given the power to enforce this new
regulation. Today, the protected space (MAMAD) is familiar to any
Israeli citizen purchasing a new apartment or house.
Of all Western states, Israel is probably the country with the greatest
awareness of the need for population sheltering, the most extensive
system of passive defense, and the greatest and most up-to-date
knowledge and experience about building public and private shelters
against every type of threat. It could have been expected that this
awareness and capability would be utilized promptly to protect the
population of southern Israel as soon as the Gaza rocket offensive
started. But, as with active defense, this was not the case.
The planning and implementation of passive defense is based on close
cooperation between numerous government agencies, including the
Defense Ministry, IDF, Finance Ministry and the municipalities and
regional councils – each with its own agenda, budgeting priorities and
coterie of quarrelsome officials. This is a source of continuous tension
and endless wrangling. The issue of passive defense during the Gaza
rocket campaign is therefore a complex story with as many versions
as the number of entities involved. A detailed account of the
convoluted story of passive defense during the Gaza rocket campaign
is beyond the scope of this study, which offers instead the brief
overview below.
Passive Defense and the Gaza Rocket Campaign
The first passive defense initiative was implemented after the first
mortar bomb struck Kibbutz Nahal Oz on April 4, 2001. This attack THE MISSILE THREAT FROM GAZA
did not cause property damage or injuries, but was perceived by the
kibbutz members as a forewarning of things to come. The kibbutz
used its political connections to appeal to then Minister of Defense
Binyamin (Fuad) Ben Eliezer, who allocated NIS 7 million to the
kibbutz for the structural reinforcement of its residences – this sum
was matched by the kibbutz from its own resources.
According to
the State Comptroller’s report, this money enabled the construction of
120 secure spaces (MAMADs) in the kibbutz, enough for all of its
Yet, the steps taken by Kibbutz Nahal Oz were not
emulated by neighboring communities, and the issue of shelterization
remained stagnant for the next three years.
It took the first deadly rocket attack on Sderot in June 2004, in which
two Israelis lost their lives – one of them a small child – to compel the
Gaza envelope communities to start extensive sheltering programs.
The shock of these deaths also led the IDF to launch a military
offensive (Operation “Days of Repentance”) as well as to take the first
hesitant step toward the effective sheltering of the general population
in the southern region. To this end, the need for a public warning
system was recognized and pursued. Rafael’s “Ma’amin” system, a
device originally designed for sniper detection, was hastily converted
into a rocket detection system capable of detecting Qassam rockets in
flight. This provided a 15 to 20 second warning for the residents of
Sderot – a barely sufficient yet vital time for people to reach a
MAMAD or simply seek shelter behind a wall. The system was
deployed near Sderot in September 2004, but at first operated
erratically and caused grave disappointment.
In the following years
the system was improved and became fairly reliable. The same
system provided residents of northern Israel with effective early
warning during the Second Lebanon War and offered even more
timely and accurate early warnings in southern Israel during
Operation Cast Lead. For such achievements, the Ma’amin
development team was awarded the 2009 Israel Defense Prize.
on, the US-made “Nurit” artillery-spotting radar was integrated into
the system,
and more recently, the new and sophisticated “Raz”
radar, developed and produced by Elta Systems, was added to the
early warning system.
The vigorous steps taken in the area of early warning eventually
produced satisfactory results. However, general population sheltering
was neglected. As early as May 2004, seemingly as part of the IDF
High Command’s detailed planning for the Gaza Disengagement, the
IDF Home Front Command put together a plan to shelterize all Gaza
envelope communities located within 9 km of the Gaza border – a
total of 83 communities. The cost of this program was estimated at
NIS 4.2 billion, a prohibitive sum for the Israeli defense budget.
Thus, the plan was shelved.
The government’s decision in June 2004 to unilaterally withdraw from
the Gaza Strip did not explicitly account for the need to build shelters
for the Gaza envelope communities. Nevertheless, three weeks later,
the Minister of Defense allocated NIS 130 million for the erection of
shelters in the seven communities closest to the Gaza border. In
March 2005, the Ministry of Defense approved a plan to build shelters
in all 46 communities located within 7 km of the Gaza border, a
program whose completion was scheduled to coincide with the
completion of the Disengagement process in the second half of 2005.
The plan immediately hit a budgeting snag, since it had naively been
assumed that the necessary funds would come from the treasury plusup. But, the Finance Ministry refused to increase the defense budget
beyond the already approved annual defense allocation and demanded
that the sheltering plan be financed instead by internal Ministry of
Defense sources. The end result was that only a small part of this
program was ever implemented, and even this occurred months after
the completion of the Disengagement.
In the town of Sderot, which was the main target for Qassam rockets
from Gaza, initial arrangements for upgrading the existing public
shelters began in 2003, almost two years after the onset of the rocket
offensive. Yet, only after the June 2004 attack on a kindergarten that
resulted in the first two deaths from Qassam rockets did the IDF
Home Front Command prepare a comprehensive program for
shelterizing kindergartens and schools in Sderot. The implementation
of this program moved along at a snail’s pace due to the basic
controversy between Defense and Treasury over the budget
allocation. Thus, 18 months into the program, with rockets continuing THE MISSILE THREAT FROM GAZA
to fall on Sderot, only one-third of the town’s kindergartens, and none
of it schools, had received structural reinforcement against rocket fire.
The completion of the Disengagement in August 2005 did not bring
about the hoped for respite from the Gaza rocket offensive. Instead,
the rocket fire actually intensified. In 2006, the evacuation of Sderot
by some if its residents first became noticeable, a trend that kept
increasing in subsequent years. According to Eli Moyal, then mayor
of Sderot, school registrations dropped by almost 12 percent in 2008
compared to the previous year,
indicating that in 2007 over a tenth
of the population had fled the town. This underscored the urgent need
to shelterize public buildings and residences that had not yet been
fortified against rocket impacts, both in Sderot and in the neighboring
communities. Moreover, on March 17, 2006, the day of the Knesset
elections, the city of Ashkelon was hit for the first time by rockets
from Gaza, thus vastly increasing the number of communities under
threat and that required specialized anti-rocket shelters.
Notwithstanding the exponential growth in the number of threatened
residents, the increasing disruption to daily life and the gradual
emptying of the town of Sderot, the Israeli government reacted in a
slow and indecisive manner. Israel was recovering at the time from
the perceived debacle of the Second Lebanon War. This was a period
of national grieving and soul searching, which forced a considerable
shift in priorities and budgets toward the rebuilding of the IDF,
restoration of economic losses, and repairing of material damages in
northern Israel. Against this backdrop, the government’s
unwillingness to address the needs of the Gaza envelope communities
or devote resources to shelterization in the south was apparent.
