GazaWATCH: Israel – Damages and Defenses

Palestinian rockets have damaged structures such as roads, houses, and schools. Usually, these structures can be repaired or rebuilt. The emotional and psychological damage caused by these rockets is more severe than the physical damage wrought. That is why these attacks are characterized as “terrorism.”

Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) is increasingly observed in southern Israel, due to the steady number of rockets fired from Gaza every month. According to a 2009 study, 45 percent of Sderot’s children, 41 percent of mothers, and 33 percent of fathers suffer from PTSD. And in 2011, a study conducted by the Natal trauma center found that 70 percent of Sderot’s children suffer from at least one symptom of PTSD, while one-third of all residents suffer from anxiety and have trouble functioning normally.

Since 2001, more than 12,000 rockets and mortars have been fired at Israel, leading to over 40 fatalities and hundreds of injuries. The number of Israelis receiving psychological help for shock and trauma is unknown.

In light of the Palestinians’ increasing technical capabilities, coupled with the rise in smuggling of missiles and rocket components into Gaza, rockets may soon threaten most of Israel’s estimated 7 million residents. Israel’s former Ambassador to Washington, Sallai Meridor, believes that these rockets can become an existential threat: “If terror can hit enough times at the heart of your nation, the heart of your society, your central nervous system, and hit enough people, it may become existential.”

Major Israeli Cities Under Fire

(Population numbers as of the end of 2009.)

Sderot (pop: 20,700): Sderot is roughly four miles from the northern Gaza Strip. Since the beginning of the Second Intifada in late 2000, it has consistently suffered from rocket fire. In the summer of 2007, Palestinian terrorist groups fired over 1,000 rockets at Sderot alone. Despite the imperfect aim of these home-made rockets, they have caused death and injury, as well as significant damage to homes and property, leading to high levels of psychological distress and emigration from the city. More than 3,000 residents reportedly fled the city during six months in 2007 alone.

Netivot (pop: 26,700): This town lies approximately seven miles outside of the Gaza Strip. It was previously beyond the reach of the first and second generations of Palestinian rockets, but with improved rocket technology and an unyielding motivation to attack civilians, Netivot is increasingly under threat of rocket fire.

Ashkelon (pop: 111,900): Located on Israel’s Mediterranean coast, Ashkelon is roughly nine miles north of Gaza. The city is a favorite rocket target of Palestinian terrorist organizations because it is more densely populated than Sderot and is home to important Israeli infrastructure, including Bar Ilan University, a power generator, and one of the world’s largest water desalination plants. Like Netivot, Ashkelon has become increasingly susceptible to rocket attacks.

Ashdod (pop: 206,400): At the end of 2008, Gaza militants fired a rocket into Ashdod for the first time, killing one and injuring two civilians. Dozens of Grad rockets hit Ashdod throughout Operation Cast Lead, injuring civilians and destroying apartment buildings and children’s playgrounds. Since then, Ashdod, which is Israel’s second largest port city and lies nearly 25 miles outside of Gaza, has become the target of rocket attacks and is occasionally hit.

Beersheva (pop: 194,300): Like in Ashdod, Beersheva, 26 miles from Gaza, came under attack at the end of 2008 by Palestinian rockets. During Operation Cast Lead, Grad rockets injured several civilians and damaged property. Today, rockets continue to strike Beersheva.

Tel Aviv (pop: 403,700): One of the largest cities in Israel and the center of Israel’s business sector, Tel Aviv, which is approximately 44 miles away from Gaza, has not yet been hit by a rocket. Nevertheless, there is reason to believe Palestinian militants now have the capability to do so. In November 2009, Israel reported that Hamas test-fired a rocket capable of reaching Tel Aviv. That rocket was fired out to sea. Analysts believe it is only a matter of time before this major city is terrorized by Palestinian rockets.

Rocket range:

Source: The Intelligence and Terrorism Information Center


Israeli Defenses

Thus far, Israel has, for the most part, safeguarded its citizens from rocket attacks by using an early detection alarm system inside the endangered Israeli cities. Called “Tzeva Adom,” or “Color Red” in English, this alarm sounds seconds before a rocket hits the region, leaving residents with little time to take cover or run for a nearby bomb shelter.

While the Tzeva Adom system has saved lives, it is not a cure-all and Israel has spent years developing new technology to protect its citizens in the south. In early 2011, Israel deployed its new Iron Dome technology for the first time amidst growing escalation on its border with Gaza, although the technology was still in its experimental stage. The Iron Dome missile defense system uses cameras and radar to detect and identify an incoming projectile. If the identified rocket’s trajectory is deemed to pose a threat, an interceptor is launched against the rocket, eliminating it mid-air within seconds after its launch. According to the manufacturers, Iron Dome can strike any threat from a missile to a 155mm artillery shell in all types of weather.

On April 7, 2011, the Iron Dome successfully intercepted a Grad rocket that was fired at the Israeli city of Ashkelon from the Gaza Strip. It was the first time in history that a short-range rocket was ever intercepted. The Iron Dome has seen other successes since, including a March 2012 weekend in which it intercepted over 90% of the rockets fired at Israel. Indeed, between its inception in April 2011 and June 2012, the Iron Dome’s four deployed batteries intercepted over 100 rocketsheaded towards Israeli cities. With continued success in thwarting missiles attacks from Gaza, the Iron Dome system has the potential to become a game-changer in the struggle between Israel and armed militant groups along its border. In July 2012, the Iron Dome system was upgraded with longer-range missiles.

In addition to the Iron Dome, Israel has been working on another missile defense system—Magic Wand, also known as David’s Sling. The system will target a vast array of weapons including mid-range to long-range ballistic missiles, short-range to long-range rockets, and cruise missiles, filling a gap in Israel’s current missile defense system. While the Iron Dome targets short range missiles such as the Qassam from Gaza, and the joint Israeli-American Arrow missile system intercepts long-range missiles such as the Iranian Shehab, Israel lacks a system that can intercept medium-range missiles, which Magic Wand will do.