For Sderot, the only option is to evacuate, fortify

The Israeli government has four options at its disposal in the face of the Sderot crisis.

First, it can continue the situation as is, allowing residents to sustain rocket attacks and occasionally leave town for a “break,” in hopes that the pressure exerted by the IDF on Gaza Strip gunmen will lead to an end to Kassam fire in a week or two.

Second, it can renew negotiations with Abbas and even directly with Hamas in a bid to reach a new agreement on maintaining the calm.

Third, it can embark on a large-scale military operation that includes taking over large portions of the Gaza Strip and Philadelphi Route.

Fourth, it can continue with military pressure while simultaneously undertaking a quick, orderly evacuation of the majority of Sderot residents until a rapid home-fortification campaign is completed.

The first alternative is the worst. Not only because it is immoral to let Sderot and area residents live under Kassam barrages, but also because the victims and scenes of people leaving the town create an incentive for Hamas and Islamic Jihad to continue shelling. The impotence displayed by Jerusalem at this time in Sderot also serves to gravely erode Israel’s power of deterrence.

The second alternative — striving to reach a new ceasefire agreement — would require the government to adopt Hamas’ demand that the IDF curb its anti-terror operations in the Gaza Strip and West Bank in exchange for an end to the rocket attacks. Yet if the sequence of counter-terrorism activity and intelligence-gathering ends, we will quickly see a wave of suicide bombings and shooting attacks in Israel’s cities and on West Bank roads.

At this time, dozens of such attacks are in the planning stages, backed by Hezbollah and Iranian funding. Most are averted only because of ongoing anti-terror activity, which Hamas wants to see end. The calm also would allow terror elements to accumulate the know-how and materials needed to produce and launch Kassam rockets at Israel’s densely populated soft underbelly.

The third alternative is the only military option that can bring about an end to Kassam fire and stop terrorists from growing stronger in the strip. At the moment, however, this option is impractical because of the political weakness displayed by a government that does not have the public’s trust. A broad operation also requires that large forces stay in the Gaza Strip and sustain causalities for a long time before such a campaign achieves substantial results.

In addition, the government has no strategy at this point in time that would allow us to leave the strip again after most objectives are achieved, without the situation reverting to its current state.

This leaves us with the fourth option. But the fourth option has three components: continue IDF activity as is or more intensively; an orderly evacuation of Sderot residents who are not vital for the functioning of municipal factories and services; and an urgent national campaign aimed at reinforcing Sderot homes and returning residences to their homes after its completion.

These three elements must be performed simultaneously, under joint management by the IDF and Defense Ministry, using national resources. The campaign should focus only on Sderot, because the town is the largest and most readily available target for Kassam fire, while its population is the weakest.

The orderly evacuation of thousands of residents is not a simple matter. Establishing several large tent cities near Sderot and equipping them with decent services for residents for a month or two is a project Israel can handle — if only it decides to do so and implements it resolutely.

In the same way that billionaire Arcady Gaydamak set up a tent city for northern residents in Nitzanim during the Second Lebanon War, the state can do it easily as long as the various ministries stop torpedoing each other’s work and their directors stop the ego wars between them.

Unquestionably, a campaign aimed at fortifying Sderot buildings is complex and expensive. In the initial phase, however, we are not talking about a permanent arrangement but quick, fundamental fortification that would provide any resident with a safe shelter. Such reinforcement would be built on prefabricated cement structures of various sizes, plastic sheets designed to absorb explosions and metal shelters offered by our military industry.

In addition, Sderot’s 150 bomb shelters will be equipped in a manner that allows residents to sleep and stay there if they choose to remain in town until the current Kassam offensive ends.

This fortification program can be done within four to six weeks if the government earmarks the required budget. The campaign aimed at building housing units for Russian immigrants in the 1990s, under the direction of Ariel Sharon, proved it can be done.

Granted, we are talking about a cost of more than 1 billion shekels (roughly $250 million). Still, a government is not allowed to profiteer when it comes to citizens’ lives. Besides, the mere engagement in this project, including all three components, would give us some maneuvering space to take diplomatic and military decisions with no pressure (including a decision on a large-scale operation).

Such a campaign would also demonstrate to the media and international public opinion the severity of the problem. Even more important, it would prove to terror organizations and their dispatchers, as it would to Israel’s citizens, that the Israeli government has a response to the rocket threat.

This is the only application solution that can free the government from the paralysis that has overcome it.

Lt. Col (res.) Ron Ben-Yishai is a lecturer at Tel Aviv University. This column originally appeared on