Duck and Cover

Study: Effective civil defenses in Israel town have greatly reduced deaths via terrorist rocket attacks

Hamas members hold up a replica of a Qassam missile in a demonstration / AP
• March 19, 2014 9:56 am


JERUSALEM—An effective civil defense system has cut casualties in Israeli towns near the Gaza Strip by 86 percent, according to a study led by professor Edward Kaplan of Yale University’s School of Management.

Taking as a case study the town of Sderot, only a mile from the Gaza Strip, Kaplan and one of his former students, Lian Zucker, calculated that it had been hit by 5,000 Qassam rockets between 2001 and 2010. Ninety percent of residents reported a rocket landing on their street or one adjacent. There were 10 fatalities in the town during this period.

Kaplan told the Jerusalem Post this week that a scenario based on shrapnel dispersal and "spatial allocation models" projected a median death toll of 75 for these randomly fired rockets during the decade. A "best case" scenario showed three times as many fatalities as Sderot suffered and a "worst case" scenario would have nine times as many.

"Casualties are low because Israel is protecting its citizens via its civil defense infrastructure," Kaplan said.

These defenses include bomb shelters, safe rooms, and an early warning system that sets off sirens when a rocket lift-off in Gaza is picked up by an advanced radar system. There are also small shelters spaced along the streets where residents can go when the sirens sound.

The Iron Dome system, which has been highly effective in downing longer-range rockets, is not effective for Sderot because the range from Gaza is too short for Iron Dome’s interceptors to engage incoming Qassams. However, the Israel Defense Ministry has announced plans to unveil next year a laser weapon, dubbed Iron Beam, which would down short-range rockets.

This is not to suggest that the constant rocket barrage has not had a cost.

Although fatalities have been relatively few in Sderot, there have been 500 reports of injuries over the decade, either physical or psychological. Almost 50 percent of children in Sderot and other communities on the Gaza perimeter have suffered post-traumatic stress disorder. Medical authorities also report a high rate of depression and miscarriages from years of rocket attacks.

Kaplan said he had been motivated to undertake the study by the fact that Israel has suffered relatively few fatalities despite the thousands of rockets fired at it. "There has been a concerted attempt by [critics of Israel] to portray Qassam rockets as essentially harmless, symbolic weapons," Kaplan said. "These rockets are not harmless."

The Qassam rockets are relatively simple devices produced in Gaza by Hamas and smaller militant groups. The warhead is filled with smuggled TNT and fertilizer.

Since Israel's withdrawal from the Gaza Strip in 2005, the Palestinians have smuggled in from Sinai larger rockets produced abroad, including Iran. The foreign rockets can reach the Tel Aviv metropolitan area and have much heavier warheads.

Israel, in turn, has stepped up its anti-rocket capabilities. When the pace of rocketing becomes unbearable, Israel has responded either with ground incursions into Gaza or intensive air attacks, which generally bring a halt or diminution in rocketing for a period of time.

Published under: Hamas, Israel