Ron Ben-Yishai
The fourth alternative
Israel should evacuate Sderot, embark on rapid campaign to fortify homes

The government currently has four options at its disposal in the face of the Sderot crisis: Continuing with the current situation, namely, allowing residents to sustain rocket attacks, bleed, and occasionally leave town for a "break," in the hope that the pressure exerted by the IDF on Gaza Strip gunmen will bear fruit and lead to an end to Qassam fire in a week or two; renewing negotiations with Abbas and even directly with Hamas in a bid to reach a new agreement on maintaining the calm; embarking on a large-scale military operation; or continuing with military pressure, while at the same time undertaking a quick and orderly evacuation of the majority of Sderot residents until a rapid home-fortification campaign is completed.


The first alternative - continuing the current situation - is the worst one. Not only because it is immoral to allow Sderot and area residents to live under Qassam barrages, but also because the victims and the scenes of people leaving the town create an incentive for Hamas and Islamic Jihad to continue their shelling. The impotence displayed by Jerusalem at this time in Sderot also serves to gravely erode Israel's power of deterrence.


The second alternative - striving to reach a new ceasefire agreement - will require the government to adopt Hamas' demand that the IDF curb its anti-terror operations in the Gaza Strip and West Bank in exchange for an end to the rocket attacks. Yet if the sequence of counter-terrorism activity and intelligence gathering ends, we will see, in a relatively short period of time, a wave of suicide bombings and shooting attacks in Israel's cities and on West Bank roads.


At this time, dozens of such attacks are in the planning stages, with Hizbullah and Iranian funding. Most of them are averted only because of the ongoing anti-terror activity, which Hamas wants to see end. The calm would also allow terror elements to accumulate the know-how and materials needed to produce and launch Qassam rockets at Israel's densely populated soft underbelly.


The third alternative - a large-scale military operation that will include the takeover of large areas in the Gaza Strip, as well as the Philadelphi Route - is the only military option that can bring about an end to Qassam fire and stop terrorists from growing stronger in the Strip. Yet this option is impractical at this time because of the political weakness displayed by a government that does not have the public's trust. A broad operation also requires very large forces to stay in the Gaza Strip and sustain causalities for a relatively long period of time, before such a campaign achieves substantial results.


In addition, the government has no strategy at this point in time that would allow us to again leave the Strip after most objectives are achieved, without the situation reverting to its current state.


Large tent cities

Therefore, we are left with the fourth option - which includes three components: Continued IDF activity in the current format or even at a more intensive rate; an orderly evacuation of Sderot residents who are not vital for the functioning of municipal factories and services; and an urgent national campaign aimed at reinforcing Sderot homes, with residents returning to their homes after its completion.


These three elements must be performed simultaneously, under joint management by the IDF and Defense Ministry, while utilizing national resources. The campaign should focus, at least in the initial phase, only on Sderot, because the town is the largest and most readily available target for Qassam fire, while its population is the weakest.


The orderly evacuation of thousands of residents is not a simple matter. Yet the establishment of several large tent cities not too far from Sderot and equipping them with decent services for residents for a period of a month or two is a project that the State of Israel can handle - if only it decides to do so and implements it resolutely.


Just like billionaire Arcady Gaydamak set up a tent city for northern residents in Nitzanim during the Second Lebanon War, the State can do it easily as long as the various ministries stop torpedoing each other's work and their directors stop the ego wars between them.


A campaign aimed at fortifying Sderot buildings is indeed a complex and expensive matter, yet in the initial phase we are not talking about a permanent arrangement, but rather, quick and fundamental fortification that would provide any resident with a safe shelter. Such reinforcement would be premised on prefabricated cement structures of various sizes, plastic sheets designed to absorb explosions, and metal shelters offered by our military industry.


In addition, Sderot's 150 bomb shelters will be equipped in a manner that would allow residents to sleep and stay there should they choose to remain in town until the current Qassam offensive ends.


This fortification program cannot be undertaken overnight, yet it can be done within four to six weeks, should the government earmark the required budget. The campaign aimed at building housing units for Russian immigrants in the 1990s, under the direction of Ariel Sharon, proved it can be done.


We are indeed talking about a cost of more than a billion shekels (roughly $250 million,) yet a government is not allowed to profiteer when it comes to citizens' lives. Besides, the mere engagement in this project, including all three components, would give us some maneuvering space to take diplomatic and military decisions with no pressure (including a decision on a large-scale operation.)


Such a campaign would also demonstrate to the media and international public opinion the severity of the problem, and most importantly, prove to terror organizations and their dispatchers, as it would to Israel's citizens, that the Israeli government has a response - both passive and active - to the rocket threat. This solution is the only one applicable for the current government and can free it from the paralysis it has been overcome by.


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