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Israel’s ‘iron dome’ against Hamas rockets may help to defer ground assault

July 10, 2014 at 7:59 PM EDT
The death toll continued to climb in Gaza as Israel ramped up its barrage of airstrikes. Judy Woodruff talks to Josef Federman of The Associated Press who is in Jerusalem about the potential of an Israeli ground invasion, the origins of Hamas’ stockpile of rockets and the disparity in risk-factors between the two sides.
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TRANSCRIPT

JUDY WOODRUFF: Earlier this evening, I spoke again to Josef Federman of Associated Press.

Josef, thank you for talking with us again.

Bring us up to date about what’s been happening just in the last few hours there.

JOSEF FEDERMAN, The Associated Press: Yes, I feel like it’s sort of like the middle grounds of a boxing match right now, where the two sides are just kind of slugging each other and no sign of either side gaining momentum.

I think we’re kind of in a holding period that may go on for a couple of days.

JUDY WOODRUFF: There was a statement by President Abbas that the residents on the Gaza side of the border need to move back, suggesting he has some information about an Israeli assault. What do you know about that?

JOSEF FEDERMAN: Well, I think what he’s doing, he’s reflecting the fears that Israel could be moving in soon.

As you know, Israel has been moving forces and massing forces along the border with Gaza over the past few days, preparing for the possibility of a ground invasion, so that created a lot of speculation that something could be around the border.

But, from what I can tell, I don’t think it’s anything imminent. The Israeli military says it’s very happy with the way the air campaign is going and that it is in no rush to go in with ground forces. The report that the military had ordered people away from the border, it’s something that happened in the past, in past fighting, but the army tells me that has not been the case this time around.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Josef, we also heard the Palestinian representative at the U.N. say that, in Gaza, they have only one or two seconds to respond when there has been or is about to be a strike. How much warning do they have? What are the Israelis saying about that?

JOSEF FEDERMAN: Well, the Israelis say that they will warn residents. If they have identified a building as a target, they will tell people to get out. They will call the building ahead of time. They will even fire a warning shot, sort of knock on the roof with a bomb that — without explosives, kind of a knock on the roof.

And only then do they actually blow up the building. So they are taking precautions or they say they’re taking precautions in some cases. But, in other cases, if they have identified a person in the building as a target, that’s a different story, and they say that person is a legitimate target and that person is putting anyone around him in danger.

So when you have a situation like that, you have the risk of civilian casualties.

JUDY WOODRUFF: And on the Hamas side, Josef, we know that they fired several hundred rockets over the last few days. Is it known how large the stockpile is and where they’re getting these weapons from?

JOSEF FEDERMAN: Yes.

Well, Hamas has been building up this arsenal of rockets for years. Israel believes that they have about 10,000 rockets. Most of them are — they call them Grad Katyusha-type rockets, relatively short-range. I think they go maybe 10 to 20 miles inside Israel. But over time, they have also brought in other more powerful rockets and we have seen some that are capable of hitting Jerusalem, Tel Aviv and even further.

Most of the rockets are believed to have come from Iran. They’re shipped to places like Sudan and then go over land through Egypt and smuggled into Gaza. Now, the situation has changed over the past year. Egypt last year, there was a military coup, and the new government in Egypt is very hostile to Hamas, and they have shuttered this whole smuggling operation.

So Hamas, over the coming weeks, if this drags on, could see its arsenal diminished.

JUDY WOODRUFF: And on the other side, Josef, the Israeli side, so far, they have been very successful at holding back the attacks by Hamas. I guess their air defense system, 90 percent effective is what we’re seeing. How confident are they that they can continue that rate of effectiveness?

JOSEF FEDERMAN: Yes, right now, they seem to be very pleased and I think that’s one of the reasons that is actually holding back the ground defensive.

As long as they can continue with this air assault on Gaza and avoid any casualties inside Israel, they’re probably likely to continue with the same tactic. It’s much less risky for them. The military seems very happy right now, very content to keep doing what it’s doing.

If you see civilian casualties on the Israeli side — and, like you say, 90 percent is very good, but it’s not 100 percent, so there’s always the possibility of casualties on the Israeli side — that could push Israel I think to move more in the direction of ground action.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Josef Federman reporting from Jerusalem, thank you again.

JOSEF FEDERMAN: Thank you.