Why nobody is talking about the range of Israeli rockets

Hamas rockets haven’t always been this good, and by modern standards they aren’t. However, the fact that they can now reach as far away as Tel Aviv and Jerusalem (35-45 miles or 60-70kms) is a genuinely new reality in this conflict. These are the main population centres in Israel and until last week everyone (except Hamas and Israeli intelligence) thought that these cities were safe. Now they are not, and it has (understandably) scared many Israelis, and I am hearing from my friends in Tel Aviv that many residents have fled the city for safer and higher ground.

There is a great piece in the NYT by the redoubtable Ethan Bronner which explains the – quite remarkable – logistics behind getting these rockets into and assembled in Gaza. It looks as though some of these weapons have had quite the journey:

“The rockets are assembled locally after being shipped from Iran to Sudan, trucked across the desert through Egypt, broken down into parts and moved through Sinai tunnels into Gaza, according to senior Israeli security officials.”

“The collapse of the government of Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi in Libya last year created other supply options for Hamas as Libyan military storehouses were raided and the equipment sold off. Those weapons were driven across Egypt and into Gaza.”

It is said that 9/10ths of war is logistics and its not difficult to see why. But it is not just where these rockets came from that I find interesting, but also what rockets and with what effects. If we look back to 2008 the rocket range was about 20 miles (30kms). This map, widely disseminated by the Israeli Defence Force Spokesperson Unit (I’m not making the name up) at the time, demonstrates the old range of rockets; it is a powerful image which draws in the viewer, calling for her/his empathy. These are the colours of danger, the shades signify the vulnerability of all Israelis living under the dye:

ImageThe Range of Hamas rockets 2008. Source: IDF

This time around the IDF (in their blog) have re-drawn the map, showing the new range of rockets together with population statistics and basic drawings of the weapons responsible for painting the map in sepia red:

ImageThe Range of Hamas Rockets 2012. Source:  IDF

The rhetorical work of such images – for these are not merely maps, and certainly they’re not objective – is clear: Israeli’s are living under constant (potential) danger of Hamas rocket fire. From here, it is a short step to the old self-defence argument (see yesterday’s post); the objective must be to stop the rocket fire and thus to erase the colours off the map. A white map, a clean map means a safe Israel.

But what if we were to think about colours and danger, maps and rocket-ranges from a slightly different perspective? We might do this, for example by asking a very simple question: just how far can Israeli rockets reach? With regard to the current conflict, the answer of course is: everywhere. This is obvious to all parties concerned, not only Israelis and Palestinians but international audiences as well. Yet it is precisely the obviousness of this fact that makes it remarkable. Nobody is talking about the range of Israeli rockets because it is taken for granted that states like Israel should and do have deadly arsenals capable of eviscerating Gaza. And it isn’t just Gaza, as we know, because Israel has already drawn up plans to attack Iran. In fact Iran serves as a perfect parallel for the point I am making: all the focus is on Iran’s nuclear capabilities and it is seemingly forgotten that the only definite possessor of nuclear weapons in the region is Israel (see Bexton at the Washington Post here and for another bewildering geography here). (On a side note I met Mordichai Vanunu earlier this year in Jerusalem: he was the man responsible for leaking the first evidence of Israeli’s nuclear arsenal. At present and against his free will he is unable to leave Israel, pending accusations against him that he was a spy. Parallels here to Julian Assange and Wikileaks, but – for now – suffice it so say that like the U.S., Israel also does not like it when it’s dirty secrets find their way into the public domain).

And yet the reach of rockets is hardly only a question of distance. Israel’s rockets reach the very depths of Gaza, and I don’t just mean the tunnels. The so called “surgical strikes” and “precision guided missiles” (PMGs) extend – and deliberately so – into the very being of Gaza, piercing the lives and souls of the people there. The intimate range of Israeli weapons knows no bounds: the drone pilots responsible for much of this bombing can see the faces of those about to die, and they often known the daily routine of these figures that they call targets. Israeli rockets reach further, both literally and metaphorically. They do so not only because they kill more than Hamas rockets, but because their alleged precision elides the fact that innocents will always die no matter how good the technology is. As Patrica Owens has argued: ‘accidents don’t just happen‘. Moreover, those who fled from Tel Aviv have the luxury to flee; the overwhelming majority of Gazans do not, for there is nowhere to go and the navigation of destroyed streets is nigh-impossible (not to mention dangerous).

A debate is raging on Wikipedia this week: the terms of the conflict are being hotly disputed. There you will find a map similar to those above. There is no similar map showing the range of Israeli rockets. Anyone?

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