Pillar of Defense versus Cast Lead, 6 months after

For the vast majority of the period since the end of Operation Pillar of Defense on Nov. 21, Israel’s southern communities have experienced a quiet that has not been seen in over a decade. However, there was a noticeable uptick in the number of rockets and mortars fired from the Gaza Strip and Sinai toward Israel in April, as 22 were recorded.

Unsurprisingly, the uptick led some commentators to argue that Israel did not do enough during Pillar of Defense and that as a result Israel’s deterrence against terror groups in the Gaza Strip was eroding.

Yet in May, the number of rockets and mortars fired from Hamas-controlled Gaza toward Israel dropped significantly, to just two.

How long Israel’s deterrence will continue to hold remains to be seen. An examination of rocket and mortar statistics for the six months after Pillar of Defense in comparison with those for the six months after Operation Cast Lead may provide some indication. It also invites discussion as to which was a more successful operation, especially considering that the goals of the two operations were nearly identical.

On Dec. 1, 2012, former Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert was asked at a Brookings Institution event whether he viewed Operation Cast Lead, which he oversaw as prime minister, as a success. The operation “was sufficient in order to stop the Hamas from shooting from Gaza for more than two years,” Olmert stated.

The former premier continued:

I heard last week on the Israeli television that the spokesmen for the [current] cabinet, were talking about this. They said if, as a result of this operation [Pillar of Defense], it will be quiet for a year, it will be an achievement. It will be quiet for two years, it will be a great achievement.

So, it was quite [sic] more than two years after the Gaza Cast Lead Operation, so that I think that, according to standards set by the government of Israel today, it was a great operation.

Later, Olmert said that if the quiet Israel was experiencing in the days immediately after Pillar of Defense continued then we would “be able to judge the success” of the operation in greater detail.

While Olmert is correct that it will take more time to examine the full extent to which Operation Pillar of Defense succeeded in quelling rocket fire from Gaza, he is simply wrong to say that “it was quiet more than two years after the Gaza Cast Lead Operation.” In fact, according to the Shin Bet, from the end of Cast Lead in January 2009 through December 2010, at least 679 rockets and mortars were fired from the Gaza Strip toward Israel.

Comparing the six-month period following each of the operations, it is notable that during the six months since the end of Pillar of Defense, only 41 rockets and mortars have been launched from the Gaza Strip and Sinai toward Israel, according to the Shin Bet. By contrast, in the six months after Cast Lead, at least 219 rockets and mortars were launched from the Gaza Strip toward Israel.

As it stands now, Pillar of Defense is on pace to be a bit more than just a “great operation.” However, that could change quickly.

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