The Israeli Air Force strikes a target in Gaza.
The Israeli Air Force strikes a target in Gaza.
The recent Israeli incursion into the Gaza Strip, Operation Cast Lead, was prompted by the ongoing rain of Qassam rockets into southern Israel.
The Qassam is not a military weapon, but rather a terror weapon. It’s accuracy is far too poor for anything other than aiming at a town, as opposed to targeting a military installation.
As a result of the Israeli embargo of the Gaza, smuggling weapons in to Hamas has been difficult. In response, Hamas began production of crude rockets only slightly more sophisticated than the model rockets we can build in our homes. A Qassam is merely a steel tube filled with homemade rocket propellant and topped with a crude explosive warhead. It has absolutely no guidance system. The only “guidance” it has is fins at the tail, and an angle-iron launch rail than looks only slightly more sophisticated than a bent coathanger.
Being so crude, it doesn’t take much of a factory to build them, and you can see that it doesn’t take a huge base of operations to shoot them. Hamas has a particular affinity for launching Qassams from schoolyards, residential districts and of course, from the grounds of mosques. It is had for the Israelis to pinpoint launchers and storage spots. But they do…
The Israelis have long sought to manufacture as much of their military hardware as possible at home.There are a couple good reasons for this. First, in the event of an arms embargo, they won’t find themselves without the weapons they need to fight. Having faced more than one embargo, they are somewhat wary of placing any faith in anybody outside Israel. Second, as an export industry, it can be very profitable, once they have an established production base. There are more than a couple countries that have no great love for Israel but have ended up buying military hardware from them.
One area the Israelis really wanted to establish some independence in was making tanks. A modern tank takes a lot more work to make than you might think. The armor itself is difficult to produce. You also need powerful engines, the delicate machinery to operate the turret, the precision milling to make the main gun, the specialized electronics and optics for the fire control system and an industry to make the ammunition.
After the 1973 Yom Kippur War, Israel got serious about manufacturing their own tank. And based on the heavy casualties in tank crews during that war, one of the objectives was to make crew survivability a priority (the US Army’s design of the M-1 tank was also heavily influenced by the same factors).
The result of the development was the Merkava tank. The Merkava was a little unusual in several ways. Unlike just about every other main battle tank in the world, the Merkava had its engine mounted in the front, pushing the turret towards the rear. This provided an extra degree of protection in that if a round penetrated the front armor, it would still have to go through the engine to get to the crew compartment. And because the crew compartment was at the rear of the vehicle, you could put a small entry to the vehicle in the back. By removing some of the ammo racks, you could provide space for a couple infantrymen or extra radios and operators for a unit commander or even put in medics and litters to use the vehicle as an ambulance. Finally, the wedge shaped turret was designed to cause most shells striking it to ricochet rather than penetrate.
Over the years, the Merkava has been developed in four main versions. Most of the early versions are being withdrawn from service. Some thought was given to converting them to armored personnel carriers, but as of 2008 the decision was made to build new APCs based on the Merkava 4 design.
Israeli newspaper Haaretz is reporting a barrage of Katyusha rockets has struck a nursing home in the Israeli town of Nahariya. In response to the three rockets fired from Lebanon, Israeli forces fired five rounds of artillery at the launch point.
Now, how do the Israelis know where to shoot? Well, it’s simple math. Virtually all of the northern border of Israel is scanned by special radars known as “Firefinders.” They detect and track artillery shells and rockets. And since artillery shells and rockets follow a parabolic trajectory, by tracking just a short portion of the flight of the projectile will tell you where it will hit. It also will tell you where it was fired from. A well trained crew can get the launch point coordinates to an artillery crew before the rockets or shells even hit. A really well trained gun crew can have rounds fired at the launch point before the enemy shells have landed. This type of artillery duel is known as “counter-battery fire.”
As for the political implications of this attack in the north, we’ll wait to see what tomorrow brings.
Update: Hezbollah denies firing the riockets. It was probably a Hezbollah inspired proxy group. So far it looks like a nuisance attack, and not the start of a campaign.
