home Human Rights, Middle East Putting Hamas’ Rockets into a Broader Context

Putting Hamas’ Rockets into a Broader Context

Hamas rockets are far from the most sophisticated, or deadly, of weapons. But the psychological impact they have should not be dismissed or disregarded.

The Iranian-state media network Press TV often goes to almost ludicrous lengths to unearth any material, blatantly conspiratorially or otherwise, to cast Israel in an extremely negative light and portray it as the epitome of evil and the sole obstacle to a peaceful Middle East. It lauds quotes by Iran’s Supreme Leader, the Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, calling for that country’s destruction and portrays the Palestinians as wholly innocent people whose every action is merely motivated by resistance to the usurpation of their land.

One thing you may often read on Press TV with regard to Hamas and clashes between Israel and that organization in the Palestinian Gaza Strip is how ineffective those rockets Hamas fire are. While the network may note in its reports that some of Hamas’ rockets were fired at Israel during a particular clash they invariably point out that those rockets often land in unpopulated areas and are highly ineffective. That much is true in a military sense. But we shouldn’t discount the psychological, not to mention the legal, factor of those rocket firings–the intent of those rocket launches needs to be factored in too.

Hamas fire them indiscriminately and intend to kill Israeli citizens. This is a very important factor. The motive, not necessarily the actual affect. Of course Israel has hugely superior firepower to the comparatively puny Hamas munitions. That doesn’t mean it seeks to slaughter Palestinians in Gaza in the same manner as Hamas aims to do to Israelis. During the last major round of fighting between Israel and the Hamas over the summer, the Palestinian representative at the United Nations Human Rights Council stated that the intent of the Hamas rocket fire constituted a graver crime than the deaths of many of the Palestinians in Gaza killed during that Israeli operation. He has said that given the intent of those firing the rockets at Israel that each one of those rockets “constitutes a crime against humanity, where it hits or misses, because it is directed at civilian targets.”

Further, the psychological effect in Israeli population centers when they are forced to scramble to shelters after rocket fire has to be taken into account too. I mentioned Iranian-state televisions frequent depictions of those rockets being completely harmless. Older people who live in Tehran will doubtlessly remember the 1980’s when they were subjected to indiscriminate missile attacks by the Iraqis during that long and horrible war. Saddam Hussein’s Scud missiles saw one million residents of Tehran flee their homes in fear of their lives. But here is the thing. Terrifying as those missiles were, in one seven-week period in an attempt to terrorize the Iranian population, the Iraqis rained down 40 tonnes of missiles on Tehran. The book points out this is a rather small statistic when compared and contrasted to a similar rocketing of a capital city, London by the Germans in 1945 for example when 1,000 tonnes of ordnance fell from the sky in the form of the V-2 missiles.

So while the effect on Tehran in those years may not have been necessarily the wholesale destruction of a city it nevertheless saw a capital city being convulsed with fear as was made clear by the number who fled in fear of their lives. While we can coldly quote numbers and compare them–and it is worth comparing the vast disparity between the thousands of Palestinian deaths in Gaza during the recent war to the very few in Israel–we cannot feasibly discount the psychological effect those missiles clearly had.  So we must account for the psychological effect rocket attacks on Israel have had; for instance, back in 2006, 250,000 Israelis in the north of their country were displaced by Hezbollah rocket attacks during that summer war.

Of course Israel today shoots down a lot of those rockets aimed at urban centers with its Iron Dome missile system. A factor which the Israeli historian Benny Morris has recently speculated may be actually undermining Israel’s “image as a civilized state in the eyes of many in the West.”

Morris also pointed out that the Iron Dome had nearly 90% success rate when it came to shooting out of the sky rockets aimed at populated areas (its computer doesn’t target rockets whose trajectory are clearly unpopulated areas). He believes that during the last 50-day summer 2014 round of fighting between Israel and Hamas the fact that Israel didn’t mount a protracted ground operation to dismantle the organization in a house-to-house fashion means there will inevitably be another war between those two adversaries in the future.

He writes that Iron Dome may actually prove to be disastrous for Israel’s image in the eyes of the world for the following reason,

Without doubt, the pictures of massive destruction in Gaza in the wake of the limited Israeli air and ground response to the Hamas rockets, with its massive civilian toll among Palestinians, has badly harmed Israel’s image among liberal, humane Westerners. “Disproportionality” has been on everyone’s lips.


If there were footage of shattered buildings in Tel Aviv, and the dead and dying lying in the streets of the coastal cities of Ashdod and Ashkelon, few around the world would condemn Israel for a massive air and ground assault against a palpably murderous Hamas, with the aim of destroying it. Over the months needed to pacify and demilitarize Gaza, no doubt protests would emerge. But the protests would have been less strident than they are today. Israel would weather the international indignation far better; Israel would be better understood.

Certainly an interesting, if not somewhat peculiar, perspective, as a controversial historian Morris seldom fails to stir up controversy and the ire of his political detractors.

The general point is that in such wars it is very important to carefully gauge the legality of various measures. Simply dismissing and trivializing an action such as the firing of very unsophisticated homemade rockets on the part of a group like the Hamas against a much superior technological adversary, especially when that group has explicitly voiced its intent on killing as many people, civilians and military personnel alike, as possible, since they don’t possess the necessary means to do so is irresponsible.