iran shihab missile 298.
(photo credit: AP [file])
Senior military officials who spoke with The Jerusalem Post this week were adamant: Defense Minister Amir Peretz was "mistaken" when he stated that an effective defense against Katyusha rockets could be deployed in two years. "Nothing will be ready in two years," one of the officials told our reporter, Yaakov Katz.
Two weeks ago, Peretz said in an interview, "Both Kassams and Katyushas are tactical weapons that have become strategic threats because we have yet to find an answer to them." Israel will obtain a "significant system that can [defend against these missiles] and this will happen in no more than two years," the defense minister said.
Security and Defense: Needed ASAP: A shield against rockets
Peretz is right about the significance of even primitive, short-range missiles if Israel has no way to defend against them. It is disturbing, however, that he seems to be misinformed about where the technology to do so stands, and is unwittingly misleading the public as a consequence.
As we report elsewhere on these pages, Israel is looking at both an American system called Skyguard and at developing its own system for shooting down short-range rockets. The American system, produced by Northrop Grumman, has shown success in tests but seems to be more than two years away from operational capability, and may prove too expensive to deploy against thousands of extremely cheap rockets. An Israeli company is developing another, laser-based, system, but it is also a number of years away from possible deployment.
In the minds of our enemies, the recent war in the north and the Kassam offensive from Gaza against towns in the South have demonstrated that the missile has largely replaced the suicide bomber as the terror weapon of choice. It took years for Israel to decide to build a security fence against suicide bombers - indeed, that fence has yet to be completed. We have been similarly slow to build equivalent defenses against short-range missiles.
In both cases, there were valid reasons for hesitation. With limited funds for national defense, we have preferred to invest in our capability to fight and deter terrorism rather than to erect barriers against it. Successful deterrence is the best defense, since it prevents attacks from being launched in the first place.
What must be realized, however, is that defenses, not only offensive capabilities, are critical components of deterrence. It is a myth that a defense must be 100 percent effective or else it is worthless. There would be a huge difference in an attacker's calculation when faced with zero defenses against short-range missiles, compared to a situation in which Israel could reliably shoot down 80% or more of missiles launched against it.
The importance of missile defense only grows with respect to medium- and long-range missiles. The Arrow system that Israel has already deployed against such missiles is a good start, but more should be done, and not just by Israel.
The US, for example, is currently defended by just 11 test interceptors in Alaska and California. These are inadequate to defend against the long-range missile threat, recently accentuated by North Korea's missile test in July and its purported nuclear test this week. Europe has no such defenses, and the US is not defended at all against medium- or short-range missiles that could be fired from ships.
It makes no sense for the West to forfeit its vast technological advantages and leave itself almost completely exposed to missile attack. In the wake of 9/11, the Bush administration reversed previous US antipathy to missile defenses, withdrew from the 1972 ABM Treaty that all but banned them, and committed to deploying a multi-layered defense of both US territory and US forces abroad. Yet actual defenses are not being developed and deployed as quickly as they should.
Missile-defense opponents, though they have largely conceded the debate on principle, have succeeded in steering spending away from the programs that seem to have most promise: space-based and sea-based systems that could address the ballistic missile threat on a global basis and in the near term.
One of the reasons that rogue states such as Iran and North Korea pursue both nuclear and long-range missile capability is that the West has so studiously avoided defending itself against just such threats. Missile defenses are critical both to deterring such proliferation, and to defending the free world should deterrence fail.