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 By: Prof. Dr. Mohsen Mohammad Saleh.

On Friday, 26/10/2001, the al-Qassam Brigades, the military wing of the Islamic Resistance Movement Hamas, fired the first locally-made Palestinian rocket on the settlement of Sderot. The rocket, named “Qassam-1”, marked the beginning of a new phase of armed resistance in occupied Palestine, and has since become a source of increasing concern for the state of Israel.

On 11/2/2002, the prestigious American political magazine Time said of the resistance’s adoption of rockets into its inventory of weapons that it will be these homemade rockets “that could change the Mideast.”

For its part, CNN stated on 5/3/2002 that these rockets represented “a wild card in Mideast conflict.”

Quickly, Hamas upgraded this rocket to Qassam-2, which it used in combat for the first time in February 2002. On 5/3/2002, this rocket succeeded in inflicting Israeli losses. After that, Hamas went on to develop its rocket arsenal further, while other Palestinian resistance factions, particularly the Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ), followed suit.

In the years that followed the second Intifadah, al-Aqsa Intifadah, the rocket capabilities of the resistance grew dramatically, particularly in the Gaza Strip (GS), posing an increasing threat to larger areas within the Palestinian territories occupied in 1948. To be sure, the resistance succeeded in acquiring Russian-made Grad missiles and Iranian-made Fajr missiles, in addition to making important strides in the manufacturing of rockets using domestic capabilities.

Despite variations in the statistics available, it can be said that until the end of 2007, around 3,000 rockets were fired, and it appears that most of them were launched by al-Qassam Brigades. The latter announced that it fired 2,252 rockets up until 30/11/2007. In 2008, there was a qualitative shift with 2,048 rockets fired along with 1,672 mortar rounds (without counting the number of rockets fired during the war on GS

[Operation Cast Lead]). Thus, the resistance was able to gradually expand the range of its rockets, which now had a radius of more than 80 kilometers.

The resistance factions had sought to use rockets out of the West Bank (WB) as well, but the state of Israel was quick to crush these attempts. The fact that the WB remains under direct Israeli occupation, in addition to the close security cooperation between the Israeli side and the security forces affiliated with the Palestinian National Authority in Ramallah, has prevented the resistance from developing operations using rocket attacks in the WB. In addition, any resistance elements, fighting or planning resistance operations, are still being pursued and apprehended in the WB to date.

In truth, this cooperation with Israel reached unprecedented levels. The Israeli government revealed in its report submitted to the Ad Hoc Liaison Committee in Brussels, that, in 2010, the Israeli security forces carried out 2,968 instances of coordination with the Palestinian security forces, and held 686 joint bilateral meetings during the same year. In other words, the number of joint operations between the two sides in one year exceeded the number of rockets fired by the resistance in one year.

The Iron Dome System

It was clear that Israel has been focusing on deploying anti-missile systems, aiming to have the biggest missile shield system of its kind in the world deployed by 2015, covering all Israeli airspace from any missile or rocket attacks, with a price tag of up to US$ 2.3 billion.  The Israeli plans include procuring Arrow (Hetz) Missile Interceptor System, and deploying the Magic Wand interception system which can thwart artillery and long-range missiles, such as the Iranian designed Fajr as well as cruise missiles. The plan also includes deploying the Iron Dome system capable of intercepting short-range rockets.

In 2011, the United States, in addition to the annual aid it gives to Israel, allocated US$ 415 million to fund Iron Dome-related projects, in addition to the Hetz missiles and David’s Sling – or Magic Wand. Moreover, the 2012 defense budget appropriations for US-Israeli Missile Defense reached $236 million.
On 27/3/2011, Israel deployed the first Iron Dome anti-rocket system near the border with GS, and until the beginning of its assault on GS on 14/11/2012, Israel had 4 batteries in service, with the fifth deployed on 17/11/2012. Israel requires around 15 Iron Dome modules to complete its defensive capabilities vis-à-vis GS and its northern borders with Lebanon.

However, it appears that the performance of the Iron Dome in 2011 was not encouraging, even though Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak had claimed that it will change the face of the coming wars, described it as an “exceptional Israeli technological achievement.” However, Israeli sources acknowledged the difficulty of dealing with mortars and homemade Palestinian rockets. According to a report published by the Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the Palestinian resistance launched 65 rockets and 67 mortar shells during 7–10/4/2011, of which the Iron Dome system successfully intercepted only eight.
In the recent Israeli aggression on GS, on 14-21/11/2012, the Israeli army acknowledged that the resistance had fired 1,506 rockets, and claimed that the Iron Dome system intercepted 421 rockets.

The problems of the Iron Dome system do not stop at its ineffectiveness, but also involve its high cost compared to the resistance rockets. While each Iron Dome system costs around US$60 million, and each interception costs US$40 thousand, each rocket fired by the resistance does not cost more than a few hundred dollars, and with Grad missiles, a few thousand.

A Giant or a Toy?

The leaders of the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) and the Palestinian Authority (PA) were keen on pressing ahead with the peace process, especially after the end of al-Aqsa Intifadah. Several of those leaders had a negative view of the performance of the resistance and the results of al-Aqsa Intifadah. They made harsh statements especially with regard to resistance rockets. On 9/3/2008, President ‘Abbas described the rockets as being futile and worthless. On 20/1/2008, Prime Minister Salam Fayyad said that launching rockets has brought GS nothing but disasters.

The then interior minister in the caretaker government in GS, Sa‘id Siyam, had revealed in a press conference held on 23/8/2007 that President ‘Abbas gave orders for shooting those who fire rockets at Israel. Critics of the rockets also used facetious terms to describe them, calling them mere “firecrackers” and so on.