By the end of 2006, a year during which almost 1,000 rockets were
fired against the Gaza envelope communities, the Israeli government
refused to discuss the shelterizing of private residences.
decision to develop Iron Dome in February 2007 only lent further
support to those who opposed investing in passive defense as they
claimed that the new active defense system would make any further
passive defense measures redundant.
However, Knesset members
who resided in the Gaza envelope communities launched a vigorous
campaign for the continued shelterization of private and public MIDEAST SECURITY AND POLICY STUDIES
buildings in their communities. Eventually a compromise was
reached. Since Iron Dome’s minimum range was officially 4 km, the
government accepted the need to fortify all communities that sat
within 4.5 km of the Gaza border.
The 2007 budget included a
three-phase program for constructing 10,000 secure spaces within the
“4.5 km line” – 6,000 in Sderot and the remainder in smaller
communities. Phase I of this program called for the structural
reinforcement of 3,000 rooms in the apartments of the older parts of
Sderot (those built before 1991 and hence lacking the mandated
“secure space” or MAMAD). This phase received a budget of NIS
330 million. Still, phases II and III, involving the reinforcement of
another 3,000 rooms in Sderot and 4,000 rooms in the surrounding
rural areas, remained unbudgeted.
The prolonged debate over the budget allocations for phases II and III
of the plan prompted the Gaza envelope residents to file a lawsuit
against the Israeli government on the grounds of discrimination
between those residents that had benefited from phase I and those
who remained unprotected. This was at the time of the short-lived
hudna (ceasefire) with Hamas during the summer of 2008, when the
Israeli government decided to scrap the additional phases of the
project, arguing that there had been no deterioration in the security
situation to warrant such measures. Only when it became clear that
the residents of the south had a good chance of winning their lawsuit
did the government approve the budgets for the second and third
phases of the program, at a total cost of about NIS one billion.
On a
more positive note, once the acrimony ended, all of the government
agencies involved in the project joined together to advance the
creation of secure spaces in the Gaza envelope, which proceeded
smoothly and effectively.
The result of all this infighting and indecision in the upper echelons
was that it took six years from the beginning of the offensive for
Israel’s government to do its duty and undertake a vital albeit costly
program of shelterizing all residents’ homes in the zone of danger. Up
to that point, shelter-building was limited in extent and often had to
rely on local political initiatives. As argued below, this inaction by the
government was perceived by residents of the afflicted area as a
debacle, evoking public outcry and even legal action. THE MISSILE THREAT FROM GAZA
What were the reasons for such procrastination by the central
authorities in Jerusalem as its citizens faced mortal danger? Several
explanations come to mind, some generic – stemming from the
general inefficiency of Israel’s public service – and some more
specific, related to the unfolding of events elsewhere in the country.
One generic explanation for this governmental dawdling can be
attributed to the traditional difficulty of Israel’s administration at all
levels to initiate and implement major civic construction programs, a
difficulty whose origins could be the topic of a fascinating study by
itself but which is beyond the scope of this paper. Sheltering entire
communities was by all measures a major and costly civic
construction enterprise. As such, it was destined to share the fate of
all other large scale enterprises, which had been tossed into the
bureaucratic maze and bounced around between various government
agencies for many years until a consensus was reached – if ever – and
the enterprise received a go-ahead. The torturous histories of other
large civic construction initiatives in Israel, such as the Ayalon
Freeway, the Tel Aviv light rail (still decades away) and the seawater
desalination system (still in its infancy), are typical of the elephantine
pace of Israel’s other national infrastructure initiatives
Another generic factor seemingly at play was the eternal battle over
the defense budget. The responsibility of identifying and
implementing civil protection initiatives lies with the Defense
Ministry, which is in charge of specifying the technical requirements
(via the Home Front Command) and presenting cost estimates for the
project. As seen by the treasury, civil protection against enemy action
is a matter of national defense; hence, its financing should come from
the general defense budget, and the Ministry of Defense should come
up with the money by shifting priorities within its own annual
budgets. The Ministry of Defense, however, sees its approved budget
as inflexible, committed in its entirety to its annual manpower,
maintenance and acquisition requirements, and thereby lacking any
leeway to accommodate new and unforeseen expenses. This quarrel
between the two ministries has existed since the establishment of
Israel. It is prevalent as well in other countries, reflecting the constant
struggle over national priorities between “guns” and “butter”. MIDEAST SECURITY AND POLICY STUDIES
Apart from these two generic factors, there may have been several
more immediate and specific causes for the slowness and hesitancy in
implementing passive defense in the Gaza envelope communities.
One such cause could be the gradual progression of the Gaza rocket
offensive. Having commenced as a low level, hardly noticeable threat,
it was only several years into the offensive that its lethality, range and
rate of fire increased to a point of insufferableness.
After the first Qassam landed on the town of Sderot in 2001, it would
have been obvious to any sensible observer that the situation could
only worsen, yet nothing was done regarding civil protection in
Sderot or in the surrounding communities (with the exception of
Kibbutz Nahal Oz) until the June 2004 deaths. Undoubtedly, the low
lethality of the rockets in the first years of the campaign “lulled” the
residents, the local authorities and the government into inactivity. A
2005 poll by the Sha’ar Hanegev Regional Council showed that only
a small percentage of the population was concerned with the security
situation. Most indicated as their main concerns demographic growth,
community spirit, economic development and quality of education.
Moreover, some of the local leaders made a deliberate effort to play
down the significance of the rocket attacks during the first few years
of the offensive, preferring to adopt a “business as usual” attitude as a
sign of fortitude and determination, and also to avoid frightening
away new residents and potential investors in the region.
characterized the government’s decision making process as follows:
“The [governing] system provides solutions only when the situation
becomes intolerable and the [executioner’s] axe is already cutting into
the nape of its neck.”
During the first three years of the rocket
campaign, there was still no sense of urgency and even if there was
such a feeling, some of the local decision makers had an interest in
concealing it.
Another specific cause of delays in civil protection measures in the
south was the intense public debate surrounding the Disengagement.
