Jerusalem – The headlines in the Israeli media yesterday morning reported the Israel Military Intelligence Branch’s latest assessment on rocket fire out of the Gaza Strip.
The assessment is that the Palestinians will continue to increase the range of their rockets with the passage of time so that in the course of 2008 some 250,000 Israelis will find themselves within range.
The assessment anticipates the Gazans will soon have all of the coastal city of Ashkelon and even towns as distant as Kiryat Gat within range.
In the course of Sunday’s cabinet meeting, Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert announced a strategic decision not to fortify the houses of residents of southern Israel that are exposed to rocket fire. At least 10,500 homes of civilians in the Sderot and Gaza periphery communities areas have become exposed to unending Kassam rocket fire, and recently also to mortar shell fire. The cabinet held an in-depth discussion on the issue of home fortifications, although Mr. Olmert’s position, as well as that of Defense Minister Ehud Barak, was more or less already formed.
Mr. Olmert, who in recent months often declared “Israel will not fortify itself to death,” is opposed to fortifying residents’ homes, in contrast to the fortifying of schools and public buildings that is already taking place and has mostly been completed. Mr. Olmert contended that there should be investment in military solutions to the rocket fire. He said that investing in fortifications is viewed as a defeatist step by Israel and a dangerous precedent, since the Kassam rocket range is increasing.
The Bulletin has confirmed from security sources in southern Israel that a missile is fired on Israel’s civilian population about once every three hours over the past three months. Yesterday, The Bulletin visited Kibbutz Nir Am, which is located half a mile from the Gaza strip. The security officer showed shelters that are unfit for human habitation. There is no electricity and the shelter is currently flooded.
The Nir Am security guard pointed to the homes of elderly kibbutz members who live near the shelter who have no place to take cover in case of an attack. There have been 300 missile attacks on the kibbutz and 500 missile attacks near the kibbutz in the past five years. Four homes and one restaurant on the kibbutz have been destroyed completely.
The situation in Nir Am seems representative of the situation of shelters throughout the western Negev.
The Bulletin has obtained an internal security document that shows that a total of 78 shelters in the western Negev are in a situation of total disrepair.
Since Gaza missiles reaching southern Israel are expected to assume the lethal “quality” that characterized the Hezbollah missiles during the Lebanon war in the summer of 2006, the Israeli army would have to give the order for the population to move into these shelters for long periods of time.
A Member of Israeli Knesset Parliament, Shai Hermesh, a leading member of Mr. Olmert’s Kadima political party and the one member of the Knesset from the western Negev, revealed last January in an interview with the Voice of Israel that funds for shelter repair had been allocated to overhaul the shelters but that the funds had “disappeared.”
Mr. Hermesh laid the blame on his political ally, Prime Minister Olmert.
In mid-July 2006, The Bulletin asked ACRI, the Israel Association for Civil Rights (which is financed by the New Israel Fund in the United States), why they would not intervene on behalf of entire communities that had been forced to take cover in such shelters during sustained missile attacks from the north.
ACRI responded within a few hours that it does not interfere with matters related to civil defense.
Three weeks later, ACRI issued a public attack on the government of Israel for not repairing shelters in Arab villages in Israel and not installing siren systems in many Arab villages.
The Israeli newspaper Yediot Aharonot looked into the allegation that the Israeli government had cut off sirens in Israeli Arab villages.
Yediot confirmed that Arab village councils had themselves ordered the cut off of Israeli government siren systems, since they did not want to hear sirens that signal one minute of silence during Israel’s Memorial Day for Fallen Soldiers and for Holocaust Remembrance Day.
However, fundraising brochures of the New Israel Fund allege that the Israeli government was negligent in repairing shelters and installing alarm systems for Israel’s Arab minority.
Out On Iran
Meanwhile, the Israeli government security cabinet discussed Sunday Israel’s position on Iran and its alleged nuclear program.
Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert said, “Israel will make a powerful effort in its dealings with the International Atomic Energy Agency to expose Iran’s secret military nuclear program. Iran is continuing to produce ballistic missiles as fast as it can. Iran is continuing with research and development aimed at supporting nuclear arms, and nobody disputes these facts. Consequently, there is no reason for Israel to change the conclusions that it has held all along. Iran is continuing its drive to obtain the two vital elements for a nuclear weapons program: development of arms and missiles, which are being conducted parallel to production of enriched uranium.”
Mr. Olmert added: “Israel’s position has not changed in the wake of the publication of the report. According to that report Iran had a nuclear weapons program until 2003,and there is no positive evidence that explains where that program went when it disappeared. Iran is continuing its uranium enrichment activities, and also according to the new American report, already in 2010 it will have accumulated sufficient quantities to produce nuclear weapons.”
Israel’s official policy had defined Iran as “a worldwide problem which the international community has to confront.” In accordance with that policy, Mr. Olmert and Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni had been careful up till now not to make public declarations of direct Israeli involvement.
Mr. Olmert added that Israel will continue trying to convince the international community to upgrade the sanctions against Iran. “The international pressure on Iran is very effective, and this [the American] report also says so, and it [the pressure] must be kept up.”
U.S. Joint Chiefs Of Staff Mullen’s Remarks
The chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff, Adm. Michael Mullen, who visited Israel today, declared that that in spite of the report from the American intelligence agencies about the Iranian nuclear program, he views Iran as a country that supports terrorism and constitutes a central threat to stability in the Middle East.
In the past Iran was engaged in development of nuclear weapons and retains certain capabilities in that area, Adm. Mullen said.
Adm. Mullen heard a review from Director of Military Intelligence Maj. Gen. Amos Yadlin, about security threats to Israel in general and the Iranian threat in particular.
Earlier this morning, Adm. Mullen held a meeting with Israeli Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Gabi Ashkenazi.
©The Bulletin 2007