Gaza-Israel clashes: The view from each side

An Israeli woman surveys the damage to her shop following a rocket attack from the nearby Gaza Strip, on 12 March 2012 in Ashdod, Israel

Around the towns and farms of southern Israel, within reach of the rocket fire from Gaza, a million or so Israelis have been going through the grimly familiar rituals of military escalation.

The mood is hard to capture in a simple phrase. But there is anxiety.

As we stood interviewing a young man in a busy street in Ashdod, where a rocket had exploded a few hours earlier, the mournful howling of the sirens suddenly drowned him out.

He immediately started running, and our pictures show him receding down the street shouting a question over his shoulder about where he can find shelter.

At the scene of the original blast the work of clearing up continued - road-sweepers clearing away the dust and rubble and broken glass while engineers from the electricity company overhead made the power lines safe.

Familiar dread

This is nothing new for Ashdod.

But alongside that familiar sense of dread, there is a growing sense that the military balance, which has long been tilted in Israel's favour, has tilted a little further in the same direction.

Start Quote

I do understand the citizens there too. But it's like, you strike me and I strike you'”

End Quote Rafael Silas Resident of Ashdod, Israel

On the edge of a wheat field outside Ashdod we found a pair of missile launchers belonging to Israel's new Iron Dome defence system.

It turned out that the crews at this site - or another one just like it - had intercepted the missile which triggered the air raid sirens, exploding it harmlessly in mid-air.

There is a clear sense of confidence that the new missile system and the sophisticated high-speed radar to which it is hooked up are doing much to render the rockets fired from Gaza less threatening.

Monday's explosion hit an apartment block on a busy main street. An identical attack four years ago hit the building next door.

During these rounds of violence, normal life in the towns of southern Israel is severely disrupted. Schools have been closed today and every time the siren sounds people run for the nearest shelter.

At a mobile radar battery earlier in the day we were introduced to Brig Gen Doron Gavish, the commander of Israel's air defence system.

'New era'

He was confident about the capabilities of Iron Dome.

An Israeli missile is launched from the Iron Dome missile system in the city of Ashdod in response to a rocket launch from the nearby Palestinian Gaza Strip on 11 March 2012 The Israelis believe the Iron Dome system will block most of the rocket attacks from Gaza

It seems his batteries had been moved into position in southern Israel ahead of the attack that killed Zohair al-Qaisi, a senior militant commander in Gaza, last Friday.

Gen Gavish told me: "We are entering a new era in military history once we see that there's effective defence against rockets."

At a less technical level, as we were standing around with the Iron Dome missile battery, several carloads of civilians drove up to the site bearing gifts of sweets and pastries for the soldiers.

The government here may be cautious about claiming too much too soon for Iron Dome, but these laughing, chatting mothers and grandmothers will cheerfully tell you they see it as an instrument of deliverance.

There is, of course, suffering and anxiety on both sides here, as one civilian from the building hit today in Ashdod told me.

And of course it is worth noting that the very fact that the rocket got through is an indication that Iron Dome is far from infallible.

"I do understand the citizens there too. But it's like, you strike me and I strike you,"the resident, Rafael Silas, said.

"My grandfather told me that in war there are no winners just two losers, and it's a question of who loses the most."

There are plenty of people on both sides here who would recognise that unhappy truth, but for now there is no sign of an end to this latest escalation.

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