Mr. Siperco is director of the Middle East and North Africa program for a security-focused international political-risk consulting firm.
After two decades, several false starts and many missed deadlines, Israel’s controversial and extraordinarily ambitious active-missile-defense (AMD) program appears at last to be approaching the final stages of integrated development. Centered on the operationally mature Arrow antiballistic missile system, the multi-layered aerial shield will soon grow to include the mid-tier David’s Sling, the lower-tier Iron Dome and, conceivably, Raytheon’s Centurion super machine gun. If the program proceeds according to plan, Israel will become the first country to deploy an area-wide defense against short-, medium-and long-range threats by 2012-13.1 The implications of this development carry the very real potential to change the nature of strategic decision making in the region.
For most of its history, Israel has employed a defensive military doctrine at the strategic level and an offensive doctrine at the operational level. The country’s lack of territorial depth has ruled out long wars of attrition and made the aggressive projection of armed force a necessary alternative to fighting from a more elastic defensive posture. The concept of comprehensive missile defense introduces a new logic to Israeli military planning.
By combining limited attack operations with an effective missile shield that deters aggressors from first-strike provocations, decision makers free themselves from a dependence on controversial “crushing blow” reprisals, while stripping peace spoilers of the power to start wars and influence settlement negotiations.
It seems, then, that in Israel optimism should abound. Yet certain underlying problems in both concept and execution continue to stall progress on the permanent deployment of some of the lower-tier missile-defense systems, bolstering the arguments of critics who have long held that institutional resources could be put to better use elsewhere.
Detractors point to bureaucratic foot dragging and what appears to be deliberate obstructionism within elements of the Israeli military establishment as proof that billion-shekel defense systems are nothing more than a political smoke screen aimed at intimidating enemies and bolstering confidence among the Israeli public. Defense Ministry officials bitterly reject the criticism and continue to endorse the program as the only effective approach to maintaining Israel’s qualitative military advantage.
History will judge harshly those on the losing side of this debate. In the meantime, Israeli policy makers are left to decide whether the cost of active missile defense can be offset by its untested potential.
THE NEW THREAT LANDSCAPE
The scale of the missile threat facing Israel is well documented. Advances in Iranian rocket technology, coupled with Tehran’s ongoing nuclear program, are chief concerns of the United States, Israel and all responsible members of the international community. Closer to home, Israel continues to search for solutions to a 40-year-old problem that has its origins in the first PLO Katyusha rocket strike on the northern community of Kiryat Shmona in 1969.
Originally intended to function as an instrument of area suppression to support tactical assaults, the short-range rocket gained new strategic value during the Second Intifada, when isolated mortars and Qassam rockets began raining down on communities of the Gaza envelope. Despite the surge in attacks, only a few million dollars were earmarked for low-level studies of a kinetic-interceptor system. Resistance from top military brass who deemed the rocket threat strategically insignificant ensured that no Air Force or Ground Force patron would step forward to claim the mission and fund the development project.2 It wasn’t until the 2006 Lebanon War that senior Israeli officials were forced to acknowledge the strategic resonance of the rocket as a weapon of terror.
On the first night of the conflict, the Israeli Air Force (IAF) employed superior site-location intelligence to destroy 18 of 20 Iranian-supplied Zelzal-2 heavy rocket launchers,3 as well as virtually all Fajr-5 (Raad or Khaibar-1)4 weapons.5 But Hezbollah’s antiquated and relatively short-range 122 mm Katyusha6 rockets proved too elusive for technical collection, and these were responsible for much of the devastation wrought across northern Israel.7
From July 13 to August 13, 2006, official police reports documented 4,228 distinct impacts inside Israel.8 An organized civilian defense limited the number of fatalities to 53, but more than 2,000 homes were destroyed or severely damaged, and between 100,000 and 250,000 civilians were forced to temporarily relocate beyond the reach of Hezbollah missile batteries, virtually closing down the strategic port city of Haifa.9 Notoriously inaccurate and largely ineffective as a tactical weapon, the rocket had been redefined by Israel’s enemies as an instrument of coercive diplomacy. Politically vulnerable Israeli officials immediately authorized the acceleration of work on a short-range missile-defense system.
Four years later, Hezbollah has rearmed to a level higher than before the war, increasing the size of its arsenal to include at least 45,000 rockets10 made up largely of Katyusha variants with perhaps a few dozen new Fajr-5 and long-range Zelzal-2 launchers to replace those destroyed by the IAF in 2006.11 With Syria’s help, the group has also reportedly improved the quality of its arsenal, likely acquiring Scud-D12 and precision-guided M-600/Fateh-110 missiles13 that bring the entirety of central Israel within Hezbollah range from areas north of the Litani River and across the Bekaa Valley.14
The Israelis have warned Damascus that they would not tolerate the transfer of strategic weaponry that might alter the military balance of power with Hezbollah. Both the Scud and M-600 weapon systems certainly fall into this category, and President Bashar al-Asad is rumored to have been put on notice that if the Lebanese militant group ventures to fire the missiles, Israel will strike back at strategic and military targets inside Syria. Similar threats have been issued to prevent the transfer of SA2 anti-aircraft missile batteries and Russian-made shoulder-fired Igla-S (SA-24) anti-aircraft missiles.15
But crossing Israel’s red line on the transfer of strategic weapons systems isn’t the only way for Syria to ensure its inclusion in a third Lebanon war. Assuming that the Asad regime continues to supply Hezbollah directly from Syrian military stocks, possibly even providing logistical support during combat, Israel may find itself with no choice but to expand the northern front to target weapons-supply routes and militant infrastructure along Lebanon’s eastern border.16
Depending on the depth and intensity of Israeli air sorties into Syria, the Asad regime may feel sufficiently threatened to respond with its own stockpile of at least 50,000 short-range rockets and a fleet of Scud-B/C/D and SS-21 “Scarab” ballistic missiles capable of threatening every corner of the Jewish state.17
For the moment, rumors of an imminent escalation remain unsubstantiated. Hezbollah appears to be keeping its powder dry, possibly on orders from Tehran, in anticipation of an Israeli strike against Iranian nuclear facilities.18 But while the north has gone quiet, sporadic fire continues to pester towns further south in the western Negev, where a fragile cease-fire that ended Israel’s 22-day offensive in Gaza has been tested repeatedly by a short-range homemade rocket known as the Qassam.19
These primitive 60mm (Qassam-1) to 170mm (Qassam-3) projectiles have a shorter range and are less destructive than Katyushas, rarely inflicting damage or injury. The rocket’s utility instead lies in the efficiency of its design. Made up of little more than a two-meter length of steel pipe packed with a small warhead of between 3.5 and 10kg of explosives, Qassams are cheap and easy to produce in Gaza lathe shops, allowing for production on a scale that has kept border communities on edge since the first rocket struck within Israeli territory in February 2002.
