Analysis: Meeting the missile challenge

Why has Israel proved so vulnerable and what is it doing to address the threat.

By BARRY RUBIN
July 16, 2006 02:08
2 minute read.
casualties of war special

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Why is Israel having so much trouble defending against Hizbullah attacks? Most simply put, because the Hizbullah offensive is based on surprise and mobility. Hizbullah can hit where and when it wishes. Even military effectiveness is not important, since Hizbullah is satisfied if a missile hits anything in Israel. Another significant element is new technology, especially the more advanced missiles supplied by Iran, including the one used against a naval missile boat. Yet such a strategy also makes Hizbullah vulnerable. First, once it's been employed, Israel expects it and devises counter-measures. Second, one cannot win a war this way - merely get headline-grabbing small victories which are then built up into public relations extravaganzas. This approach is keyed to both real Israeli weaknesses - overconfidence and some carelessness at first - and mistakenly perceived ones, underestimating what intimidates Israel. It is also in line with Hizbullah's own needs, which are to persuade its people Israel can be defeated and that "miraculous" triumphs can be attributed to divine support. Regarding the initial border attack, Israel's policy is now to keep Hizbullah away from the frontier. To cope with protecting ships, new drills and countermeasures will be developed, starting with the quick identification and downing of such weapons. But the missiles are the hardest and most sensitive problem. Hizbullah has many missiles that can be moved easily and fired quickly. It has already fired 700 of them. Their disadvantages are a relatively short range and no reliable guidance system, making them useful to spread terror and target civilians but not for military goals. Because they carry a small warhead, they are just enough to wreck a single building and kill people caught in the open or victims of a direct hit. The large number of these missiles and their high mobility make them hard to hit before firing and impossible to intercept in the air. Their flight path is so fast, short, and low that defensive missiles - useful against those fired from further away (like from Iraq in 1991) - cannot work. If Iran gives the green light for Hizbullah to fire the small number of longer-range missiles it has, however, Patriot anti-missile batteries would be effective. Otherwise, unless some dramatic new technique is found, there are three basic ways to combat them: • Cut off the sources of missiles and fuel by closing down Beirut's airport and the roads to Syria and attacking incoming shipments. • Hit launchers on the ground before they fire. • Force back Hizbullah forces far enough from the border to limit the targets they can hit. Aside from military efforts to reestablish Israeli deterrence, inflicting a high cost on Hizbullah, and trying to force the Lebanese government into action, Israeli forces are working on all three of these fronts. Reducing the effectiveness and numbers of missile attacks already seems to be working to some extent, but stopping them altogether will be a longer and more difficult task. Barry Rubin is director of the Global Research in International Affairs (GLORIA) Center, and editor of Middle East Review of International Affairs (MERIA) Journal.

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