A clear indication of this can be found in the State Comptroller’s
report on the civil protection of the Gaza envelope communities: “In
June 2004…the Minister of Defense held a meeting to review the
IDF’s plans for the Disengagement [in the course of which he
approved] the implementation of the first phase of civil defense [i.e. THE MISSILE THREAT FROM GAZA
building shelters against rockets and mortars] for seven border
communities but warned against actions and statements [on this or
any other matter] that may create the impression that the
Disengagement would cause a deterioration in the security
Launching a widespread civil defense program at that
time would have been tantamount to publicly admitting that the
Disengagement could create new security risks, playing into the hands
of the Disengagement’s opponents. Indeed, it was only a year and a
half later, in 2007, when it became glaringly apparent that the rocket
offensive had intensified to an unbearable level, that the government
finally agreed, albeit reluctantly, to deal with the issue of sheltering
the population of the Gaza envelope communities.
A third specific factor that may have played a role in the
postponement of civil protection was the disagreement between the
various players over the strategy Israel should pursue in response to
the Gaza rocket offensive. Eli Moyal, the Mayor of Sderot during
most of the period covered in this study, believes to this day that
implementing civil protection is a tacit admission that Israel is ready
to accede to aggression. From his perspective, “To accept civil
protection is to accept terror as part of your life.” His preference for
offensive rather than defensive measures is also evident in his
statement that “the war should have been pursued aggressively.”
Moyal was not alone in this view.
Finally, a pragmatic objection to population protection had to do with
its potential scope. Decision makers were concerned was that every
increment in range that put more communities at risk would in turn
create more demand for costly population protection. This could
instigate an impossible race between the growing range of the rockets
and ever growing requirements for expensive public and private
sheltering. Moreover, it seems that there was a real concern among
some government officials that acceding to the demands of Sderot and
Gaza envelope residents for civil protection would create a precedent
for residents in more distant communities. If and when the rocket
range increased to include them, this would bring the treasury to the
brink of bankruptcy.
Prime Minister Olmert’s controversial
statement that “we will not shelter ourselves to death,” clearly
expressed such concerns.
Whatever the reasons, the fact is that the residents of the Gaza
envelope communities were exposed for years to ever intensifying,
increasingly lethal rocket attacks, putting their lives, property and
livelihoods at stake, before Israel’s government bestirred itself to
support their need for rocket proof sheltering. In his 2005 report on
the status of the school and kindergarten sheltering program in Sderot,
the State Comptroller condemned the government’s mishandling of
the situation, calling it “a continuous debacle.” This harsh term could
well describe the government’s handling of the entire sheltering
program in southern Israel. THE MISSILE THREAT FROM GAZA
While an in depth study of the behavior and mood of the population
and local officials in the targeted areas as well as the general Israeli
public and leaders is beyond the scope of the study, a short review is
offered here.
The public attitude among residents of the Gaza envelope towards the
rocket campaign can be divided into two stages: a stage of equanimity
followed by a stage of apprehension. The first stage was characterized
by a low level of attention to what was considered a mere nuisance,
due to the relatively low rate of rocket fire, little amount of damage
and few casualties incurred at the time. Throughout this period, Gaza
envelope residents were more focused on the problems of day-to-day
living than on survival. The 2005 public opinion poll mentioned
above confirms this, as the overwhelming majority of the local public
assigned a lower priority to security issues than to children’s
education and livelihood. During this period of equanimity, the local
authorities strove to continue developing the region; hence, they
tended to play down the rocket threat and suppress its significance.
One example of this is the case of a local college that tried to squelch
the news of rocket impacts inside its campus.
It is likely that other
local institutions and communities, anxious to retain their income and
residents, did the same.
The Israeli government, too, seemed to play down the significance of
the rocket campaign during that time. Preliminary discussions over an
Israeli unilateral withdrawal from the Gaza Strip (and from part of the
West Bank) were broached discreetly among confidants of then Prime
Minster Ariel Sharon in the summer of 2003,
two years prior to its
actual implementation. During those two critical years, Sharon fought
energetically to gain public approval for his decision as well as
endorsement from his own political party, the Knesset and the
majority of his own government ministers. Clearly, attention to the
rocket fire on the Gaza envelope communities would have played into
the hands of the Disengagement’s opponents. This probably explains
the motives of Dov Weisglass, Sharon’s close adviser at the time, in MIDEAST SECURITY AND POLICY STUDIES
dismissing the Qassam rockets as “flying objects” – an insignificant
factor in national risk management.
It is hard to pinpoint the exact time when equanimity turned into
apprehension. This shift in public attitudes probably began with the
first rocket fatalities in June 2004 and was completed in late 2005
with the disillusionment over the outcome of the Disengagement. The
state of apprehension increased demands for the construction of
shelters and led to the abandonment of Sderot. The residents’ sense of
insecurity began to surpass their concerns over income and education.
This apprehension was accompanied by a growing estrangement from
the government, which was perceived as being indifferent to their
suffering and too stingy to invest in protecting them. The
intensification of the rocket fire after the Hamas takeover of Gaza led
to angry protests and the blocking of roads in Jerusalem and Tel Aviv
by Sderot residents, who demanded prompt government action to stop
the rocket fire. Through the private initiative of Israeli-Russian tycoon
Arcadi Gaydamak, Sderot residents were offered “vacations” in Eilat
that became popular among part of the population.
The evacuation
of residential districts was not limited to the low socioeconomic strata
of Sderot. In May 2008, after a member of Kibbutz Kfar Aza was
killed by a mortar bomb in front of his fellow kibbutz members,
kibbutz practically disintegrated
as its hitherto highly resilient
community began to abandon the area.
Along with public demoralization in the Gaza envelope communities,
there were also instances where groups and individuals took
advantage of the security situation. In some cases, rumor has it, funds
allocated for building shelters in residences were diverted to the
enlargement of private homes.
Also, while the number of pupils
registered in Sderot’s schools declined, the overall municipal registry
was growing. This paradox can be explained by the benefits and tax
exemptions granted by the government to Sderot residents – it seems
that individuals from outlying districts were registering as Sderot
residents (by renting evacuees apartments for cheap) in order to enjoy
the tax benefits.
Generally, public opinion in the center of Israel was indifferent to the
suffering of the Gaza envelope residents, despite considerable efforts THE MISSILE THREAT FROM GAZA
by various individuals and organizations to generate empathy.
Perhaps the clearest illustration of this indifference was the attempt in
the summer of 2007 to expose Tel Avivians to Sderot’s trials and
tribulations by displaying a Qassam exhibit on the trendy Rothschild
Boulevard in Tel Aviv, which featured 50 exploded Qassam rockets
placed along the boulevard. The media response to this exhibit
indicates that the public in Tel Aviv perceived the display as a
modern sculptural art venture rather than a distress call. This
indifference, seen since the beginning of the Gaza offensive in 2001,
had foreshadowed the “bubble mentality” of the Second Lebanon War
in summer 2006. A coffee shop customer in Tel Aviv, interviewed
during Operation Cast Lead explained the “bubble mentality” as such:
“You can call it escapism, you can call it indifference, but the bottom
line is that you cannot expect people to identify with a suffering they
simply do not experience.”
