Monday, February 11, 2008

To Be or Not To Be (Optimistic); That Is The Question

Good news: finally, we have some coverage about Ashkelon's situation from an article in the Jerusalem Post. Bad news: the article is called Boomtown. And it doesn't get much better (I'm not sure if the opening paragraphs are meant to have a calming effect).

Sitting around a table with IDF Home Front Command and Defense Ministry officials, Ashkelon Mayor Roni Mehatzri wants to know how long it will take his southern coastal city to go on full emergency footing "if it gets like the Second Lebanon War here, with rockets landing nonstop."

"Two days," says the Home Front Command officer. The Defense Ministry officials agree.
Great that everyone is in agreement, but what they are saying is that we'll be bombarded for a solid two days before we're on "full emergency footing", whatever that means. Sderot, which is closer to Gaza and just down the road from us, is a living testament of what Ashkelon doesn't want to become.
"But psychologically, it's important to do it now, to show people here that you're giving them something. This isn't Sderot - Sderot is at war, but Ashkelon is getting ready for it" [says Ashkelon Mayor Mehatzri].
Sderot has been under "full emergency footing" for the past several years and the rockets only get worse. In fact, yesterday an 8 year old boy there lost part of his leg when a rocket hit close to him and his brother. So much for "full emergency footing".

As a result, Sderot residents are not sitting back and doing nothing. Yesterday they blocked the highway into Jerusalem and today are planning to drive slowly through Tel Aviv today as an effort to try to get the government to do something to protect them. There is even an amusing article about some wanting to scour the internet for info on making their own similar rockets and fire them back at Gaza. The frustration is real because the government is not doing enough as the original article on Ashkelon shows.
The question of what to do about Gaza's rockets is a personal one for the locals. About a month ago the City Council unanimously voted to "demand" that the Olmert government "act" to stop the rocket fire. Just how to act wasn't spelled out, but the meaning was clear enough - official Ashkelon wants the IDF to invade the Strip and crush the terrorists.
And especially in light of the Gaza-Egypt border breach last week, the general mood is on the pessimistic side.
And this week, Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency) head Yuval Diskin told the cabinet that additional rockets that could reach Ashkelon had been smuggled into Gaza since the breach of the Egyptian border.
Everyone is concerned and wants someone to do something about the rockets. And then what?
But obviously, things could get worse. If the IDF invades Gaza and goes to war with Hamas and Islamic Jihad, Palestinian terrorists might well escalate their rocketing of the city, which is why so many emergency drills, preparations and meetings are taking place.
Or, one could take an "optimistic" view of the situation.
Shlomo Brom, former head of strategic planning for the IDF General Staff and ex-deputy chairman of the National Security Council, sides with the optimists. "I don't think Hamas has that many rockets that can reach Ashkelon," he says, suggesting the number may not be higher than 30 or 40, despite Diskin's pronouncement this week. [...] Mehatzri recognizes this, but it's a price he's willing to pay because he thinks there's a good chance that Ashkelon might be under attack, and its citizens in bomb shelters, for "maybe only days" before the Palestinians' rocket arsenal ran out.
Call me crazy, but I'm not seeing anything remotely "optimistic" in the thought of living in a bomb shelter with small kids as rockets crash down for several days, only to return to the status quo afterwards. But hey, that's just me.

The final sentence of the article:
There's an element of danger in Ashkelon, an element of uncertainty, but people here don't seem to be flinching.
Speak for yourself, buddy! Private conversations of Ashkelon residents reveal more flinching that the bravado indicates.

UPDATE - As we speak the sabers are a-rattlin'. Hot off the Ha'aretz press, Barak orders IDF to gird for wide Gaza offensive.
Defense Minister Ehud Barak said on Monday that he has instructed the Israel Defense Forces to prepare for a possible wide-scale operation in the Gaza Strip in response to the ongoing Qassam rocket attacks from the coastal territory.

Barak told the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee that Israel would not rule out any possible course of action to bring quiet back to the western Negev and security to the residents of Sderot and nearby communities.
Stay tuned. And pray...

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