(photo credit: DEFENSE MINISTRY)
The coincidence was impossible to miss: The same day Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah threatened to avenge the killing of terrorist Samir Kuntar (allegedly by the IAF), the Defense Ministry carried out a successful final trial of the David’s Sling air defense system.
Developed by Rafael Advanced Defense Systems in conjunction with the US defense company Raytheon, David’s Sling (known in Hebrew as Sharvit Ha’ksamim or Magic Wand) is designed to shoot down large rockets, such as the M-600s Hezbollah has pointed at Israel.
Together with Iron Dome and the Arrow, David’s Sling completes three complementary systems, each providing defense against rockets and missiles of different sizes and with different ranges and projectories.
While the Arrow is designed to take out long-range Scud missiles from Syria or Shahab missiles from Iran and the Iron Dome intercepts short-range rockets such as Kassams from Gaza and Katyushas from South Lebanon, David’s Sling is made to intercept medium-range ballistic missiles, especially highly accurate missiles and large rockets.
The range delineations between these three systems are flexible. For instance, Iron Dome has been successful at intercepting rockets beyond its expected reach, such as the Iranian-made Fajr 5 and the R-160, while the Arrow has been successful at intercepting midrange missiles, as well. David’s Sling, meanwhile, is capable of dealing with short-range rockets in addition to mid-range ballistic missiles, cruise missiles, aircraft and drones.
Yedidia Ya’ari, CEO of Rafael told Army Radio Tuesday that David’s Sling was his company’s most ambitious project and that all the engineering work was done by Israelis.
With all three systems up and running (David’s Sling is expected to be fully operational during the first quarter of 2016), Israelis will reap the psychological benefits of feeling protected by the best anti-missile systems available in the world.
This is not to say that more low-tech methods of protecting Israelis have been made obsolete. Just this week, the mayor of Nahariya and the head of the Shlomi Regional Council in the North ordered the opening of bomb shelters after three rockets fired in retaliation for the Kuntar killing by the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine-General Command, a Syria-based Palestinian terrorist group, hit the Western Galilee region.
Israel’s response to the missile and rocket threat from Hezbollah is characterized by a layered approach.
In any future military confrontation with Hezbollah, Israel would adopt a three-pronged strategy, as noted by former national security adviser Yaakov Amidror. It would attempt to destroy launchers in Lebanon from the air and through ground operations; it would rely on “active defense” through missile defense systems; and this would be supplemented by “passive defense,” such as bomb shelters and protected rooms.
In any event, Nasrallah is hardly interested in opening a front with Israel. The terrorist organization is bogged down in Syria and is fighting al-Qaida affiliated groups in Lebanon. Amidror estimated to Army Radio on Tuesday that Hezbollah had lost 10 to 20 percent of its fighters.
The knowledge that many of the rockets and missiles Hezbollah could conceivably fire at Israel would be shot out of the sky must be an added deterrent preventing Nasrallah from daring to escalate the situation along Lebanon’s border with Israel. He realizes that doing so could easily result in the demise of Hezbollah, or at the very least to a severe weakening of its capabilities.
Although clearly not foolproof, missile defenses will continue to fulfill a prominent role in Israel’s strategic approach to protecting the country from both conventional and non-conventional missile and rocket threats in the years ahead. Sales of these systems will also provide important source of revenue at a time when defense exports in 2015 are expected to reach a 10-year low.
David’s Sling, Iron Dome and the Arrow are designed to deter, and if deterrence fails, to protect and facilitate an overwhelming response to Israel’s many military threats.