In response to relentless and indiscriminate Palestinian missile attacks over the past week, Israel looks poised to launch another operation against the Gaza Strip. We'll get into the numbers in just a bit, but this video, lasting less than a minute, can explain so much about the current situation.
As Israel prepares a ground offensive, calling up 40,000 reservists, airstrikes against the Palestinian territory of Gaza have already killed 41 people. Hamas and Islamic Jihad have launched almost 200 rockets. At this point, we may be all be desensitized to what are just digits on a screen, but this video, of what was supposed to be a wedding in Holon, Israel, shows not only why Israel is hitting back, but also why the death toll in this conflict can be so lopsided.
Tensions started rising weeks ago, when Palestinians kidnapped and murdered three Israeli teenagers who lived in an Israeli settlement in the West Bank. In response, Israel demolished the homes of the perpetrators and arrested over a hundred suspects, in an act of collective punishment.
Then a Palestinian teenager was kidnapped and burned to death, in a revenge attack seemingly orchestrated by racist Israeli soccer hooligans. Six people have been arrested in connection with that murder.
And then the rocket fire from Gaza started. The cause of Israel's retaliatory attacks should be pretty self-explanatory, from the video above. You launch unguided missiles indiscriminately at a civilian population, and any government is going to find some way to respond. In Israel's case, that response has entailed strikes at a multitude of targets (via the NYTimes):
Israel said it hit about 160 targets overnight, including what it called 118 concealed rocket-launching sites, weapons storage facilities, 10 tunnels, six official Hamas facilities and 10 Hamas military command positions. Since Operation Protective Edge began, the army said, it has gone after about 440 targets.
The death toll, as it currently stands at 41, is the result of those strikes, and not all of those killed were militants. Some were civilians, including the mother and four siblings of a senior member of Islamic Jihad, who were killed in an Israeli strike targeting him, according to the AP.
The reason why the death toll has been so lopsided is due to two causes. The first is Israeli missile defense systems, and the second is the Palestinian use of human shields. Israel and the United States jointly developed a missile interception system known as "Iron Dome."
Iron Dome doesn't just consist of a missile operator blindly shooting intercepting rockets into the sky, hoping that they manage to hit an incoming projectile. That would be silly, ineffective, and tedious.
Iron Dome is much more automated than that. Essentially, the interception system consists of a radar, a missile battery, and a bunch of computers in the middle. The radar system first calculates the ballistic trajectory of the incoming projectile, and determines its probable landing point. The computer system, monitoring the projectile's flight path, matches the probable landing point with maps that contain data on population density and locations of structures.
If the incoming missile is projected to land into a farmer's field, or plop into a lake, then there's not much of a problem, really. It allows the missile to continue on its way, to plop into said field or lake. Later on, fragments of the rocket can be retrieved for analysis.
But if Iron Dome detects that the incoming missile is projected to land on a house, or a wedding, like in the video above, it springs into action. Sirens blare, civilians are directed into bomb shelters (which is the yelling voice you hear in the top video), and rockets are sent to catch the interlocutors in mid-air.
In the video from the wedding, the flares you see in the sky are actually from the Iron Dome system, with the Israeli rockets exploding right as they meet their Palestinian counterparts.
So far, the Iron Dome system has worked. Despite all of the rockets launched at Israel since Monday, no civilians have been killed. It's worth noting the cost of each interceptor is about $50,000 so it adds up.
In contrast, 41 people in Gaza are dead. Part of the reason is that the Gaza Strip is very densely populated, but the other part is because of tactics used by both the Israelis and the Palestinians.
First of all, the Palestinians have no Iron Dome system, and they haven't been allowed construction materials, which would allow them to build things like bomb shelters.
Second of all, for all of Israel's precision weapons, sometimes a missile or bomb misses. Sometimes it's targeted at the wrong house, and sometimes the information on which the attack it's used in is based on just plain wrong information.
Other times it's because civilians are gathered around military centers, either coincidentally, or on purpose.
Like in many of its conflicts, Israel has resorted to warning people who are targeted before they are killed. Phone calls in Arabic are made to occupants inside, and leaflets are dropped around.
In especially intense conflicts, the Israelis will engage in a practice known as "knocking on the roof." A rocket without a warhead is directed towards the roof of the targeted building. It makes a tremendous WHACK, and at that point, you definitely know you're in some sort of trouble.
And in many cases, all of these warnings are ignored. Again, via the NYTimes:
The call came to the cellphone of his brother's wife, Salah Kaware said Tuesday. Mr. Kaware lives in Khan Younis, in southeast Gaza, and the caller said that everyone in the house must leave within five minutes, because it was going to be bombed.
A further warning came as the occupants were leaving, he said in a telephone interview, when an Israeli drone apparently fired a flare at the roof of the three-story home. "Our neighbors came in to form a human shield," he said, with some even going to the roof to try to prevent a bombing. Others were in the stairway when the house was bombed not long afterward.
Seven people died, Mr. Kaware said, a figure also stated by the Palestinian Health Ministry in Gaza, which also said that 25 people were wounded.
But even after all this, Israel doesn't always issue warnings, as the Times notes. Just yesterday, an Israeli missile completely destroyed the car of Hamas senior leader Muhammad Shaban, killing him and the two others riding along with him.
And no one called him first.