Palestinian Missile Attacks on Ashkelon Portend Environmental Catastrophe

Palestinian terror planners are now sending their Qassam missiles after big game: the important port-town of Ashkelon, which lies ten kilometers from the northern tip of the Gaza Strip, where the ruins of the evacuated Israeli locations of Dugit, Elei Sinai and Nisanit have been turned into handy launching sites.
Israeli locations, like Moshav Shuba and Kibbutz Carmia outside the Gaza Strip, have now been brought into missile range. New populations are on the front line alongside Sderot. But while the primitive Qassam missiles often miss smaller targets, a single spark at one of the many sensitive facilities in Israel’s Mediterranean port town of Ashkelon would not just trigger a national disaster, but a huge environmental catastrophe on the scale of the Briitish Buncefield oil center explosion earlier this month.
The Eilat Ashkelon oil pipeline is a land bridge for oil to move both ways between the Red Sea and the Mediterranean and two continents. It is served from the Ashkelon open-sea oil port which accommodates oil tankers of up to 300,000 DWT. The Ashkelon Oil Terminal houses 22 storage tanks with a capacity of 1.5 million cu. m. The big Electricity Corporation power plant is located to the south of the town. One of the Palestinian missiles landed in the installation’s yard.
Yet on Wednesday, Dec. 21, prime minister Ariel Sharon, in his first security consultation after leaving hospital, decided that diplomacy would keep Ashkelon safe from Palestinian target practice and that effective military measures could wait.
The same thinking apparently extends to the two al Qaeda cells, one sent by Abu Musab al Zarqawi in person, which took up positioning the Gaza Strip after Israel’s pull-out.
By diplomacy, Sharon meant bringing diplomatic pressure to bear on the disintegrating Palestinian Authority to make it rein in the Palestinian missile launchers which are making free of the lawless Gaza Strip. Mofaz was told to address this hollow plea to Egyptian intelligence minister Omar Suleiman, when he visited Jerusalem and Ramallah Wednesday. Both know quite well that the Palestinian Authority is a fiction and its chairman Mahmoud Abbas is incapable of holding his own Fatah party together, let alone his government.
Tuesday, two foreign schoolteachers at a private American school in Gaza were kidnapped by the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, the group which assassinated Israel’s tourism minister Rehavam Zeevi in 2002. The teachers were released Wednesday and lost no time in leaving the territory with the rest of the school’s foreign staff.
debkafile‘s military sources emphasize that the Sharon government does possess the means to stop the Qassam bombardment: it would only take an order to Israel’s Air Force to turn the northern Gaza Strip into a sterile zone where all moving objects are swatted. This mission could be accomplished within a very short time. The targeted region has the added advantage of a very sparse Palestinian population. There are not many buildings standing there apart from the broken shells of former Israeli homes.
However, Sharon is not only withholding this order; he is restraining the Air Force from pre-empting Palestinian missile launches. Air crews have been told to take extra time to make sure that the missile launchers have first been set up and the crewmen’s fingers are on the trigger before sending planes, helicopters or drones into action.
The Palestinians are of course taking advantage of their newfound immunity.
They move under cover of dark, crawling forward under heavy camouflage up to the missile sites. They only surface at the launching site, leaving the bomber in the air a couple of seconds to strike before the missile is released to target.
Amid the general frustration, a bright new idea was born Tuesday: black out northern Gaza for two hours a day. This plan was reported to be under government consideration based on the rationale that, deprived of electrical power, the ordinary Palestinian would be driven to reining in the missile-launchers.
This plan had a very short shelf life: the prospect of Palestinian civilians rising up against the Hamas, Jihad Islami, the Popular Resistance Committees or the Fatah-Al Aqsa Brigades because of a two-hour electricity outage was too ludicrous to be taken seriously. For one thing, every Gaza family has one member at least in one or more of the organizations shooting the missiles. For another, if Hamas is in danger of sweeping the polls in January, it is because of its broad popularity, compared with the Palestinian Authority and its incumbent heads.
Barring a change in these circumstances, Ashkelon appears doomed to suffer the same fate as battered Sderot – if not worse. The question is which Israeli city is next?

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