This past week a senior Israeli military official from the army’s Gaza Division was quoted as saying that Hamas has rebuilt its rocket systems and restored its stockpiles on Israel’s southern border, while U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said that Hezbollah on Israel’s northern border has 80,000 rockets pointed her way. Another war of the missiles may be on the horizon.
Looking back over Jewish history, there is a joke that the Jews are the chosen people; and after all the calamities that have befallen us through the centuries, we plead, “Please choose someone else!” Missiles are only the latest challenge.
Early threats to Jews in Palestine
During the pre-state period, 1880 to 1948, long time Jewish residents and the newly-arrived pioneers in Palestine both had to fight many challenges: failed crops, malaria, bandit marauders. Then after 1920, Arabs who opposed Jewish settlement lobbied the British to halt Jewish immigration and tried to thwart Jewish land acquisition and commerce. Also, Arab gangs began to attack Jews with brutal outbreaks of violence in 1920, 1921, 1929 and 1936. And starting with the Jewish declaration of an independent state in 1948, Israel’s Jews had to fight several wars for survival. Casualties were painful — the 1956 Sinai campaign, the 1967 Six- Day War, the 1982 and 2006 Lebanon wars, and especially in the 1948 War for Independence and in the 1973 Yom Kippur War, when thousands of Jews were killed in battle in each of those conflicts.
After Israel had secured its independence, joined the United Nations and established a regular army, the scourge of Arab terrorism appeared. The 1950s fedayeen that attacked civilians from across the Gaza border were followed by the Palestine Liberation Organization, Black September and the Abu Nidal group in the 1970s and 1980s; all focused on airplane hijackings and other high-profile events. In the 1990s and 2000s terrorists including Hamas, Hezbollah, Islamic Jihad and the Al Aqsa Martyrs’ Brigade sent suicide bombers to blow up civilians in Israeli restaurants, nightclubs and buses. Their bloody plans were successful; but Israel’s intelligence agencies, military strategies and the building of the security fence have halted most of those type of attacks in recent years. A new attack called a ‘lone wolf’ has appeared since September 2015, individuals perpetrating violence through stabbings and car-rammings. The Israeli security forces are just now developing new methods to stem these.
The rocket and missile that flies overhead defies borders and soldiers and tanks. It indiscriminately targets Israeli civilians – Jew, Christian, Muslim, Druze. Hezbollah in Lebanon, Hamas in Gaza and other terrorist groups in Sinai (and perhaps in the not too distant future in Jordan and the West Bank) — groups that lurk just beyond Israel’s population centers — have or are developing or are seeking to buy missile capability. A missile doesn’t depend on invading soldiers, suicide bombers or saboteurs. Missiles are fired from enemy territory and can be launched quite a distance away from their intended targets. Israel and the U.S. recognize this threat and have jointly developed the Iron Dome and the Arrow antimissile defense systems, earlier deployed the Patriot missile, and are developing David’s Sling and other responses.
During the 2014 Gaza War, thousands of rockets were fired at Israel by Hamas and Islamic Jihad. The Iron Dome system had a very good takedown rate. But some rockets got through, civilians were killed, many were wounded, and much property was damaged or destroyed. A missile launched from Gaza came very near to Israel’s only international airport, Ben Gurion, and nearly shut it down. If that had happened, the damage to Israel’s economy would have been severe and long-lasting. Just last month Israel discovered an illegal weapons cache on the West Bank which included a rocket launcher – very worrying.
How Israel addresses this challenge will depend as always on its ingenuity and resourcefulness, its strategic alliance with the United States, and its determination to remain the refuge of, and future for, the Jewish people. May it succeed, survive and thrive.