Nonetheless, the media also offered
many expressions of guilt by individuals and groups from central
Israel over the abandonment of their fellow Israelis in the south. One
blogger wrote of his weekend bicycle ride in the south: “When I
passed near Sderot I thought of it being hit by Qassams and for a
moment I identified with the suffering of the residents. Then the
thought passed and I resumed my concentration on cycling.” Many
other examples of guilt feelings can be found in the print and
electronic media at the time.
Overall, the media did not ignore the rocket campaign and its
consequences and reported in depth on the population’s suffering.
Even so, it curiously refrained from using the term “attrition war” in
its coverage of the events in the south, despite growing similarities to
the previous attrition campaigns along the Jordan Valley and the
Lebanese border. Apparently the government’s tendency to play down
the situation permeated the general media.
As for the attitudes of government representatives, even if some
senior officials were empathetic toward the suffering of the Gaza
envelope population, they managed to conceal it quite effectively.
Expressions such as “flying objects,” “mere psychological threat,” and
“we will not shelter ourselves to death” gave an impression
(presumably unintentionally) of disconnect between the civilians
under attack and the officials elected, among other things, to MIDEAST SECURITY AND POLICY STUDIES
safeguard their security. The foot-dragging on the issue of civil
protection was interpreted to some extent as the government’s
alienation of its citizens, and even as an indication that the
population’s demands were exaggerated, derived from weakness and
outright cowardice. In June 2006, Shimon Peres, then Deputy Prime
Minister, complained, “Everyone is stoking the hysteria. What is the
big deal? Kiryat Shmona was bombed for years.”
Deputy Minister
of Defense, Maj. Gen. (res.) Matan Vilnai, in a speech at the Knesset
in response to a no-confidence proposal, made an unflattering
comparison between the complaints of the Gaza envelope residents
and the resilience of Jerusalem’s residents during the period of suicide
attacks: “We in Jerusalem…suffered hundreds of dead…did we
complain that we could not sleep at night?…Did we claim to have
been forsaken?…”
On their part, the targeted population vented their
anger, frustration and feelings of alienation through graffiti art,
stickers and YouTube clips, demanding “a Western Negev state” or “a
new defense cabinet.” THE MISSILE THREAT FROM GAZA
The Gaza rocket offensive has continued for more than nine years. In
its early stages, in the latter part of 2001, it was no more than a
footnote to the Al-Aqsa Intifada raging across Israel at the time, but
after the Hamas takeover of the Gaza Strip in June 2007 it turned into
a full-blown conflict between the State of Israel and the Hamas
government in Gaza. By September 2010 (time of writing) the
campaign had been relatively quiet for over 18 months, with the
rocket fire dwindling to a “trickle” and with no major Israeli military
action against Hamas or other Gaza organizations except an
occasional minor air strike. This de facto ceasefire was not based on
any formal agreement and therefore its stability and duration are
questionable. It is likely to end sooner or later, and the rocket fire is
bound to resume. Already during Operation Cast Lead, Hamas
showed its ability to attack deep into Israel. According to media
reports, Hamas has been making good use of this lull in hostilities to
build up a larger and longer range arsenal of rockets.
In November 2009, Hamas first tested a rocket with a range that could
reach Tel Aviv. It is probable that Hamas rockets could soon attack
civilian and military targets in central Israel, including Tel Aviv, BenGurion airport and air force bases in the south. What began as a mere
nuisance at the beginning of the previous decade has now turned into
a major strategic threat. How this situation came about and whether it
could have been avoided will be debated heatedly in the future. This
study focuses on the pragmatic aspects of the story, namely Israel’s
response measure and their efficacy.
From the description of Israel’s response measures detailed in this
study, it is clear that Israel preferred offensive responses to defensive
ones. Within the spectrum of offensive responses, preference was
given to limited, offensive operations both on the ground and from the
air. At least five limited ground operations were launched against the
rocket network in Gaza. In April 2002 Israel launched a major ground
offensive (“Defensive Shield”) in the West Bank as part of its efforts
to quash the suicide bombing offensive against central Israel, but it
shrunk back from doing the same in Gaza against the growing menace
of the rocket offensive. Operation Cast Lead, the only major MIDEAST SECURITY AND POLICY STUDIES
counteroffensive against the rocket terror was carried out eight years
In light of the ineffective results of the limited ground assaults, the
question is why were they carried out at all? The answer does not lie
in concrete military notions like preemption and deterrence but relates
to perception and self-image. The inevitable reaction of individuals
and societies to aggression is to fight back, even if this does not bring
immediate or concrete results. Thus, when criticizing the
effectiveness of Israel’s offensive measures, the question must be
asked: what would the outcome have been had no offensive measures
been taken at all? It is reasonable to assume that unlimited, selfimposed restraint in the face of constant rocket attacks – killing Israeli
citizens and driving them out of their homes – would have been
perceived by the Israeli public as well as by Israel’s enemies as a sign
of extreme helplessness. Presumably, any Israeli government that
would have pursued a policy of utter restraint would not have
survived long in office.
The fairly extensive application of offensive measures sharply
contrasts with the hesitation and reluctance of the civil and military
authorities to engage in significant defensive measures, active or
passive. While the use of early warning as a passive defensive
measure was prompt and effective, it was not a particularly expensive
component of the defense toolkit and was infinitely less expensive
than building thousands of secure spaces (MAMADs) or developing
and producing active defense systems. Vigorous political maneuvers
and the intervention of Israel’s Supreme Court were needed in order to
force the government to allocate resources for extensive civil
protection. The development of an active defense system that could
intercept short-range rockets from the Gaza Strip was delayed until
after the shock of the Second Lebanon War. It is yet unclear if and
when sufficient interceptor missiles and associated systems will be
available to protect against the rockets from Gaza. (See postscript for
updated information on Israel’s use of active defense systems).
Ultimately, the common denominator of the two phenomena – the
energetic implementation of offensive measures versus the lethargic
handling of defensive measures – is budgetary. Offensive action THE MISSILE THREAT FROM GAZA
usually makes use of manpower and equipment already budgeted and
paid for in the annual defense budgets. In contrast, extensive civil
protection and major active defense programs require considerable
budgetary allocations, which must be diverted from existing budgets
or financed from increased taxes – in other words, it requires a change
in priorities. Haloutz’s observation on the difficulty of changing
priorities in the Israeli decision making process is appropriate in this
At the same time, it must be noted that the Israeli government has
agreed in the past, albeit reluctantly, to change its budgetary priorities
when a vital need arose either in national security considerations or
domestic political needs. The multi-billion shekel security fence
erected during the Second Intifada for defense against the suicide
campaign is an example of such an emergency budgetary reallocation.
