Learning the lessons of the Katyusha war

JCPA report: Rockets, the defining weapon of this conflict, will impact Western security for years to come.

By UZI RUBIN
September 1, 2006 00:00
4 minute read.

Institute for Contemporary Affairs, at the J'lem Center for Public Affairs Between July 13 and August 13, the Israel Police reported 4,228 strikes by Hizbullah rockets in the North. No area in the world has suffered so many rocket impacts since the Iran-Iraq war of the 1980s. The great majority of the rockets were supplied by Syria rather than by Iran. Most of the warheads contained anti-personnel munitions - a mixture of explosives and steel balls or fragments designed to kill anybody near the impact site. Nearly a quarter - 23 percent - of the rockets that landed in Israel hit built-up areas. During the first two weeks, rocket attacks averaged about 100 per day. In early August, Hizbullah doubled its rate of fire to a daily average of 200 attacks. There was a decline during the final week, but on August 13, the day before the cease-fire, 250 rockets landed in Israel. At one point, Hizbullah was able to fire approximately 150 rockets in an hour. Approximately 250 longer-range rockets (50+ km.) were fired at Israel. Israeli counterattacks apparently had no significant affect on Hizbullah's rate of fire, but they did succeed in reducing the accuracy and altering the geography of the attacks. Israel's losses from the rockets included 53 killed, 250 seriously wounded and 2,000 lightly wounded. There was also extensive damage to hundreds of dwellings, several public utility facilities and dozens of industrial plants. A million Israelis stayed near or in public shelters or protected rooms, with some 250,000 relocating to other areas of the country. Most economic activity in northern Israel was suspended for a month. Warning sirens saved innumerable lives. The long-standing policy of constructing public shelters, combined with building codes that require reinforced spaces in private dwellings, proved to be a generally effective passive defense system. Nearly 80% - 41 out of 53 - of fatalities involved people caught in the open. Rockets and rocket launchers emerged as one of the defining weapons of the second Lebanon War and will impact on the security of US and Western interests in the Middle East for the foreseeable future. Effective countermeasures must be devised and deployed as soon as possible. Two objectives should be pursued: first, to reduce the "Flash to Bang" (Hizbullah rocket launch to Israeli response) cycle time to a few seconds from the time the launcher's location is pinpointed; and second, to provide an effective and affordable active defense against rockets at vital civilian and military installations. On July 12, Hizbullah gunmen crossed the border and set an ambush, killing three IDF soldiers and kidnapping two. Five more soldiers were killed after the army crossed into Lebanon in pursuit. The following morning, Hizbullah fired a Katyusha rocket that hit the main street in Nahariya, killing one woman and wounding at least 10. When the decision was made to respond in force to the attacks, it was taken into consideration that Hizbullah would almost certainly fire numerous rockets at northern Israel. The head of IDF Military Intelligence, Maj.-Gen. Amos Yadlin, told the Knesset's Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee on August 24 that, with the exception of the long-range Iranian Zelzal missiles, most projectiles fired by Hizbullah came from the Syrian arsenal rather than from Iran. However, the remains of an Iranian-made 240mm. Fajr-3 missile, which has a range of 45km., have also been identified. Chief of General Staff Lt-.Gen. Dan Halutz told the Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee on August 16 that Israel had been "successful in destroying 90% of [Hizbullah's] long-range rockets." On July 14, Hizbullah attacked the INS Hanit with a Noor (C802) anti-ship missile, killing four sailors. In addition, Israel Radio reported that at least one Hizbullah unmanned aerial vehicle downed by the Israel Air Force carried a 30-kg. bomb, in the first recorded use of UAVs as an air-to-surface cruise missile. In August, Hizbullah changed its tactics, firing more rockets at the same target, in part in an effort to kill people emerging from shelters after they believed it was safe. Most rockets were tracked by early warning systems, which helped to identify launch sites. Counterfire by artillery was only marginally effective, as were raids by special forces units on rocket launchers and command posts. IAF strikes were moderately effective in reducing the accuracy of the rocket fire and forcing the launchers out of the areas in optimal range of Haifa. Thus, downtown Haifa was not hit during the later stage of the conflict, except on the last day, when Hizbullah made a special effort to this end. Uzi Rubin has been involved in Israeli military research, development and engineering programs for almost 40 years. Between 1991 and 1999, he served as head of Israel's Missile Defense Organization, and in that capacity oversaw the development of Israel's Arrow anti-missile defense system. He was awarded the Israel Defense Prize in 1996 and is the author of The Global Range of Iran's Ballistic Missile Program.


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