A number of other high-trajectory weapons wielded by Hamas have either been smuggled into Gaza, confiscated from the Palestinian Authority following the 2007 putsch or imported during the breach of the Rafah Crossing in January 2008. These include hundreds of mortar shells, dozens of Oghab20 and standard long-range Katyusha Grad-type artillery rockets,21 and at least 50 Iranian-made Fajr-3/Raad missiles modified to achieve a range of up to 80km (sufficient to threaten Tel Aviv or the Negev Nuclear Research Center near Dimona).22 The launch of a number of these longer-range rockets on Ashkelon, Beer Sheva, Gadera and Ashdod during the 2008-09 escalation marked the high point of the Gaza missile threat.23 Hamas has since sought to avoid provoking Israel into another sweeping offensive and claims to enforce the same policy of restraint on would-be militant peace spoilers.24 This aversion to renewed conflict is likely to become even more pronounced as Egypt puts the finishing touches on an above-and-below-ground steel barrier with Gaza, effectively cutting off the few remaining smuggling tunnels used to prevent economic collapse and resupply dwindling rocket arsenals.25 But Hamas is at most a potent piece on the Middle East chessboard and, for as long as even a few suitcases filled with cash can be smuggled into the coastal strip, hard-won Israeli security gains in Gaza will remain subject to override by order of the Islamist group’s principal financier, a country that over a period of two decades has itself engineered the most intensive missile R&D program in the developing world.26 Whether by engagement, sanctions or war, Iran is the transformational key to moving the region backward or forward.
The Islamic Republic’s Shahab-3,27 Ghadr-11028 and Sajjil-229 intermediate-range ballistic-missile (IRBM) systems each have the capacity to overshoot the 1125km (700 miles) separating Iran from Israel at the nearest point. Of these, the most likely to be used in an attack, by virtue of the maturity of its development regime and rapid production-line assembly, is the Shahab-3.30Although the precise size of this missile complement in Iranian arsenals is unknown, conservative estimates drawn up following the tripling of Iran’s stock of IRBMs in 2008 suggest a total of between 100 and 150 operational Shahab-3 systems, each capable of carrying high explosives (HE), chemical agents or submunitions.31
Many of the other advancements triumphantly announced by Iran have invited skepticism from Western analysts, who view the unveilings as essentially a propaganda ploy to boost the regime’s prestige domestically at a time of internal unrest. But given the current level of sophistication of the country’s missile program, there seems little doubt that Iran’s scientists — heavily influenced by extensive assistance from North Korea,32 Russia33 and China34 — are mastering advanced missile technology at an accelerating rate. The highest-tier operational missile-defense program Israel has deployed — the Arrow-2 high stratospheric system — is an evolutionary response to this threat.
MEDIUM- TO LONG-RANGE DEFENSE
In October 2009, Israel and the United States participated in the largest-ever joint military exercise in ballistic-missile defense (BMD). Hosted in Israel, the Juniper Cobra 10 drills were designed primarily to assess the interoperability of three advanced American systems (THAAD, PAC-3, Aegis) with the Arrow-2 theater BMD network. The impressive results of the three-week exercise underscore not only the substantial mutual benefits derived from ongoing strategic cooperation between Washington and Jerusalem, but also the intrinsic technical promise of Israel’s primary active missile-defense system.35
Commissioned in 1986 as a response to the Arab acquisition of long-range surface-to-surface missiles, the newest generation of the Arrow (Hetz) BMD system has been developed as a progressive response to the threat from Iran. The Arrow-2 consists of three main components: a phased-array radar with a range of approximately 500km, a fire-control center, and a high-altitude, hypersonic Arrow interceptor missile. As soon as the “Green Pine” early-warning radar system detects an incoming missile, the “Citron Tree” fire-control center launches a 7m Arrow interceptor missile at nine times the speed of sound from one of two batteries deployed near the cities of Rishon LeZion (Tel Aviv Metropolitan Area) or Hadera (southern Haifa District).36 As it approaches its target, the Arrow’s onboard optical detectors fine-tune its trajectory to aim for the incoming missile’s payload. The interceptor’s own proximity-fused warhead then detonates within 40 to 50 yards of the missile, allowing Arrow to miss its target and still neutralize the threat.37
Israeli strategic planners have embraced the system’s repeated success in operationally realistic tests as confirmation that the country is suitably prepared to deal with any Iranian missile attack.38 Program detractors concerned that Israel is abandoning its preemption option have countered with the argument that even an extremely low rate of leakage would be intolerable if the incoming missiles carried chemical, biological or nuclear warheads.39
While it is true that no system of ballistic-missile defense can provide hermetic protection, engineers at Israel Aerospace Industries (IAI) designed the Arrow to come as close as possible by improving the speed and range of its missile arsenals. Rapidly achieving hypersonic velocity, the system’s interceptors provide Citron Tree fire-control centers with enough time to fire a second rocket in the event that their target is missed in a first launch.40 And the range of both the high stratospheric Arrow-2 and the soon-to-be-introduced exoatmospheric Arrow-3 allow for interceptions at altitudes above the jet stream, high enough to ensure that any chemical or biological debris is not scattered over Israel’s cities and military targets.41
As to the threat of nuclear attack, it remains unclear whether a plausibly revived Iranian weapons program is capable of developing a warhead that can test the Arrow. Intelligence estimates suggest that the fissile material required for production of a single atomic weapon could be available to Iran as early as 2011.42 But these timetables are notoriously imprecise and may not fully account for the depth of the mechanical problems that are reported to have slowed Iran’s production of highly enriched uranium. 43 In any event, reaching the material threshold for production of an atomic weapon is less technically demanding than assembly of the device, a process likely to take several years to yield test models the size of shipping containers.44 While Iranian scientists are suspected to be experimenting with “two-point implosion” technology45 and working to reduce the diameter of a nuclear warhead to a size that one of their Shahab rockets can carry, the Israeli intelligence community assumes that the program won’t succeed before at least 2014.46 At any rate, assured counter-value retaliation from Israel, and the feared reaction of a united international community, suggest that the first time Arrow is tested in combat will be against a conventional ballistic missile.