It therefore must be concluded that in the eyes of the Israeli
governments in power since the start of the Gaza rocket offensive,
this campaign did not justify a priority change. Israeli governments
have tended to refer to the rocket campaign against Israel’s south as a
nuisance rather than a major threat to national security (or to their
continued tenure). This attitude was quietly endorsed by the majority
of Israel’s public, who, on the whole, did not criticize its government
or launch an extensive protest (apart from the protest of the residents
of the attacked areas). Overall, both the government and the public
refused to place the rocket threat high on their list of national
How can this be explained? One explanation derives from “precedent
rationale.” Israel experienced attrition wars along its borders in the
past, first in the Jordan Valley and then along the Lebanese border. In
these cases the main response was that of small-scale offensives
actions (with one exception: the First Lebanon War). In previous
cases, too, no significant changes were made to national priorities,
and the public in the center of the country showed acceptance, to a
certain extent, of the situation. This type of behavior seems like a
natural and even healthy response of a society under siege, which
strives to lead a normal daily life while its enemies try to disrupt this
Yet this hypothesis fails to explain some profound difference between
preceding attrition wars and the current one. In the case of the rocket
offensives against northern Israel, civil protection of the residents in
the afflicted areas was not accompanied by scathing debates between
the local population and the authorities as in the present case.
authorities at that time simply did their duty and flooded the afflicted
areas with shelters, both communal and residential, with hardly any
debate. Furthermore, in the attrition wars in the north, Israel’s defense
establishment eagerly sought active defense measures and invested in
a futuristic high power laser system (“Nautilus”), in striking contrast
to its reluctance to invest in active defense in the Gaza case. This
indicates that the “precedent explanation” is not entirely adequate.
A supplementary explanation derives from “specific rationale.” The
rocket campaign from Gaza commenced during the Second Intifada
and escalated after the latter was suppressed. The Israeli public had to
stretch its resilience to the limit in enduring and overcoming the
Second Intifada, which brought in its wake a severe economic crisis.
The significant escalation in the rocket campaign – from 2004
onwards – was characterized by the decline of the Second Intifada
and an easing of the security situation in Israel’s large cities, which
brought a sense of relief and an impressive economic recovery.
Some of the recovery was due to the economic reforms of then
Minister of Finance Binyamin Netanyahu. Conceivably the desire to
sustain the economic recovery by maintaining tight budgetary
discipline was the main motive for the tendency to refrain from
allocating significant resources for defense in general and for
defensive responses to the rocket campaign in the south in particular.
While this approach is understandable, its downside became evident
not only in the hesitant management of the battle along the Gaza
border, but also in the IDF’s lack of proficiency that was
unfortunately demonstrated in the Second Lebanon War. The
suppression of the Second Intifada and the return of Israel’s economy
to an accelerated growth track were impressive national
achievements, but the preference of “butter” over “guns” took its toll
both in the Second Lebanon War and in the suffering of the Gaza
envelope residents. THE MISSILE THREAT FROM GAZA
To sum up, Israel’s response measures in the face of the southern
rocket campaign did not differ in principle from the responses to
previous attrition wars, which also gave preference to the
maintenance of normal, daily routines in non-targeted areas. Yet in
the Gaza case, Israel’s responses were colored by the circumstances of
the time, which brought out a lower level of decisiveness in the
defensive realm in comparison to past cases. In order to “justify” the
hesitancy of the defensive response, some government officials opted
to trivialize the threat – for example, calling it a “mere psychological
threat.” The price paid by Israeli society for this hesitancy and
indecisiveness was damage to the social fabric and a sense of
alienation among the afflicted residents. The government’s behavior
can perhaps be explained, but can in no way be excused. A national
leadership is elected to lead the nation in times of peace and war
rather than to merely act as its bookkeeper.
And what of the future? It is unclear whether past models of
contained attrition wars near the country’s borders are still relevant.
The massive armament of Syria, Hizballah and Hamas with rockets
and missiles that can hit the entire country from end to end might
ratchet any minor border incident into a war of attrition against
Israel’s heartland. Maintaining normal life in the heartland of Israel
while a war rages along the borders may no longer be tenable. From
now on, any war in the periphery has the potential to quickly blow up
into a war of attrition against the entire territory of Israel. In this new
reality it will be impossible to ignore the issue of defensive measures,
and Israeli society, if it wants to live, will have to change its priorities
and bear the burden of withstanding the new mode of warfare
inflicted upon it. Not only will social cohesion rely on defensive
measures, but the very ability of Israel’s society to function and to
support the IDF’s offensive measures will depend on it. MIDEAST SECURITY AND POLICY STUDIES
In the 10 months that have passed since the publication of the Hebrew
version of this study, the intensity and general pattern of the Gaza
rocket offensive has evolved in a predictable manner. On the whole,
the “drizzle” of rocket fire has persisted over this period, interrupted
by brief cycles of escalation that subsequently petered down again to
a “drizzle”.
Two escalation cycles have been recorded to date: one in early April
2011 and the second in late August 2011. In both cases, the rocket fire
intensified after Israel attacked targets in the Gaza Strip, killing
Palestinian combatants or civilians. The escalation pattern was,
however, significantly different from that of the pre-Cast Lead
offensive. Here, the tendency of the Palestinian groups was to fire
rockets at the more distant, larger cities in Israel’s south and not at the
small Israeli communities adjacent to the Gaza border, like Sderot.
Ashkelon, Ashdod and Be’er Sheva were repeatedly targeted, as well
as some smaller towns deep within Israel.
As predicted, the rocket offensive has increasingly targeted larger
populations within Israel’s heartland, making it impossible to confine
the confrontation to the border areas. While the rocket offensive up
until Cast Lead at the end of 2008 affected about 200,000 Israeli
civilians, the two rounds of escalation in 2011 affected close to one
million people. Sderot, in fact, was hardly targeted – according to
available sources, there were no more than three hits within the city
limits out of an approximate 280 rockets of all types fired at Israel
during the two cycles of escalation. The Palestinians, it seems, have
lost interest in harassing small communities; with longer range
rockets now at their disposal, they are finding it more profitable to
harass larger cities.