Israel, as a part of Operation Cast Lead (the current operation to suppress rocket attacks from Gaza) bombed a mosque. I’m sure some folks immediately pointed out that bombing a religious structure is a war crime in contravention with the Geneva Accords and all other sorts of arguments.
But here’s the thing. Israel isn’t the one committing a war crime here. Hamas is.
Watch the video. You clearly see the initial explosion, followed immediately by a massive secondary explosion and several smaller secondaries. That’s proof there were weapons stored there. Which is an act in violation of the law of war, and which act removed the mosque from its protected status.
Video below the fold:
So, Israel has begun a ground incursion into the Gaza Strip. In response to Hamas’s unrelenting rocket attacks on the city of Serdot and other southern Israeli towns, the IDF (after Hamas renounced the cease fire) began a series of air attacks on Hamas infrastructure and leadership targets. Now, IDF ground forces have begun operations in Gaza.
The IDF’s plan is almost routine: cordon the strip into three sections, preventing the flow of Hamas arms and men along the main north/south routes in Gaza; penetrate into those areas, searching for arms caches and high value leadership targets (and using the intel gained to further generate airstrikes and more targets for ground raids); and run to ground the Hamas units firing rockets into Israel.
The souther border of Gaza abuts Egypt, who have their own issues with Hamas. Other than that, Israel can pretty much isolate Gaza and deny them freedom of movement. The problem is, almost the whole of the Gaza Strip is urban territory, and urban terrain takes enormous numbers of troops to fully control. The Israelis just don’t have that many troops. Nor do they want to get involved with a lengthy occupation of the strip, both because it is expensive in terms of money, and eventually, in terms of casualties. So Israel can be expected to try to inflict as much damage on Hamas as possible without getting bogged down.
There a likely a couple of reasons why the offensive has come at this time. First, the cease fire (which basically meant that Israel wasn’t shooting, and Hamas wasn’t shooting as much as usual) ended recently. Second, there’s the domestic political situation. Israel has elections coming up. I wouldn’t say it is a case of “wag the dog” but the government is facing a great deal of domestic pressure to do something about the rocket attacks. Finally, Israel probably senses that in incoming Obama administration may not support these types of operations, so they figure now is the last chance to do this. Whether the Obama administration would act to prevent the Israelis from acting or not? I don’t know, but Israel seems to feel it is a chance they cannot take.
A word on disproportionate response…
Anytime Israel undertakes any military operations, there are folks out there that immediately scream “WAR CRIMES!!” and condemn Israel. Of course, the first thing the newspapers mention is the disparity in the numbers of casualties in Gaza versus Israelis killed by rockets. Eric Posner at The Volokh Conspiracy has some thoughts on that.
Indeed, Hama’s goal in firing rockets was in large part an attempt to provoke a response from Israel. Hamas exists solely to bring about the destruction of Israel. If they are not seen by the Palestineans as fighting Israel, what little support they have will evaporate.
Further, Israel has taken a number of steps to mitigate civilian casualties. For instance, when they have targeted a building for an airstrike, they phone the building and warn people to leave! A large part of the reason Palestinean casualties have been so heavy in this conflict is because Hamas has burrowed itself into the cities like a tick, surrounded by the civilian population. Almost any attack is bound to generate collateral damage.
And what would a post on the IDF be without this:
I’m still in the desert and will be for the rest of the week. My internet access is spotty, so liveblogging the Israeli/Hamas war is pretty much out of the question. Too bad, as one of the interesting things is the IDF’s information operation. In the 2006 Hezbollah War, Hezbollah had very sympathetic coverage by most of the international press and Israel clearly lost the information campaign. This time, the IDF has started their own YouTube channel as a means of getting their side of the story out.
Of course, as Confederate Yankee points out, they are already getting hit with TOS complaints in an attempt to shut them down, but as of yet, most videos are being put back up.
Let’s take a look at what the Israelis are sharing with us, shal we?