In any modern army, these can have high catastrophic failure rates. In Iran, the desire to avoid developmental delays associated with launch failure is thought to have kept the number of known Shahab-3 test flights fairly low. Of these, up to 50 percent are suspected to have failed.47 Iran has nevertheless expressed confidence in the abilities of the weapon system and will likely draw heavily on its estimated arsenal of 100-150 missiles in the event of open war.48 Those that reach their destination will provide final judgment on Israel’s investment in the Arrow.
To hedge against the risk of the system’s failure and further extend the capacity of its defensive shield, Israel is also perfecting the integration of the Arrow-2 with American-made Patriot Advanced Capability-3 (PAC-3) batteries and a secretive medium-range weapon system known as David’s Sling (a.k.a. Magic Wand). Relatively little is known about this system beyond the rough estimates of its projected deployment in 2012-13, and the intended targets of its two-stage “Stunner” missile. The system is designed to fill the coverage gap between lower-tier programs and Arrow interceptors by targeting large-caliber rockets and short-range (40-240km) ballistic missiles.
By virtue of the fact that the targets David’s Sling was designed to intercept have largely been gathering dust in enemy arsenals, would-be critics have been deprived of the opportunity to single out a particular government failing with regard to the system’s design or procurement. Officials responsible for the lower-tiered programs Israel is developing in response to the short-range missile threat have not been so lucky.
SHORT- TO MEDIUM-RANGE DEFENSE
In the wake of the 2006 Lebanon War, the Israeli defense establishment came under intense pressure to reduce civilian exposure to massive conventional rocket attacks. Motivated in part by the need to appear responsive to residents of the battered communities of the western Negev and Upper Galilee, an expert panel was commissioned to examine 14 missiledefense-system proposals.
Because short-range rocket flights to Israel take from nine seconds for the typical Gaza Qassam fired from Beit Hanoun49 to roughly one to two minutes for Hezbollah’s 122mm Katyushas,50 authorities required a weapon positioned for effective coverage with an exceptionally quick detect-tolaunch cycle. The winning bid from Rafael Advanced Defense Systems, a major Israeli defense contractor and former subdivision of the government, appeared to satisfy these conditions while also addressing the blue-and-white [Israeli-made] contracting preferences of senior Defense Ministry staff. Rafael’s Iron Dome (Kipat Barzel) kinetic-interceptor system is optimized to protect city-sized areas from short-range rockets and artillery shells without being constrained by the altitude, characteristics or concentration of incoming salvos. The system works fairly intuitively. When an enemy rocket is fired, the specially modified Elta Multi-Mission Radar (MMR) alerts Iron Dome battery operators to the threat of an incoming projectile. The information is then quickly relayed to a Battle Management and Weapon Control (BMC) vehicle for assessment. If the projectile is deemed to pose a threat, the fire-control center will command the best-placed of three launchers (each carrying 20 missiles) to fire a 3m-long “Tamir” interceptor and guide it to within passing distance of the rocket, where a highly sophisticated proximity warhead is detonated to neutralize the threat. The protective footprint of a single operational battery can theoretically cover a city twice the size of Haifa (63.6km2), with the defended area growing if the rockets are fired from greater distances.51
Given the system’s projected capabilities and public visibility, Iron Dome was put through a fast-tracked development regime that paved the way to operationally realistic tests in January 2010. These were widely promoted as a resounding success, demonstrating the ability to ignore projectiles that would not hit protected areas, while intercepting barrages that mimicked Qassam and Grad-model Katyusha rockets.52
Less than one month later, Israeli defense chiefs had inexplicably reversed course. From optimistic guarantees of full-spectrum threat protection for areas around Sderot and Ashkelon by mid-2010,53 senior officials began hinting that an initial deployment of two self-contained systems would be kept on the front with Lebanon54 or remain on deactivated standby at southern air-force bases.55 There they will be deployed only in the event of a serious escalation or to counter larger rockets like the Fajr-5, rather than a single Qassam or mortar.
The abrupt reversal of the establishment’s position on the weapon system was said to have been based on shifting threat perceptions that reflect increased wariness of the north and confidence in the deterrence achieved in the south. Critics who have long opposed the development of Iron Dome reject this explanation and instead interpret the decision to reflect official recognition of the system’s perceived inadequacies.
First among these is a common accusation leveled against short-range missile-defense systems by fiscally prudent skeptics, among them Prime Minister Netanyahu, who suggest that “no amount of defense will succeed to offset the relative cost of an incoming missile as opposed to a defensive missile.”56 To avoid being drawn into a costly arms race with militant groups, these detractors warn against developing a reliance on Iron Dome’s $50-100,000 Tamir interceptors to shoot down comparatively cheap rockets produced in the Gaza Strip for about $200.57
This position fails to account for the specific technical advances and strategic implications of Iron Dome’s development. Notwithstanding the recent re-branding of the system as a higher-tier defense platform than initially advertised, Iron Dome’s Elta Multi-Mission Radar (MMR) system was designed to provide both robust and selective defense, keeping unit costs low by differentiating between rockets headed toward populated areas and those expected to fall in non-significant impact areas (the sea and open fields).