The second major departure from the previous pattern was the
implementation of Israel’s active defense system. After completing
another round of successful tests in February 2011, the two available
Iron Dome batteries, which had been stored in an Israel Air Force
base, were used in late March and early April 2011 for the defense of
Be’er Sheva and Ashkelon respectively. Their rate of success in the THE MISSILE THREAT FROM GAZA
field is unclear (no official information on this has been released to
date), but the media has reported success rates ranging from 78-93
percent. Although both cities were subjected to repeated attacks, very
few of the Palestinian rockets penetrated the active defense,
minimizing loss of life and property damage. The combined Israeli
toll in both flare ups was one dead and less than 10 severely injured.
This lethality ratio of one fatality for every 280 rockets is much lower
than the lethality ratio in the opening phase of Cast Lead (one fatality
per 100 rockets) and that of the 2006 Lebanon War (one fatality per
72 rockets). It seems then that the use of active defense reduced the
lethality of the Palestinian rockets by at least two-thirds. The
relatively minimal casualties and property damage enabled the Israeli
government to manage the crisis without escalating the violence.
The success of Iron Dome has dispelled any misgivings within Israel’s
political leadership over the need for active defense. The treasury’s
fears that a growing need for passive defense deeper inside Israel
would require huge budgets were coming true, and active defense
now seemed the cheaper choice. The success of the initial active
defense system to intercept the majority of rockets has created a
strong demand from local governments in southern Israel for the
deployment of Iron Dome in their communities. In the wake of the
August 2011 flare up, Israeli Minister of Defense Ehud Barak
announced the imminent activation of a third Iron Dome battery in
September 2011 and a fourth one by the end of the year.
The Israel Air Force, whose troops operate Iron Dome, seems to have
been finally cured of its ambivalence, and its troops have embraced
the system enthusiastically. Furthermore, the Air Defense Command
has been expanded from one to three wings in preparation for the
absorption of more Iron Dome batteries and the next missile defense
system, “David’s Sling,” expected to mature in about two years.
The Palestinians’ reaction to the introduction of active defense was
mixed. Some reports spoke about frustration among Gaza’s residents,
many of whom could watch the Palestinian rockets being destroyed in
mid-air over neighboring Ashkelon. At the same time, the Palestinian
armed factions made intense efforts to break through the defense by
launching larger salvoes of rockets at the two batteries defending MIDEAST SECURITY AND POLICY STUDIES
Ashkelon and Be’er Sheva, while forgoing the temptation to seriously
hit the yet undefended city of Ashdod. In fact, the single fatality
during the two escalation cycles came as a result of a particularly
heavy salvo of Grad rockets fired at Be’er Sheva on the night of
August 20, 2011. The fact that this barrage of rockets was aimed at
Be’er Sheva, with its Iron Dome battery, and not at the equidistant but
larger and undefended city of Ashdod, may indicate that the
Palestinians’ main priority was to probe the defense system for
weaknesses. Such use of saturated fire as a countermeasure to missile
defense was predictable based on numerous statements made by
Iranian and Hizballah officers.
The future security environment in the Middle East and along Israel’s
borders, both in the north and south, hinges on the outcome of the
ongoing upheavals in the region – the so called “Arab spring” that has
been ongoing since February 2011, toppling three of the region’s
regimes. The end of Mubarak’s rule in Egypt and the still raging
violence in Syria will no doubt influence the future of Israel’s
confrontation with the Palestinians in Gaza and with Hizballah, as
well as the course of future rocket offensives. THE MISSILE THREAT FROM GAZA
Cross-referencing public sources reveals that from the start of the campaign until
Operation Cast Lead, 4,320 rockets were fired, killing 17 people, in addition to
2,543 mortar shells, which killed another ten.
For example: “When a discussion was held about Gaza, opinions here were that
bombs and Katyushas would be fired from Gaza to Ashkelon. Well, were they?”
Shimon Peres, 28 June 1995. Available at:
“The nightmare scenarios of the Likud are well known. They also promised us
Katyushas from Gaza. For a year now Gaza is predominantly under PA rule. There
hasn’t been a single Katyusha and there won’t be,” Yitzhak Rabin on Israeli radio,
24 July 1995. An audio recording can be found at:
Some of the media expressed a similar position, for example: “Who remembers, for
instance, the Katyushas which were meant to land on Ashkelon if ‘God forbid’ the
Gaza Strip were evacuated?” Carmit Guy, Radio Channel 2, 6 April 2000. Available
Dov Weisglass at a conference on science, technology and security, Tel Aviv
University, 2 June 2005. See also, “Weisglass: The Qassams – Flying Objects,”
Yediot Aharonot, 3 June 2005.
“Ministry of Defense: Trade Renewed with China”, Ynet News, 3 January 2006.
“We will not fortify ourselves to death, though there may be extreme situations in
which we will have a limited response capability,” Globes, 3 December 2007.
The terms “artillery rocket” and “rocket artillery” are used interchangeably to refer
to the use of rockets for bombing purposes.
“And the rocket red glare, bomb bursting in air gave proof through the night that
our flag was still there.” These lyrics were inspired by the courage of the defenders
of Fort McHenry, Baltimore, against the artillery bombardment of the British Royal
Navy in the War of 1812, a bombardment which made much use of Congreve
rockets as steep trajectory weapons.
The system in IDF use is the US-made MLRS – Multiple Launch Rocket System –
with a 300mm diameter and range of 40 km.
Wikipedia (Hebrew), under “Katyusha.”
For a detailed survey of the Hizballah rocket campaign during the Second
Lebanon War and the IDF efforts to suppress it, see U. Rubin, “The Rocket
Campaign Against Israel During the 2006 Lebanon War”, Middle East Security and
Policy Studies, No. 71, BESA Center, June 2007. Available at:
“$20M in Tiger Weapon Seized,” National Post, 4 May 2009. Available at:
In 2003, after the Iraq War, artillery rockets were used extensively against urban
targets by the rebels in that country. The current war in Afghanistan has been MIDEAST SECURITY AND POLICY STUDIES
characterized in the last few years by the extensive use of rockets against population
centers, including the capital, Kabul. Lately, rockets were reported to have been
used also by the pro-Pakistani organizations in Kashmir against Indian targets and
by the Kurdish PKK organization in Turkey against Turkish army posts in eastern
El Kassam English forum, see Adnan el Ghoul at
The technical description of the rockets and the overview of the evolution of the
rocket campaign in the present and following chapters is taken mostly from the
report of the Intelligence Heritage & Commemoration Center (IICC), “The Rocket
Threat from Gaza 2000-2007.” Available at
The Aqaba Summit was held during the visit of US President George Bush, with
participation as well by Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, Jordanian King
Abdullah and the Prime Minster of the Palestinian Authority, Abu Mazen, who
made a commitment at the Summit to stop the armed Intifada and the anti-Israel
The first two fatalities from a Qassam rocket attack launched from Gaza were
Afik Zehavi and his grandfather, Mordechai Yosefov, both killed by a rocket that
landed near a kindergarten in Sderot on 28 June 2004. See S. Hadad & A. Halfon,
“Sderot: Adult and Boy Killed in Qassam Rocket Attack,” Ynet News, 28 June
2004. Available at:,7340,L-2938751,00.html.
On 17 March 2005 Hamas, Fatah and ten other Palestinian organizations reached
an agreement for Hamas to be integrated into the Palestinian Authority. This
agreement paved the way for a Hamas victory in the elections to the Palestinian
Parliament in January 2006.
