Abu Saif, a rocket maker for the al-Aqsa Martyrs' Brigades, is a fan of Google Earth. One recent evening in Gaza City, I sat next to him as he showed me how he used the popular satellite mapping program to target sites within Israel.Like schools, perhaps? No, Weinberger doesn't bother to ask that.
"The technology is always improving," he told me. "Our struggle started with the Kalashnikov, and then it moved to the suicide bomb, then the locally made rocket, and now the Grad rocket," he said.
And that's where Google Earth comes in. The satellite mapping tool that was created with help from the CIA's venture capital arm has now become a favored tool for rocket makers, who use it to help aim their artillery. Maps are quickly outdated, and don't provide, as Google Earth imagery does, the precise locations of buildings, roads, and other potential targets.
Rocket makers enjoy an air of mystery, and to meet Abu Saif (a nom de guerre, meaning the "father of Saif"), I was instructed to drive down a specific street in central Gaza City, where a young man jumped into the car and guided us to the meeting point.You can almost feel her excitement at meeting such a mysterious, almost romantic, figure.
It was a rather domesticated setting for a meeting with one of the rocket makers, who over the last several years have become the rock stars of Gaza, or at least its reality stars. In some ways, rocket making has almost become an extreme form of reality television, with the militants understanding that playing to the cameras is as important as, or perhaps more important than, actually launching rockets. Groups like the al-Aqsa Martyrs' Brigades regularly film semiscripted home videos, complete with dramatic editing and cheap sets.Weinberger didn't even mention that a child was murdered in the schoolbus attack. She didn't mention that the targets have been purely civilian. She refrains from using the word "terrorism" - which is what these rockets are, in the purest sense. She doesn't even ask whether these "rock stars" are planning to work with the paper unity government or against it. She doesn't ask whether Hamas has been encouraging or discouraging recent rocket attacks. She doesn't mention - and probably isn't even aware - that many Palestinian Arabs have been killed by these romantically crude rockets that fell short.
Indeed, Abu Saif was surrounded by a small gaggle of young men who, like members of a celebrity entourage, seemed to have little purpose other than to enhance the importance of their star.
...Indeed, Israel may be improving its defenses, but the militants have been improving their rockets. They have, over the years, become more adept at aiming them, with help from Google Earth. Particularly since the unilateral withdrawal of Israeli settlements from Gaza in 2005, the rocket attacks, to be effective, have had to go longer distances.
Was it harder to target Israeli positions before the advent of Google Earth in 2005? I asked Abu Saif. "No, it was easier," he replied, smiling. "Because the settlements then were inside Gaza."
Yet lately it appears things may have evolved even beyond the unguided Grad. In April, militants launched into Israel what was reported to be a laser-guided missile, which struck a school bus. When asked if the militant groups were indeed on the cusp of employing a new technology, Abu Saif was coy, saying only that when the right time came, they would make an announcement.
"At some point in the future," he said, "the Grad will be a thing of the past."
Is it coincidental that the day after this report was published, three rockets were shot into Israel, the biggest attack in months?
No, Weinberger was so happy to play the part of the adventurous journalist that she happily allowed herself to be used by (what appear to be) Islamic Jihad terrorists to further their own agenda - on the pages of Slate - without asking a single hard question, and without admitting that she was being used as a tool of the terrorists.