More important, the substantial projected costs of system maintenance (including interceptor replacement) pale in comparison to the price tag of a missile war on the north or south front, estimated at $1.6 billion (about 1 percent of Israel’s 2006 GDP) in damage to infrastructure, investment-capital flight and lost productivity/tourist revenue for Israel’s monthlong war against Hezbollah in 2006.58
Another group of Iron Dome skeptics have focused their criticism on response time, arguing that the system is incapable of defending against rockets in the air for less than 30 seconds.59 Though senior project directors at Rafael have alluded to undisclosed updates to the Tamir missile that would prove these critics wrong,60 the clear need for lower-tier protective overlap has buoyed support for cheaper turnkey alternatives, including Northrop-Grumman’s Nautilus-cum-Skyguard tactical laser system and Raytheon’s Centurion C-RAM (counterrocket, artillery and mortar) super machine gun. The latter is by far the more mature technology, offering effective protection to American forward-operating bases and other high-value sites in Iraq and Afghanistan since 2006.
The Centurion system is a terrestrial derivative of the U.S. Navy’s Vulcan Phalanx Close-in Weapon System (CIWS), a radar-controlled 20mm Gatling gun originally designed as a last line of defense against anti-ship missiles. Centurion makes use of the same M61A1 cannon to fire bursts of between 3,000 and 4,500 HEIT-SD (High-Explosive Incendiary Tracer, Self-Destruct)61 rounds per minute at twice the speed of a Qassam rocket and with an advanced search-andtrack radar that provides autonomous target engagement with a kill probability of between 70 and 80 percent. A single battery is optimized to defend a 1.2 km2 area at a cost of $15 million per unit.62 The system could thus theoretically be used to provide near-hermetic coverage for the beleaguered city of Sderot (4.5 km2) for approximately $60 million.
For years, the Israeli military establishment invited accusations of deliberate obstructionism by largely ignoring positive Defense Ministry R&D directorate (Mafat) performance reviews of the system in favor of their indigenous Iron Dome project.63 By the time Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak authorized the Defense Ministry to file a priority request for acquisition in 2009,64 all Centurion units scheduled for production had been committed to the U.S. military for deployment in Afghanistan and Iraq.65 With the American military presence in Afghanistan now scheduled to expand considerably, any plans to form a defensive line of Centurion systems across the Negev will have to be put on hold.
But delayed procurement may not be without its advantages in an industry with as short-term a product-development horizon as aerospace and defense. One of the primary criticisms of Centurion has been that the system is optimized for point defense of high-value targets and not urban-area protection. To address this concern, Raytheon has been working on an enhancement to the system that combines the capabilities of the Phalanx mount with a 20-kilowatt solid-state laser cannon that could extend the defended footprint beyond the kinematics of a gun-based system. Though still in the development stage and not yet proven on mortar calibers larger than 60mm,66 the Laser Air Defense System (LADS) platform has been successfully field-tested at 550 yards and is expected to eventually offer a range of about three times that of the existing M61A1 20mm gun.67
This revolutionary use of directed energy is very attractive for missile defense, with the potential to attack multiple targets at the speed of light at a low cost per intercept (reportedly $1,000-$3,000).68 Israeli interest in the technology dates back to 1996, when the United States and Israel cofunded a short-range anti-rocket program called the Tactical High Energy Laser (THEL), also known as the Nautilus laser system.69 Later adapted to a mobile platform, the M-THEL exhibited a remarkably effective kill percentage, destroying all 46 rockets, missiles, mortars and artillery shells fired in operationally realistic tests conducted in the late 1990s.70 The program was nevertheless plagued by technical difficulties and cost overruns that ultimately compelled the Israeli defense establishment to end its participation.71 After a period spent lingering in development limbo, the program was terminated in September 2005, only to be revived a year later by Northrop Grumman and rebranded the Skyguard missile-defense system.72
A number of design upgrades and the proven effectiveness of the system’s parent technology in public tests have sparked considerable controversy among Iron Dome detractors, some of whom have argued that senior Defense Ministry officials appear less interested in protecting threatened Israeli communities than in channeling defense contracts to domestic weapons developers.73 Defense Ministry officials bitterly reject the criticism, citing Israel’s investment of approximately $120 million in the Nautilus system as proof of their interest in the program’s success.74 They could also point to an extensive evaluation of the system and its subsequent rejection75 in a process sanctioned by State Comptroller Micha Lindenstrauss.76
But Iron Dome’s final selection is likely to have been motivated by more than its performance potential, particularly in light of the fact that full-scale development was begun before the IDF had outlined the system’s operational requirements.77 Protectionist considerations that may have been unpalatable to the security-minded public are likely to have played a larger-than-admitted role in the various stages of the decision-making process. To adopt low-cost American turnkey systems in the latter stages of Iron Dome development would deny the Israeli aerospace and high-tech industries a sizable chunk of the defense budget and could plausibly lead to the embarrassing cancellation of the program altogether, an outcome the exceptionally well-connected Rafael lobby reportedly fought a fierce rear-guard battle to avoid.78
The Israeli political echelon may also prefer indigenous systems as a hedge against the possibility that the United States will withhold American-made weapon systems to force concessions on settlement building and the peace process.79 In a more benign reading, Israel is undoubtedly interested in ending any exclusive dependency on U.S. military and diplomatic support where critical military hardware is concerned. This was one of the key lessons learned from the 2006 Lebanon War, when Israel was rumored to have quickly exhausted its supply of American-made air-dropped munitions.80 Finally, developing an Israeli system opens the door to profitable export incentives that can reduce R&D costs, either by way of foreign development financing81 or increased overseas sales volume.82 It remains to be seen whether these revenues will make Iron Dome attractive enough to compete with expensive projects like the F-35 fighter within the procurement budget of the Israeli Air Force (IAF), which has assumed responsibility for operating existing missile batteries within its Air Defense Division command.
