(photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST)
Air force personnel staffing Iron Dome batteries intercepted more than 500 Gazan rockets heading to Israeli built-up areas during the war with Hamas in Gaza, but never took their eye off the far larger threat of Hezbollah in Lebanon.
Maj. Shay Kognitsky, commander of the battery providing greater Tel Aviv with air defenses, said that despite the recent war that raged in the South, the principal focus of his unit remains Lebanon, where Hezbollah has built up an arsenal of more than 100,000 rockets and missiles.
“We prepared for a conflict in Gaza since the end of Operation Pillar of Defense , he said.
“We’ve learned many lessons, and carried out preparations on the operational level.”
“We are looking mainly at the northern sector, where we see greater challenges. We are preparing for them all of the time. We were not surprised when projectiles were fired from the north, and we continue to look northwards,” the battery commander said. “I trust my people to meet the challenge from the north too. This is a difference scenario, one that is more complex.”
During the latest war with Hamas, the Tel Aviv Iron Dome battery defended the largest metropolitan area in Israel, home to 3 million citizens.
“We are closely coordinated with civilian flight authorities,” said Kognitsky.
Hezbollah has significantly larger rockets in its stockpiles than the Grads and Kassams fired by Hamas, he said, and “this requires readiness from us.”
“We are studying the enemy now, examining how he works,” he added.
“We don’t have a cease-fire [with Hamas]. My battery is deployed and on standby. All past truces [with Hamas] have been violated, and we will remain ready for a very long time, while also getting ready for extreme scenarios,” the commander stated.
Sec.-Lt. Don Leshem, deputy commander of the launch unit at the air defense battery, said, “It’s easy for me to connect with the mission, because I can see what I am defending. I see the civilians and the homes.”
“We are improving with every interception, and we learn from security escalations, as well as from quiet times,” he said.
After each interception the battery’s personnel examine where the rocket would have hit, and carry out a mock damage assessment.
According to Military Intelligence assessments, Hezbollah has more than 100,000 projectiles. Most are short-range Katusha rockets, but some 5,000 are medium- and longrange threats that can strike greater Tel Aviv and beyond.
Israel believes Hezbollah is trying to import heavy rockets and missiles, such as the Syrian M-600 (300 km.
range), or its Iranian equivalent, the Fateh-110, which are equipped with guidance systems greatly improving their accuracy.
Hezbollah is likely seeking to get hold of Scud B and Scud C missiles, according to Uzi Rubin, a pioneer of Israel’s missile defense programs.
At the same time, senior army sources have said in recent days they believe Hezbollah remains deterred by Israel, and the war in Gaza only increased Israel’s deterrence.