Throughout the outgoing period, the position of the PA and its leaders did not change. But during the recent war on GS, many PA officials in Ramallah remained silent, while a number of Fatah leaders and followers expressed support for the resistance and its rockets, echoing the views of large segments of the Palestinian people.

Critics of the resistance emphasize that the rockets cause minor damage on the Israeli side, compared to the exorbitant costs paid by the Palestinian side, in terms of deaths, destruction and the blockade. For instance, 1,344 Palestinians were killed in the 22-day Israeli assault on GS between December 27/12/2008 and 18/1/2009, in addition to 5,300 homes that were completely destroyed, and 16 thousand that were damaged. The assault, whose stated goals included ending rocket fire, also completely destroyed the infrastructure in GS. Meanwhile, the resistance fired 571 rockets and 205 mortar shells, killing four Israelis.

In the recent Israeli aggression on GS, which took place on 14–21/11/2012, 162 Palestinians were killed, while the resistance fired more than 1,500 rockets killing five Israelis.

Critics also claim that the rockets of the resistance disrupt the peace process, and gives pretexts to Israel to continue its occupation, assaults, and blockades and to evade its obligations.

This line of thought may appear logical for those who link their evaluation solely to human and material losses suffered by the two sides. However, the resistance factions have a different logic based on the following tenets:

1. It is well known that resisting the occupation and liberating the land from occupation was never based on the logic of comparing the human and material losses of the parties to the conflict. Despite the pricelessness of each drop of blood shed by the oppressed, and despite the fact that it is the duty of resistance forces to protect their people and not to engage in uncalculated and reckless adventures, the mere comparison of losses between a dominant occupation force and an oppressed people is unfair, and can only lead to surrendering to the will of the occupying enemy.

The Algerian people, for instance, had to sacrifice more than a million martyrs to win their freedom, while the French only admitted to 26 thousand deaths on their side. Similarly, the Russians paid more than twenty million lives in the fight against the Nazis.

2. The conflict with the occupation is essentially a conflict of wills. Winning the battle with the enemy will be the result of steadfastness, sacrifice and will power, and to seek to break the will of the enemy and frustrate it. Indeed, the essence of the battle in the end is “the man,” who expresses the identity of the land, its will and its heritage. Therefore, the model of Faris ‘Odeh, who faced an Israeli tank with stones alone, is not futile, because it expresses the value of ‘the man” that is not clear to many politicians, or to the people who stand to benefit from dealing or brokering deals with Israel.

3. The conflict with the occupation is a struggle based on the accumulation of experiences, competences and strengths.

Perhaps the first Palestinian rocket appeared in the beginning to be primitive, short-range and ineffective, but it was a step in the one thousand mile journey that every willing person with a plan must undertake. It did no harm to Thomas Edison, for instance, that his experiments failed six thousand times before inventing in the end the electric light bulb. Similarly, it did no harm to the resistance that it had to start out with what some called “firecrackers,” because without these, the advanced Fajr-5 missile would not have been launched, and the resistance would not have been able to surprise Israel with homemade missiles such as M75, whose range exceed 75 km and which can reach Tel Aviv and Jerusalem.

4. Israeli losses cannot be measured by the number of dead and injured alone, since security and the economy are of an exceptional vital concern to Israel. The Palestinian rockets, which are no longer primitive, pose a threat to the lives of nearly 60% of Jewish settlers, or about 3.5 million Israelis. As for the Israeli factories located in range of Palestinian rockets, their combined annual revenues are in excess of US$ 13 billion.

5. What if the resistance refrained from firing rockets? and the factions that support the peace process were able to take control of the situation? Will the Palestinians then be able to restore their lands and live in peace and prosperity?

Any observer examining the conditions in the WB, after the supporters of the peace process implemented all Israeli demands and conditions there, including crushing the resistance and security coordination with Israel, will no doubt see that the Palestinian side has only grown weaker there and lives under more humiliation.

Any observer will see that the Judaization of Jerusalem is taking place at an accelerating pace, and that the lands of the WB are being eaten up by Jewish settlements and the Separation Wall. Observers will also see that 85% of the WB water sources have been seized by Israel, and that the number of Jewish settlers has increased since the Oslo Accords from 180 thousand in 1993 to 560 thousand by the end of 2011. The observer will also see with his own eyes that the peace process has been disrupted and it has failed, and will see the explicit Israeli exploitation of this reality to alter the facts on the ground and end any Palestinian dream for freedom and independence.

What is more proper for the Palestinian people then? Is it the sight of Palestinian policemen being driven out of their barracks in the WB in their underwear during the al-Aqsa Intifadah? Or is it the sight of a Palestinian mother celebrating the martyrdom of her son? Is it the sight of Israelis and their leaders running from the rockets to the shelters? Or is it the sight of Palestinian security men in the WB meeting with their Israeli counterparts 686 times in one year, to coordinate with them over how to pursue resistance fighters? Those, who know Palestinians and their continuous sufferance, know very well the answer.

It gives the GS and its people enough pride to have managed to thwart the Israel’s plans and forced it to withdraw, and to have expressed the dignity of their nation, forcing Israelis to agree to lift the blockade and open the crossings.

The GS has thus become an example of what humans can achieve, by focusing their energies and capabilities to alter the equation in the conflict, side by side with the Arab and Muslim nation, and all the supporters of justice.

The time has come for the Palestinian house to be put in order on the basis of adherence to the national unity and priorities.

The Arabic version of this article appeared on Al on 23/11/2012.

Al-Zaytouna Centre for Studies and Consultations, 10/12/2012