If the numbers fail to convince, Defense Minister Ehud Barak will have to seek funding for the procurement of Iron Dome batteries outside the Air Force budget. This may not be easy, for no matter how “active” a missile-defense system, its ultimate purpose is fundamentally at odds with the traditional offensive force posture of the IDF.
The most common argument offered by Israeli defense planners against the exercise of restraint in military strategy (Havlagah83) has always been its corrosive impact on the myth of Israeli invincibility. Citing victorious enemy propaganda campaigns that followed the onset of the Oslo process in 1993 and unilateral withdrawal from Lebanon in 2000, this group suggests that from the moment the country’s leadership demonstrates its willingness to absorb attacks rather than fight back, the cost-benefit analysis of a first strike is shifted in favor of Israel’s adversaries.84
But the benefits of shooting down missiles before they hit their intended targets are not limited to the obvious goal of preventing damage and injury. Effective deployment of the technology simultaneously robs the militant propaganda machine of the opportunity to claim credit for successful attacks, while providing Israeli decision makers with the freedom to react strategically, rather than emotionally, to enemy rocket fire.
The impact of this appraisal on Israeli military doctrine cannot be overstated. Since at least 1967, the IDF has employed a defensive doctrine at the strategic level and an offensive doctrine at the tactical level. Given the country’s lack of territorial depth, it has been necessary to take the initiative in transferring the battleground to enemy territory to avoid having the fight encroach upon Israeli cities. The preemptive and preventive strategies employed to this end have won strong support in Israeli military circles and will have to remain on the table for as long as even a thoroughly capable anti-ballistic-missile program cannot provide a zero-leakage rate.
But while effective in concept, preemption has become increasingly impractical in execution, given the technical difficulties associated with mounting a successful operation against hardened targets, the international condemnation of air strikes in which civilians are harmed, and the perceived need to seek approval from the United States for actions that threaten a broader escalation.
Development of effective anti-missile systems can replace this problematic dependence on tactical offensives with a smarter, integrated approach that matches combined attack operations (preemption/ prevention/retaliation) with both passive and active missile defense (bomb shelters, the Tzeva Adom air-raid defense system and a multi-tiered missile-defense architecture). When properly coordinated in the early stages of conflict, this approach can act as a force multiplier, employing missile-defense systems to neutralize the threat from short-range rocket launchers and freeing Air Force resources to focus on the enemy’s strategic facilities, long-range rockets or ballistic-missile boost-phase intercepts.
More important, comprehensive missile defense provides an effective second layer of strategic deterrence after the powerful threat of disproportionate retaliation. If potential aggressors know that a missile launch will invite a military response and international sanction while failing to achieve any operational or strategic objective, they may be discouraged from using the weapon in the first place. This has broad implications for an Israeli disengagement strategy in the West Bank, where evidence of primitive rocket-production efforts by Hamas terror cells is growing.85
When Ehud Barak claims that successful deployment of an anti-rocket system is a necessary precondition for unilateral withdrawal, he is giving voice to the security concerns of a majority of Israelis, who opinion polls show may be willing to make territorial concessions in return for peace.86 Since a far greater proportion of Israel’s population and industrial capacity can be threatened by rockets launched from the West Bank than from the Gaza Strip, Israeli officials are unlikely to be willing to trust the Palestinian Authority to prevent sporadic launches from any post-withdrawal territory.
Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu has suggested that any political settlement will require an Israeli presence on the eastern side of the prospective Palestinian state to disrupt rocket supply lines and material used in their production.87 This is likely to be a political non-starter for negotiations. Successful deployment of an anti-missile shield, on the other hand, could provide a hedge against the West Bank missile threat while maintaining the territorial inviolability of any future Palestinian state.
Quantitative and qualitative changes to enemy rocket arsenals in recent years have united prospicient Israeli politicians, whether from the right or from the left, in support of the development of a layered, active defense. Though technical challenges of integration and the competition for limited procurement resources may slow deployment, the urgent threat posed by Iran’s ballistic Shahab-3s, Hezbollah’s Iranian-made Zelzals and Hamas’s Grads demands a proportionate Israeli response.
The IDF has already computer tested an integrated model of its yet-to-becompleted missile shield in the aptly titled Operation Tiramisu (named for the layered Italian cake).88 Designed to test the response to a simultaneous barrage of missiles on all sides and from every possible altitude and trajectory, the exercise reflects the gnawing trepidation that such an unprecedented attack, possibly sustained over several weeks, is capable of overwhelming any combination of missile-defense systems, regardless of their performance.
For this reason, and because no system has yet been devised that can provide a hermetic security guarantee, anti-rocket systems will continue to represent just one part of an integrated array of defensive (and offensive) policy options. But, given its potential to deprive peace spoilers and their patrons of yet another weapon in a steadily shrinking arsenal, Israeli defense planners would be remiss not to recognize the potentially transformative impact of active missile defense on regional security.
2 See Barbara Opall-Rome, “Israel Speeds Iron Dome Short-Range Defense System,” Defense News, January 28, 2009. http://www.defensenews.com/story.php?i=3327047 (accessed March 4, 2010).
3 Essentially an 8.3m long unguided Scud missile, the Zelzal-2 is capable of carrying a 600kg warhead to a distance of 200km, situating Tel Aviv well within range of southern Lebanon.
4 The Iranian-made Fajr-5 (designated Khaibar-1 or Raad by Hizballah) is a 6.6m long rocket capable of carrying a 90kg warhead to a distance of 75km, situating Haifa well within range of southern Lebanon.
