Despite week-long assault, Israel may not silence Hamas rockets for good

Despite week-long bombardment, missiles still being fired from Gaza, and only way to stop that for good may be by reconquest of territory

PUBLISHED : Monday, 14 July, 2014, 10:11pm
UPDATED : Monday, 14 July, 2014, 10:26pm

Israel says its punishing air assault on Hamas militants, their property and their weaponry has delivered a devastating blow to the Islamic militant group.

Yet rocket fire at Israel has continued almost unabated.

The military says that due to years of generous Iranian shipments, thousands of rockets remain in Gaza and there is no quick way to eliminate the threat.

It says its goal is to inflict so much pain on Hamas that it will be deterred from attacking Israel again - just like Hezbollah guerillas in Lebanon have largely stayed on the sidelines for the past eight years.

The rocket threat has been in the making for well over a decade. In the early 2000s, Hamas began firing rudimentary, homegrown rockets that were inaccurate, flew short distances and carried a tiny payload.

Today, the army says the group has an arsenal of some 10,000 rockets, including longer-range, foreign-made weapons capable of reaching virtually anywhere in Israel.

There have been no fatalities, mainly because of interceptions by the hi-tech "Iron Dome" rocket-defence system.

Israel launched its offensive a week ago in what it says was a response to weeks of heavy rocket attacks out of Gaza.

It has carried out hundreds of air strikes, systematically targeting what it says is Hamas' rocket-launching production and launching capabilities. Israeli analysts say that most of the remaining long-range rockets are believed to be stashed beneath residential buildings.

They say the only way to completely remove the threat would be to re-conquer Gaza, from which Israel withdrew in 2005, and stay there for a long period.

Such a scenario would carry great risk and Israeli leaders are wary. "There is no attempt here to solve the conflict. We are talking about managing the conflict and as long as it goes on, quiet will only be temporary," said Shlomo Brom, a retired Israeli general.

"It's a mistake to think that if you have established deterrence it will stay that way. Deterrence must be maintained."

Israel cites the example of Lebanon as a potential blueprint. It fought a bloody month-long war with Hezbollah in 2006 that saw thousands of rockets fired at Israel and 160 Israelis killed.

About 1,200 Lebanese were killed in an Israeli air and ground offensive that hammered Hezbollah strongholds.

While the fighting ended in a stalemate, the border has remained largely quiet as Hezbollah, despite its fiery rhetoric, has refrained from provoking Israel.

Israel hopes the same thing will happen with Hamas.

In the first six days, Israel launched more than 1,300 air strikes, killing dozens of militants, knocking out scores of rocket launchers and destroying Hamas installations and the homes of its senior leaders.

But militants have fired more than 900 rockets at Israel at a rate that hasn't slowed down.

Military spokesman Lieutenant Colonel Peter Lerner said the military estimated 20 per cent of the rockets in Gaza have either been fired or destroyed by Israel.

Besides hitting Hamas' future capabilities, he said the Israeli assaults were an attempt to convince Hamas never to try it again.

"When they come out of their bunkers and look around, they will have to make a serious estimation of whether what they have done was worth it," he said.

"People will look in their eyes and say, 'Why did you do this? What did you gain from this'"

Moussa Abu Marzouk, the No2 leader of Hamas, defiantly rejected the notion, saying the current fighting would only strengthen the group's resolve.

"The Israelis are trying to force us to raise the white flag," he said. "The future is ours and if there is a truce it's going to be a temporary one. This is not the last battle."