At Large

Qassams for Breakfast

Ariel Sharon's grand gestures result in rockets aimed closer to home.

By 12.15.05

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JERUSALEM -- Yet another Qassam rocket fired from Gaza hit Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's ranch in the Negev Desert on Tuesday, WorldNetDaily reports. The rocket, which according to Abu Abir of the Popular Resistance Committees "was intended to kill Sharon," instead hit a water pumping facility next to the ranch.

It must be the only case, anywhere, anytime, in which a head of state is getting credit for "stabilizing" a situation and "rationalizing" his country's borders while making his own civilian residence a target of shelling.

Another Qassam fired on Tuesday landed in open ground near the main oil depot in the city of Ashkelon just north of Gaza. Ashkelon is the site of several power facilities vital to the whole state of Israel. It is now within easy range of the growing arsenal of Gaza artillery, with nothing much to prevent a strike except prayers and luck.

In another development this week, the mayor of Sderot announced he was joining Sharon's erstwhile party, Likud. Sderot is the town bordering Gaza that, along with the erstwhile settlements within Gaza, has taken the most constant pounding from mortars and rockets over the past five years, and it too was hit again this week. The popular mayor, Eli Moyal, voiced frustration with Sharon's policy by saying, "When the state of Israel decides to wage a real war against terror and stops playing cat and mouse, then Qassam attacks will stop."

According to the conventional wisdom, Sharon is a wily old strategist who, concluding that the Palestinians are not ready for peace, is taking unilateral steps to make Israel more secure and defensible. He is said to be the standard bearer of a new Israeli "center" that realizes the Palestinians, at present, can neither be reconciled with nor ruled, so that Israel has to pursue a middle course. While sharing the aspiration not to rule over Palestinians, I wish I could concur with the rest of it.

Along with the ominous situation in Gaza, ynet reported this week that Israeli paratroopers "uncovered a Qassam rocket in a raid on a large explosives lab in the West Bank town of Nablus." During the run-up to the Gaza disengagement, top security officials, including the then chief of staff Moshe Ya'alon, warned that after Israel was out of Gaza the theater would eventually shift to the West Bank in an effort to force Israel into further withdrawals. Ya'alon warned explicitly of a growing Qassam threat in the West Bank, from which Jerusalem and communities in Israel's heavily populated coastal plain are in easy range.

In the last couple of months Israeli forces have put pressure on the West Bank terror infrastructure and made numerous arrests. As always, the goal of the operations falls short of finally defeating the terrorists, Sharon apparently having decided that this is diplomatically infeasible. Just a few months after the disengagement, amid other reports of West Bank Qassams, it already looks as if Ya'alon -- also said to be on the verge of joining Likud -- was right.

Despite unilateralism's current popularity as a supposed egress from Israel's dilemmas, since Israel's conquest of the territories in 1967 it was not a favored solution, not even by those most eager to give those territories up. The reason, as a glance at the map reveals, is simple: the distances in question are tiny, and handing land wholesale to whoever is ruthless enough to grab it, with no peace treaty or stipulations, is not a formula for serenity. That was what Israel did in Southern Lebanon in 2000 -- now a tense, dangerous border lined by thousands of Iranian-supplied Hizbullah missiles.

Sharon has staked a lot on his new course -- including even his ability to relax on his ranch without fear of explosions. One question is whether, if reelected in March, he'll continue his unilateralism in a push for grand achievements that ignores security realities. Another is whether the Israeli people -- currently, according to polls, favoring his new, sprawling, grab-bag party Kadima -- will continue to be taken by Sharon's aura of sagacity and experience, or instead will wake up.

P. David Hornik is a writer and translator in Jerusalem.

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About the Author

P. David Hornik is a writer and translator in Beersheva, Israel, blogging at PDavidHornik.typepad.com.