5 See Col. David Eshel, “Hezbollah’s Rocket Blitz,” Defense Update, January 3, 2007. http://defense-update.com/analysis/lebanon_war_5.htm (accessed March 15, 2010).
6 Unguided Katyusha Grad-type 122mm rockets are capable of carrying a 10-30kg warhead to a distance of between 11 and 40km. Fired either singly from simple tripod launchers or in salvos from multi-barreled truck launchers, approximately 90 percent of the 4,200 plus rocket strikes into Israel during the 2006 Lebanon War were attributed to this weapon.
7 William M. Arkin, Divining Victory: Airpower in the 2006 Israel-Hezbollah War (CreateSpace, 2007), p. 32.
8 See Uzi Rubin, “Hizballah’s Rocket Campaign against Northern Israel: A Preliminary Report,” Jerusalem Issue Brief (Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs, 2006), Vol. 6, No. 10.
10 See the transcript of Israeli Minister of Defense Ehud Barak’s address at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, February 26, 2010. http://www.washingtoninstitute.org/html/pdf/Baraktranscript20100226.pdf (accessed March 29, 2010).
11 William M. Arkin, op. cit., p. 30.
12 See Charles Levinson and Jay Solomon, “Syria Gave Scuds to Hezbollah, U.S. Says,” The Wall Street Journal, April 14, 2010. http://online.wsj.com/article/SB100014240527023046042045751822901353332…(accessed April 14, 2010).
13 A copy of the Iranian Fateh-110 system, the Syrian-built M-600 has a range of 250km and comes equipped with a half-ton precision-guided warhead that can be used to target military facilities or heavily populated areas in the event of renewed conflict.
14 See Jonathan Spyer, “Lebanon: Conflict widens to Syria,” Jerusalem Post, January 28, 2010. http://www.jpost.com/MiddleEast/Article.aspx?id=167033 (accessed March 15, 2010).
15 See Jack Khoury, “Arming of Hezbollah could spark Israel-Syria war,” Ha’aretz, January 17, 2010. http://www.haaretz.com/hasen/spages/1143146.html (accessed March 21, 2010).
16 See Tony Badran, “Lebanon’s next war may also be Syria’s,” Now Lebanon, January 26, 2010. http://www.nowlebanon.com/NewsArchiveDetails.aspx?ID=141404 (accessed March 14, 2010).
17 See “Kuwaiti paper: Syria transferred 1/4 of its missile arsenal to Hizbullah,” Jerusalem Post, October 15, 2009. http://www.jpost.com/Headlines/Article.aspx?id=157594 (accessed 4 April 2010).
18 See David Schenker and Mathew Levittt, “What did Iran ask of Hizbullah?,” Jerusalem Post, March 4, 2010. http://www.jpost.com/MiddleEast/Article.aspx?id=170155 (accessed March 20, 2010).
19 Various Palestinian groups have given a number of different names to similar rockets, each representing some change in range or fixed warhead: Qassem (Hamas), Quds (Palestinian Islamic Jihad), Nasser (Popular Resistance Committees), al-Aqsa/al-Yasser (al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades), Sumud (Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine).
20 The Iranian-made Oghab is an unguided 230mm artillery rocket with a range of 35-45km. The weapon is capable of threatening Ashkelon, Ashdod, Be’er Sheva and Rehovot from the Gaza Strip.
21 Hamas is reported to be testing launch vehicles that could form a cluster and fire up to 20 122mm Katy-usha-class rockets within 30 seconds.
22 See “Israeli intel: Hamas has amassed 5,000 rockets since 2009 war,” World Tribune, January 18 2010. http://www.worldtribune.com/worldtribune/WTARC/2010/me_hamas0031_01_18… (accessed March 25, 2010).
23 See “Hamas’s military buildup in the Gaza Strip,” Israel Intelligence Heritage & Commemoration Center (IICC), April 8, 2008. http://www.terrorism-info.org.il/malam_multimedia/English/eng_n/pdf/ham… (accessed April 1, 2010).
24 In January 2010, Hamas shocked other resistance groups by issuing a written order claiming that rocket attacks were against the “Palestinian national interest” and threatening to arrest anyone caught in the act.
25 See “Egyptian steel barrier tests Gazan mettle,” IRIN, March 25, 2010. http://www.irinnews.org/Report.aspx?ReportId=88552 (accessed April 1, 2010).
26 See “Perceived threat drives Israeli budget increase,” IHS Jane’s, February 5, 2010. http://www.janes.com/news/defence/triservice/jdw/jdw100205_1_n.shtml(accessed April 4, 2010).
27 A probable derivative of the North Korean Nodong-1 ballistic missile. Declared operational and introduced into service in July 2003 (range of approximately 1,300km-1,650km). The missile’s relatively primitive inertial guidance system contributes to a poor measure of accuracy rated at between 2,500 and 3,000m Circle Error Probability (CEP). In other words, the Shahab-3 will likely fail to land within 2.5 to 3km of the target point in as many as 50 percent of all attempts. (See “Shahab-3,” Claremont Institute MissileThreat.com. http://www.missilethreat.com/missilesoftheworld/id.107/missile_detail.a… (accessed April 1, 2010)).
28 An improved, longer-range version of the Shahab-3 intermediate range ballistic missile believed to have been manufactured with foreign assistance (estimated range of approximately 1,800km).
29 Test launched three times in 2009 and intended to gradually replace the older Shahab missile fleet (estimated range of between 2,000 and 2,500km).
30 See “Shahab-3, 3A/ Zelzal-3,”GlobalSecurity.org, February 15, 2007. http://www.globalsecurity.org/wmd/world/iran/shahab-3.htm (accessed March 7, 2010).
31 Seen Alon Ben-David, “Iran Prepares For War with Missile Production Rise,” Jane’s Defence Weekly, December 17, 2008.
32 North Korea provides prolific and ongoing assistance with Iranian ballistic missile research and development including the transfer of missile airframes, ballistic launchers, Shahab-3 rocket motor technology and complete Nodong-B/Taepodong-X/Musudan/BM-25 intermediate-range ballistic missile systems.
