Gaza Rockets Can Reach Israel's 5th Largest City

According to Shabak chief Yuval Diskin, the enemy in Gaza must be defeated immediately if a greater escalation is to be avoided.

Nissan Ratzlav-Katz ,

Aftermath of a Katyusha strike in Ashkelon
Aftermath of a Katyusha strike in Ashkelon
(Photo: Flash 90)

The head of the General Security Services (Shabak), Yuval Diskin, told the cabinet on Sunday that Palestinian Authority terrorists in Gaza are already equipped with missiles capable of hitting the port of Ashdod and Kiryat Gat. According to Diskin, the enemy in Gaza must be defeated immediately if a greater escalation is to be avoided.

"Ever since the Philadelphi Route [between Gaza and Egypt] was breached, Hamas has
"The threat to the State of Israel is growing exponentially." -- Shabak head Yuval Diskin
been bringing high-quality weaponry into the Strip, which has made it possible to fire beyond Ashkelon, as far as Kiryat Gat and Ashdod," he warned.

Ashdod, the fifth largest city in Israel, is home to over 200,000 residents and Israel's largest port, accounting for sixty percent of the country's imported goods. It is located just under 25 kilometers (15.5 miles) north of Gaza. The inland city of Kiryat Gat, in the Southern District, is located 56 kilometers (35 miles) southeast of Tel Aviv.

"They already know how to operate sophisticated weapons there," Diskin said of the terrorists in Gaza. "They have not yet shut the door on the Egyptians' efforts [at brokering a temporary ceasefire], but they are preparing for the next round." According to Shabak estimates, if Hamas does not obtain all its goals in a temporary ceasefire agreement, "then there will be an even greater escalation." 

Diskin told the ministers that Hamas in Gaza currently has firepower that must be "dealt with immediately. If you don't take care of this problem now, then it will become more severe. The more time passes, the operation that will eventually be carried out will cost more casualties and more dead soldiers."

Hamas is obtaining weapons directly from Iran, Diskin explained, "and we don't identify any obstacle blocking the supply of ammunition to Gaza.... The Hamas leadership and the Iranian regime are growing closer on all levels. Aid, know-how and equipment are simply flowing in. Time is working in favor of Hamas and the threat to the State of Israel is growing exponentially."

Ashdod, Kiryat Gat Not Waiting for the Rockets to Fall
In March 2008, following warnings emanating from the IDF and the Shabak in 2007, the Ashdod Municipality and the IDF's Homefront Command began making preparations to protect Ashdod residents from the approaching enemy rocket fire. Local officials have been spending much of their time in Ashkelon, learning from up close how a major city deals with alerting and protecting its citizenry from missile and rocket attacks.

Kiryat Gat Mayor Aviram Dahar said Monday morning that he is preparing the city's 52,000 residents for Katyusha rocket attacks, as well. Mayor Dahar said that the city's social workers are being prepared to deal with an emergency situation, and that shock trauma treatment centers are being protected against rocket attacks.

Prior assessments by military intelligence indicated that Hamas was most likely waiting for a large-scale ground operation by Israel or for the killing of one of its top terrorists to deploy the longer-range missiles.

In recent months, Hamas has been making vocal threats of the type heard from Hizbullah chief Hassan Nasrallah prior to that terrorist group's firing of rockets at Haifa and Hadera from the north, during the Second Lebanon War.

"We will strike beyond Ashkelon," several Hamas leaders have declared at rallies and in Arabic-language press conferences, sometimes citing Ashdod by name.