Frontpage Interview's guest today is Jonathan Schanzer, the Director of Policy for the Jewish Policy Center. He is an analyst of Middle East affairs and terrorism, with a decade of experience in the field. Before joining the Jewish Policy Center, he was a counterterrorism analyst for the Office of Intelligence and Analysis at the U.S. Department of the Treasury. Prior to joining the Treasury, he served as a Research Fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, where he authored the book Al-Qaeda's Armies: Middle East Affiliate Groups and the Next Generation of Terror. He also participated in a Washington Institute fact-finding mission in Iraq in 2004. Mr. Schanzer got his start in the policy world as a research fellow at the Middle East Forum, a Philadelphia-based think tank headed by scholar Daniel Pipes.
FP: Jonathan Schanzer, welcome to Frontpage Interview.
Schanzer: Thanks for having me, Jamie.
FP: Tell us about the Jewish Policy Center's new project, Palestinian Rocket Report.
Schanzer: As you know, after Hamas conquered the Gaza Strip in June last year, Palestinian rocket attacks against Israel have increased dramatically.
These are crude rockets that are blindly fired into Israel, with the hope of hitting a civilian target. So far, there have been more than 850 recorded attacks in 2008 alone.
Unfortunately, these attacks get very little attention in the mainstream media. But when Israel responds with an incursion into Gaza, the media is brutally critical.
Palestinian Rocket Report, our new initiative at the JPC, is an attempt to provide the media, policymakers, and the general public with background and technical information on the rockets launched against Israel by Palestinian groups in the Gaza Strip. We also detail the damage these attacks have caused in Israeli population centers, both physically and emotionally. Finally, we provide a news feed with important daily updates on attacks from a variety of sources.
FP: So what does it say about Hamas that it launches rocket attacks against Israeli civilians? What does it say about what Hamas is and the wisdom of negotiating with it?
Schanzer: The Hamas rockets are crude. So are the PIJ and al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades rockets, for that matter. It is virtually impossible for these groups to fire at specific targets with any precision. Thus, they fire their rockets in the general direction of Israeli towns and cities with the hope that they hit a school, house, or business. It is difficult for me to believe that a group like Hamas, first known for suicide bombings and now known for firing rockets blindly into civilian population centers, is interested in negotiating peace.
FP: Give us an overview of the steady increase of rocket attacks against Israel's south.
Schanzer: The exact number of rockets fired against Israel since the attacks began in 2001 is hazy. But we can say with certainty that the number of attacks have quite literally skyrocketed.
In 2001, four known rockets were fired on Israeli targets inside the Gaza Strip. The following year, at least 35 rockets were fired, many of which landed inside Israel's green line.
As underground weapons smuggling increased from Egypt, from 2003 through 2005, Palestinian groups fired at least 615 rockets into Israeli airspace.
In 2005, as Hamas and other jihadi groups began to mass produce their crude projectiles, the number of rockets fired jumped to 946. Last year, at least 896 were fired. And as I noted, so far this year some 850 have been recorded.
The uptrend is troubling, to say the least.
FP: What are the capabilities and maximum distance of the rockets?
Schanzer: The Qassam rocket, which is the Hamas rocket, has increased in capability at a steady clip. The first generation had a maximum distance of about 2 miles, with a 17-pound warhead. The newest generation of rockets can now travel up to 12 miles, and has added payload.
The result is that several Israeli population centers are within range of Qassams and the other rockets launched by different jihadi groups in the Gaza Strip. Sderot is the town we often hear about. The city of Ashkelon is now in rocket range, as is the town of Netivot.
The fact that Ashkelon is now a rocket target is very disconcerting. It is a city of about 100,000 people.
FP: Who is primarily carrying out the attacks?
Schanzer: Hamas is best known for these rocket attacks, but other groups are also to blame. The Palestinian Islamic Jihad fires what it calls the Quds rocket. The al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades, which is a terrorist group tied to PA President Mahmoud Abbas' Fatah party, has the al-Aqsa and the al-Yasser rockets. The Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine also has a rocket known as the Sumud.
FP: Why is the mainstream media so silent about these attacks?
Schanzer: We have a hard time answering this question. The Israeli press issues daily reports on these rocket attacks, while the New York Times, Washington Post, CNN, NPR and others are largely silent. It appears that headlines are only made when the rockets cause major damage or civilian casualties. When they "merely" make potholes in Israeli streets or strike empty lots, the mainstream media does not seem to think the attacks warrant attention.
FP: What are Israel's legal rights?
Schanzer: Israel has a right to protect its citizens. Until now, Israel has been demonstrating incredible restraint. But, as the rocket capabilities allow jihadi groups to strike deeper into Israeli territory, we should not expect Israel to continue to demonstrate that restraint. In fact, if the rocket attacks continue, it should come as no surprise if Israel launches an incursion into Gaza in an attempt to destroy the rocket infrastructure. This, of course, will draw the big headlines. And I would expect that the predicate for the incursion – the rocket attacks – will receive little coverage.
FP: What can the U.S. do to help?
Schanzer: The U.S. is currently helping Israel to develop a short-range intercept system that would destroy the rockets in mid-air shortly after they are launched. If successful, the system could dramatically reduce the number of rockets that land in Israeli territory.
Until then, Israel will need the support of the United States at the U.N., particularly if the Israel Defense Forces determine that a full-scale Gaza incursion is necessary.
FP: Your thoughts on Jimmy Carter recently romancing Hamas?
Schanzer: I'm still shocked that a U.S. former president would go out of his way to meet with the leader of a designated terrorist organization. I am also shocked that Carter chose to go ahead with his meeting, despite pleas from the State Department to cancel it. When Carter met with Khaled Meshal, he signaled that Hamas' strategy of violence works. I have a very hard time understanding Carter's motivations. He has lost all credibility in my view.
FP: In terms of who Carter is and what he has done, I am not sure what there is to be shocked about. I am also not sure what credibility he has ever held in the first place. This romance with Hamas is in complete continuity with who he has always been and what he has always pursued. But this is a discussion for another time and place my friend.
Let's get back to the Palestinian Rocket Report. What do you hope it will help achieve?
Schanzer: It is our hope that Palestinian Rocket Report becomes a resource for anyone seeking to learn more about the daily salvos that terrorize Israel. We hope to be able to influence the public debate, or even shape U.S. policy, if at all possible.
FP: And what should U.S. policy be?
Schanzer: U.S. policy has been on target. Washington supports the isolation of the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip. The U.S. military continues to work with the Israeli military to develop defense systems to destroy rockets before they land in Israel. And our leadership continues to support Israel's right to defend itself. Challenges will arise, however, if Israel determines a need to enter Gaza to destroy the rocket infrastructure. Washington will need to find a balance between the desire for regional calm and Israel's long-term security.
FP: Well, there are some worrying signs that the U.S. is pressuring Israel to negotiate with forces that do not, to say the least, wish Israel well. Let's hope that future U.S. policy does not force Israel into any Oslo Syndrome.
Jonathan Schanzer, thank you for joining us.
Schanzer: Always a pleasure, Jamie.
Jamie Glazov is Frontpage Magazine's managing editor. He holds a Ph.D. in History with a specialty in U.S. and Canadian foreign policy. He edited and wrote the introduction to David Horowitz's Left Illusions. He is also the co-editor (with David Horowitz) of The Hate America Left and the author of Canadian Policy Toward Khrushchev's Soviet Union (McGill-Queens University Press, 2002) and 15 Tips on How to be a Good Leftist.