33 Before becoming a signatory to the Missile Technology Control Regime (MTCR), Russia was reported to have transferred guidance and propulsion systems as well as manufacturing and testing equipment to assist in the design and construction of Iranian ballistic missile systems. At least three Russian military enterprises played a lead role in assisting with the development of the Shahab missile under the auspices of the Shahid Hemmat Industrial Group (SHIG).
34 The PRC was responsible for the 1987 construction of the Semnan missile production plant and the Bandar Abbas facility for testing, assembling, manufacturing, and upgrading Chinese-built cruise missiles. Significant numbers of Chinese experts have also worked at various stages for the Shahid Hemmat Industrial Group (SHIG), a key developer of the Shahab-3 missile. 35 See Barbara Opall-Rome, “U.S., Israel Complete Joint Air Defense Drill,” Defense News, November 16, 2009. http://www.defensenews.com/story.php?i=4376847 (accessed March 4, 2010).
36 Contradicting reports suggest that Israel may have modified its deployment of Arrow batteries in the north or else commissioned a third system for the country’s southern region, possibly providing coverage for the Negev Nuclear Research Center near the town of Dimona.
37 In this respect Arrow differs from United States Army interceptors like the Patriot Advanced Capability-3 (PAC-3) and Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) systems, which rely on hit-to-kill technology to destroy incoming ballistic missiles using the kinetic force of a precise impact.
38 On April 7, 2009, an Arrow 2 block-4 interceptor launched from the Palmahim base south of Tel Aviv successfully detected and destroyed a “Blue Sparrow” target ballistic missile said to be capable of precisely simulating Scud-C/D missiles and the Iranian Shahab-3.
39 See Louis Rene Beres and Thomas McInerney, “Preemption option: a must for Israel,” February 27, 2007. http://www.csmonitor.com/2007/0227/p09s01-coop.html (accessed April 4, 2010).
40 See “Missile defense systems: Arrow,” Claremont Institute MissileThreat.com. http://missilethreat.com/ missiledefensesystems/id.10/system_detail.asp (accessed April 1, 2010).
42 See “U.S. Says Iran Capable of Building Weapon,” The Wall Street Journal, April 14, 2009. http://online. wsj.com/article/SB10001424052702303348504575184492435809422.html?mod=WSJ_hpp_sections_world(accessed April 14, 2010).
43 Newly released reports by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) and the CIA Weapons Intelligence, Nonproliferation and Arms Control Center (WINPAC) attest to stagnating capacity at Iran’s Natanz special weapons facility, where the number of operating 1970s-vintage centrifuges was reported to have dropped by about 6 percent due to breakdown from November 2009 to February 2010. It remains unclear if replacement “IR-2” centrifuges can be made to work productively.
44 See Yassin Musharbash and Holger Stark, “Iran Is Years Away from a Nuclear Weapon,” Der Spiegel, July 15, 2009. http://www.spiegel.de/international/world/0,1518,636400,00.html (accessed March 27, 2010).
45 See Julian Borger, “Iran tested advanced nuclear warhead design — secret report,” The Guardian, November 5, 2009. http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2009/nov/05/iran-tested-nuclear-warhead… (accessed February 25, 2010).
46 See Yassin Musharbash and Holger Stark, op. cit.
47 See Uzi Rubin, “The global range of Iran’s ballistic missile program,” Jerusalem Issue Brief (Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs, 2008), Vol. 5, No. 26 http://www.jcpa.org/text/iran_page_62-67.pdf (accessed March 15, 2010).
48 See “Iran ‘can’ mass-produce missiles,” BBC, November 9, 2004. http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/middle_ east/3997151.stm (accessed March 25, 2010).
49 See Reuven Pedatzeur, “Iron Dome system found to be helpless against Qassams,” Ha’aretz, February 22, 2008. http://www.haaretz.com/hasen/spages/956859.html (accessed accessed March 24, 2010).
50 See Wade Boese, “Israel Looks to Bolster Arms Capabilities,” Arms Control Today: Arms Control Association, October 2006. http://www.armscontrol.org/act/2006_10/Israel (accessed April 5, 2010).
51 See “Israel conducts first test launch of ‘Iron Dome’ rocket defense system,” World Tribune, March 18, 2008. http://www.worldtribune.com/worldtribune/WTARC/2008/me_israel_03_18.asp (accessed April 3, 2010).
52 See Yaakov Katz, “NATO forces interested in Iron Dome,” Jerusalem Post, March 10, 2010. http://www. jpost.com/Israel/Article.aspx?id=170605 (accessed April 5, 2010).
53 See Anshel Pfeffer, “Israel successfully tests Iron Dome rocket defense system,” Ha’aretz, March 26, 2009. http://www.haaretz.com/hasen/spages/1074204.html (accessed March 25, 2010).
54 See “Gilad: Israel’s Anti-Missile System to Remain on Lebanon’s Front,” Naharnet, February 5, 2010. http://www.naharnet.com/domino/tn/NewsDesk.nsf/0/B87B7F265E85CD69C22576… (accessed March 24, 2010).
55 See Amos Harel, “IDF: Iron Dome won’t be deployed in Sderot,” Ha’aretz, April 10, 2010. http://www. haaretz.com/hasen/spages/1147222.html (accessed March 20, 2010).
56 See the transcript of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s address to the Foreign Press Association, Office of the Prime Minister of Israel, January 20, 2010. http://www.pmo.gov.il/PMOEng/Communication/EventsDiary/eventforeignpres… (accessed March 25, 2010).
57 See Reuven Pedatzeur, op. cit.
58 See Julian Borger, “Lebanon war cost Israel $1.6bn,” The Guardian, August 15, 2006. http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2006/aug/15/israelandthepalestinians.le… (accessed April 1, 2010).