For more information on the bombing of a booby-trapped house and tunnel within
the Hamas-controlled area and the attack on a Qassam launching team on 5
November 2008, see
One of the fatalities, Be Suda, was a Thai foreign worker who worked in the
flower hothouses of the Ganei Tal settlement in Gush Katif.
Salah and Halid Zaddin (father and son) were killed by a Qassam rocket adjacent
to Kibbutz Nahal Oz.
Bamachane (army periodical – Hebrew), 2 January 2009.
This data was logged by the author in a comprehensive logbook maintained by
him during the operation, based on media reports, mostly from websites, such as
Ynet, NRG, Haaretz, Sikur Memukad, and Heder Hadashot. Nevertheless, Israeli
official announcements gave different numbers. The disparity probably is the result
of a combination of factors, such as uncertainty about the rockets that landed in
open areas, different definitions and counting methods, partial reporting by the
population on rocket landings, the lack of differentiation between rockets and
mortar shells by communities exposed to both weapons, etc.
One of the difficulties in counting the lightly wounded is the lack of
differentiation between physical and psychological injuries when reporting the
numbers. As part of the effort to strengthen public morale in the afflicted areas,
teams of psychologists encouraged people to apply for help in cases of THE MISSILE THREAT FROM GAZA
psychological stress. Each person who did so was counted in the statistics as a
“stress casualty.”
Y. Melman, “Hamas: We Hit the Tel Nof Air Force Base”, Haaretz, 10 January
U. Rubin, “An Active Defense against Rockets and Missiles: The Lessons of
Operation Cast Lead and the 2006 Lebanon War,” Middle East Security and Policy
Studies, No. 69, BESA Center, February 2009. Available at:
According to the IICC, in the year following Operation Cast Lead, a total of 141
rockets were fired – just less than the number of rockets fired in 2003. See:
D. Richardson, “Hamas Rocket Teams Adapted to Israeli Tactics Amid Conflict,”
Jane’s Missiles and Rockets, December 2009, p. 11.
Bamachane, 2 January 2009.
For a survey on Operation “Days of Repentance,” including start and end dates,
see NEWS 1 website,
The infant Dorit Benisian. See:
A. Buchbut & M. Osmana, “Days of Repentance: 130 Terrorists Killed,” NRG
News, 16 October 2004.
IDF Spokesperson, “Operation First Rain to Eradicate Qassam Fire North of The
Gaza Strip,” 26 September 2005. See:
“Chief of General Staff: The Aim of Operation Blue Skies is to roll back the
Qassam threat from strategic installations in the Ashkelon area.” See:
“Qassam Landed on Strategic installation in Ashkelon,” Ynet News, 14 February
See diagram on “Extent of Fire in 2006” and “Rocket Threat from Gaza Strip
2000-2006,” IICC Report, p. 40; See “Kassam Rockets Statistic to January 2008.”
Available at:
Due to “vacations” in Eilat funded by tycoon Arcadi Gaydamak. See:,7340,L-3329216,00.html.
Author’s interview of Lieutenant-General (res) Dan Haloutz, 30 July 2009.
Buchbut & Osmana, “Days of Repentance: 130 Terrorists Killed.”
“Mofaz: A Qassam Fired? We will send A-Zahar to Yassin,” Ynet News, 27
September 2005. Note: Sheikh Yassin was the leader of Hamas until his elimination
by the IDF in a focused operation on March 2004. Mahnood A-Zahar is currently
the most senior Hamas leader in Gaza.
“Qassam Landed on Strategic installation in Ashkelon.” MIDEAST SECURITY AND POLICY STUDIES
Colonel (res.) Shaul Arieli, former IDF Brigade Commander of Gaza, commented
that “there is no perfect military solution to the Qassam attacks.” Interview, “From
Today to Tomorrow” program, Channel 1 TV, 5 July 2006.
C. Greenberg, “IDF: Eventually We Will See the Results in Gaza,” Ynet News, 21
December 2007.
Author’s interview with Dan Haloutz, 30 July 2009.
On the IDF’s objection to developing the Arrow, see U. Eilam, Eilam’s Arch (Tel
Aviv: Yediot Aharonot and Sifrei Hemed, 2009, Hebrew), p. 411. For a more
detailed analysis of the IDF position against the project, see, B. Z. Naveh and A.
Lorber, Theater Ballistic Missile Defense, American institute for Aeronautics and
Astronautics publications, Lexington Massachusetts, pp. 23-26.
Eilam, Eilam’s Arch, p. 421.
A. Barzilai, “Director General of Ministry of Defense: In The Next Few Years
There Will Be No System to Intercept Qassams,” Haaretz, 19 October 2004.
Author’s interview with Maj. Gen. (res) Amos Yaron, 12 March 2009.
F. Frisch, “What’s on Fire?” Maariv, 21 November 2007. Solicited proposals
submitted for the development of an interceptor system against heavier rockets of
the Fajr type later crystallized into the “Sling of David” program. This program,
launched on March 2006, had no requirement to defend against Qassam rockets.
A. Lorber, “The High Energy Laser – Is Israel Attempting its Next TechnoPolitical Flop?” Ariel Center for Policy Research (ACPR), December 2009.
Available at:
A. Egozi, “Sources Claim That The Qassam Interceptor System Will Be
Operational in 6 to 8 Years,” Yediot Aharonot, 16 November 2006.
For a detailed survey on Hizballah’s rocket campaign on the north during the
Second Lebanon war, see: Rubin, “The Rocket Campaign Against Israel During the
2006 Lebanon War.”
In response to the firing of mortar shells and short-range rockets on US forces in
Iraq, the US ground forces developed a ground-based model of the ship-mounted
PHALANX naval rapid-fire gun. Its high rate of fire enabled it to hit mortar shells
and rockets in flight. The US and British ground forces purchased, deployed and
operated these gun systems to protect their forces in Iraq. According to media
reports, these gun systems proved successful.
