What is a Qassam Rocket?

EnglishYesterday and today (4th & 5th of November), after several months of relative quiet, 20-30 Qassams were fired from the Gaza Strip over the Green Line, towards Ashkelon and the Negev (the Jewish Telegraphic Agency reports). [UPDATE 2008-11-14: the shelling continues, now in its ninth day!]

Qassams are crude, imprecise rockets, which the news media do not fail to mention. However, some descriptions do tend to arouse in the reader a feeling that Qassams aren’t really all that dangerous, they are merely some kind of glorified firework, such as in the following quote:

Qassam rockets are simple weapons that lack guidance systems and so are very inaccurate, though in recent years militants have produced ones with longer ranges able to penetrate deeper inside Israel.
(Source: CNN)

Technically, the quote is correct, but crucial background information is lacking. Last August, I visited Sderot on a joint mission of the leaderships of the Rabbinical Council of America and of Tzohar, an Israeli rabbinical organization. Below are some thoughts and two pictures that can bring some perspective to the Qassams threat.

Israel being a small country, there are a number of localities that get hit by Qassams, and since the Qassam is inaccurate, the terrorists firing them intentionally risk – or desire – hitting ordinary civilians; Sderot is no more than 800 meters from the perimeter fence around Gaza! Furthermore, as I discovered this past summer, when visiting the police station of Sderot, where they store the thousands of Qassams, which fell on Sderot alone, these are not small rockets, and they are growing larger. The smaller ones are cruder and are 80-120cm long, while the larger ones, such as those in the second picture, can reach well over 1,5 meters of length and show clear signs of more advanced manufacturing. The latter kind of rockets is likely imported from terrorism supporting nations.

qassams, qassams and more qassams

qassams, qassams and more qassams

The police station displays a few hundred Qassams on such racks, which stretch for about 10-12 meters in the courtyard of the station. In addition, they have two large rooms filled with Qassams in the basement.

Qassams up close

Qassams up close. Notice of the thick metal is simply torn and peeled backwards by the powerful explosives, which also contain metal balls to make the impact more deadly. See the reflections of people in the background for some perspective.

Upon closer inspection, you can see that the rockets are signed. Yes, they are signed, lest another terrorist group claim “credit” in their stead. After all, there are hosts of smaller terror cells competing with ‘Hamas to be nominated to the terrorists’ wall of shame. [UPDATE: see this article from Xinhua Times, for an example of terrorist groups competing for claiming Qassam attacks.]

While the news broadcasts report that the expectation is that the relative calm will return, security elements on the ground stress that the ceasefire is temporary and is being used by ‘Hamas and the other terror groups to rearm.

In this context, I’d like to paraphrase a halakhah brought in the Mishnayot Ta’anit, 3rd chapter: looming disasters, including looming attacks, even if they will only hit a relatively small number of people, are to be taken very seriously. We must prepare for them both in a physical and in a spiritual manner, the latter of which includes calling for prayers, introspection and fasting. Even those who are not directly threatened join in these prayers and, according to the majority opinion, in the fasts as well, because we share in each other’s sorrow and worry.

May peace come speedily to Israel and the whole world, may evildoers be utterly destroyed and all evil threats evaporate like smoke. (paraphrase from the High Holiday liturgy)

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