59 See Reuven Pedatzeur, op. cit.
60 See Edmund Sanders, “Israel’s ‘miracle’ anti-rocket defense plan raises anxieties,” Los Angeles Times, February 23, 2010. http://articles.latimes.com/2010/feb/23/world/la-fg-iron-dome24-2010feb… (accessed March 20, 2010).
61 Expended M246 or M940 cannon shells that have missed the intended target self destruct upon tracer burnout to minimize collateral damage.
62 See “A Laser Phalanx?” Defense Industry Daily, April 23, 2009. http://www.defenseindustrydaily.com/alaser-phalanx-03783/ (accessed March 25, 2010).
63 See Martin Sieff, “Iron Dome dreams prevented Israel from defending Sderot,” UPI, March 13, 2009. http://www.upi.com/Business_News/Security-Industry/2009/03/13/Iron-Dome… (accessed March 20, 2010).
64 See “U.S., Israel Pursue Counter Rocket, Artillery & Mortar (CRAM) Weapons,” DefenseUpdate, April 21, 2009. http://defense-update.com/newscast/0208/news/news_080208_cram.htm (accessed March 5, 2010).
65 See Yossi Melman, “Barak purchases U.S. system to intercept Gaza rockets,” Ha’aretz, April 21, 2009. http://www.haaretz.com/hasen/spages/1079813.html (accessed April 1, 2010).
66 Hamas typically fires 81mm caliber mortars and is likely to roll out 120mm rounds in any future conflict.
67 See “A Laser Phalanx?,” op. cit.
68 See William J. Broad, “U.S. and Israel Shelved Laser as a Defense,” The New York Times, July 30, 2006. http://www.nytimes.com/2006/07/30/world/middleeast/30laser.html (accessed March 10, 2010).
69 See Jeremy M. Sharp, “U.S. Foreign Aid to Israel,” Congressional Research Service, December 4, 2009. http://www.fas.org/sgp/crs/mideast/RL33222.pdf (accessed April 5, 2010).
70 See “Israel to drop preemptive strike doctrine in favor of missile defense,” World Tribune, October 26, 2007. http://www.worldtribune.com/worldtribune/WTARC/2007/me_israel_10_26.asp (accessed March 4, 2010).
72 See Jeremy M. Sharp, op. cit.
73 In February 2008, 70 residents of Sderot and other towns bordering the Gaza Strip filed a lawsuit in Jerusalem District Court demanding that the IDF immediately “install and operate in the city of Sderot…the laser-based intercept system (known as Nautilus)” and “…order deployment of Skyguard systems for defense of all Western Negev settlements…within two years.” Failure to utilize the proven system was alleged by the plaintiffs to amount to gross negligence on the part of the government.
74 See “Iron Dome is the right system to use,” Jerusalem Post, January 12, 2009. http://www.jpost.com/Israel/ Article.aspx?id=128839 (accessed March 10, 2010).
75 Though no definitive explanation for the revived system’s rejection has been made public, mitigating factors are likely to include inconsistent performance in inclement weather, a price tag approaching $180 million per operational unit, and a caliber limit on the type of mortars or rockets capable of being intercepted (See Reuven Pedatzeur, op. cit.)
76 See Amos Harel, “Time wasted, billions down drain and still no Iron Dome,” Ha’aretz, March 4, 2009. http://www.haaretz.com/hasen/spages/1068192.html (accessed April 2, 2010).
78 See Reuven Pedatzeur, op. cit.
79 The influence over Israeli policy options afforded the United States by virtue of its control over the transfer of strategic weaponry was made clear by the refusal of George W. Bush to supply GBU-28“bunker-buster” bombs and upgraded refuelling tanker aircraft that would enable a long-range airstrike on Iran’s nuclear enrichment installations, many of which are buried underground.
80 See Hana Levi Julian, “Israel to Buy U.S. Short-Range Missile Defense System,” Israel National News, April 21, 2009. http://www.israelnationalnews.com/News/News.aspx/130958 (accessed March 17, 2010).
81 A number of reports have surfaced that suggest that Singapore may have helped to defray the $250 million development cost of Iron Dome in exchange for the deployment of several of the system’s on its territory (See Yossi Melman, “Was Iron Dome defense system actually built for Singapore?” Ha’aretz, March 25, 2010. http://www.haaretz.com/hasen/spages/1159036.html).
82 Following a round of January 2010 tests, a number of European countries that are currently fighting in Afghanistan sent delegations to Israel to meet with Rafael Advanced Defense Systems and discuss the possible sale of the Iron Dome system. Other customers have shown interest in the radar component subsystem, including one unnamed buyer that recently signed a $50 million export contract for the system with IAI ELTA (See “IAI Scores First ‘Iron Dome’ Related Export Order,” Defense Industry Daily, February 2, 2010. http:// www.defenseindustrydaily.com/IAI-Scores-First-Iron-Dome-Related-Export-…).
83 A strategic policy that prioritized restraint (fortification and conflict avoidance) as a response to Arab attacks on Jewish settlements during the British Mandate of Palestine.
84 See Or Honig, “The End of Israeli Military Restraint,” Middle East Quarterly, Vol. 14, No. 10, Winter 2007, pp. 63-74.
85 See Yaakov Lappin, “PA seizes West Bank rocket,” Jerusalem Post, February 23, 2010. http://www.jpost. com/MiddleEast/Article.aspx?id=169402 (accessed April 1, 2010).
86 See Amos Harel, “Barak: Missile defense is precondition for W.Bank pullout,” Ha’aretz, August 8, 2007. http://www.haaretz.com/hasen/spages/891001.html (accessed April 3, 2010).
87 See the transcript of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s address to the Foreign Press Association, op. cit.
88 See “Israel puts missile shield through paces,” UPI, March 29, 2010. http://www.upi.com/Business_News/ Security-Industry/2010/03/29/Israel-puts-missile-shield-through-paces/UPI-12741269887748/ (accessed April 4, 2010).
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