The chief of the R&D division of MAFAT, Brigadier General Dani Gold, was
criticized harshly for this by the State Comptroller. In others’ opinion, including this
author, Gold’s actions were timely and praiseworthy.
Israel’s 12
Prime Minister Ehud Olmert: “Israel’s 31
Government: Policy
Decisions and Implementation” (In Hebrew, p. 15), Prime Minister’s Office
Communication Department.
A. Harel, “Minister of Defense: Interceptor System will Protect Sderot within
Two and a Half Years,” Haaretz, 24 December 2007.
A. Egozi & Y. Yehoshua, “The Price of Defense,” Yediot Aharonot, 10 January
A. Harel, “Iron Dome, Missile Interceptor System, Not to be Deployed in Sderot,”
Haaretz, 3 February 2010.
Y. Melman, “State Comptroller Report: Foot-Dragging in Deploying Vulcan
Phalanx Guns for Intercepting Rockets,” Haaretz, 2 March 2009.
The other three pillars are deterrence, preemption and attack. See speech by
Minister of Defense Amir Peretz at the Herzliya Conference, 22 January 2007:
Interview with Amos Yaron, 12 March 2009.
Interview with Dan Haloutz, 30 July 2009.
In one of the bombings raids on Tel Aviv, 107 people were killed in the Nordia
neighborhood, today’s Dizengoff Center shopping mall. See
This term was introduced into the paper to convey as best as possible in English
the Hebrew term “migun”, for which the words reinforcement or hardening are not
quite an accurate translation.
Author’s interview with Knesset Member Shai Chermesh, 19 March 2009.
“The Disengagement, Shelterization of the Gaza Envelope communities,
Decisions and Implementation,” State Comptroller Report, 22 January 2006.
I. Saban & A. Egozi, “The Failed Deterrence,” Yediot Aharonot, 21 September
Y. Knispel, “Israel Defense Award for Early Warning System Developed by
GOC Army Headquarters,” GOC Army Headquarters website, 25 June 2009.
Available at:
Artillery-spotting radar is used to track hostile mortars bombs, pinpoint their
launch coordinates, and compute their anticipated impact points.
S. Helving, GOC Army Headquarters website, 15 January 2009. Available at:
This data and most of the information on decision-making processes and budgets
until after the Disengagement comes from: “The Disengagement, Shelterization of
the Gaza Envelope communities, Decisions and Implementation,” State
Comptroller’s Report, 22 January 2006, unless stated otherwise.
Author’s interview with Eli Moyal, 5 May 2009.
“Alon Schuster: The Decision of the Prime Minister’s General Director is
Impertinent and Irresponsible,” 4 December 2006,
Interview with Shai Chermesh, 19 March 2009.
The opponents of Iron Dome were quick to conclude that this system would not
be able to protect Sderot, whose western urban limit lies about 1.4 km from the
Gaza border, but this is not necessarily correct. Firing rockets from the Gaza
borderline itself is too risky to the launch team, compelling the Palestinian
organizations to launch their rockets from deep within their territory from sites
embedded in densely populated areas. It can be safely assumed that the currentlyused Qassam rockets are launched from a distance of at least 6 km from their targets
– a range well within the specification of Iron Dome.
Author’s interview with Shai Chermesh, 15 April 2010. MIDEAST SECURITY AND POLICY STUDIES
Information on residents’ attitudes as well as on the intentional suppression of the
rocket attacks’ implications come from the author’s interview with Alon Schuster,
Head of Sha’ar Hanegev Regional Council, 19 April 2009.
Interview with Dan Haloutz, 30 July 2009.
State Comptroller Report from 22 January 2006.
Interview with Eli Moyal, 5 May 2009.
In his response to the lawsuit filed in the Israeli High Court of Justice by residents
of the Gaza envelope communities demanding the provision of rocket sheltering of
their homes, Israel’s Attorney General stated that the shelterization of residential
homes in the Gaza envelope have “significant budgetary consequences, such as
tying up the huge budgets from being spent on other, more publicly-beneficial
purposes.” See: “The State to the Israeli High Court of Justice: Stay Away from the
Fortification Issue,” NRG News, 10 December 2007. Available at: .
Statement by Prime Minister Ehud Olmert during a debate in the State
Comptrolling Committee at the Knesset, 3 December 2007. See: “Olmert: Israel
will not shelter itself to death,” NRG News, 3 December 2007. Available at:
Interview with Alon Schuster, 19.4.2009.
Lieutenant-General (res) Moshe Yaalon, “What caused the Disengagement?”
Jewish Leadership website, 8 March 2006, .
“Peretz vs. Gaydamak: We will not allow a takeover by donors,” Ynet News, 16
November 2006.
Kibbutz member Jimmy Kadosh.
Interview with Shai Chermesh, 19 March 2009.
Prime Minister Ehud Olmert hinted at this in his remarks during a debate in the
State Comptrolling Committee on 3 December 2007: “If someone thinks we should
invest billions in underground shelters so that we could rest in them, this will not
happen.” (see 85 above).
Israeli Channel 2 News, 5 January 2009.
S. Hadad & A. Somfalvi, “Sderot under Curfew,” Ynet News, 20 June 2008.
Available at:,7340,L-3264961,00.html.
A. Maranda, “Vilnai to residents of the Gaza Envelope: Hundreds were killed in
the terror attacks,” Ynet News, 16 June 2008. Available at:,7340,L-3556420,00.html. Deputy Minister Vilnai,
realizing the strong negative impression of his remarks on the residents of the Gaza
envelope, made a second visit the following day (17 June 2008), to try to rectify the
Ehud Barak, speaking about the difference in approach of the administration then
and now, said during his 2008 meeting with heads of councils in the south: ” Just as
we built, for years, shelters for every house in the north, so it should be done now in
the south.” Concurrently, his deputy, Maj. Gen. (res) Matan Vilnai, alluded to the
source of this difference in a somewhat roundabout way: “We will get to the second
stage (of the shelterization program) and as it happened in the first one, this will
also be carried out against the wish of the Prime Minister.” See: “Barak to Gaza THE MISSILE THREAT FROM GAZA
Envelope: Standing by You on Fortification,” Western Negev website, 14 August
2008. Available at:
During the peak of the Second Intifada, in 2001-2003, there was a negative
annual growth rate of 2% in Israel’s GNP. In the years 2004-2007 (inclusive), the
GNP grew annually at a rate of 3-4%. See “60 Years in Statistics,” Genera


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