Do as the Israelis do

The US should follow Israel’s lead in deploying necessary technologies without fear of irritating countries that wish it ill.

April 11, 2011 22:09
3 minute read.
Netanyahu, Barak inspect the Iron Dome system

Netanyahu Barak Iron Dome 311. (photo credit: Avi Ohayun/GPO)


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Last Thursday, Israel’s Iron Dome short-range missile defense system intercepted its first real target, which Palestinian terrorists had fired toward Ashkelon and Beersheba.

Short-range missiles are technically difficult to shoot down, because there is little time to intercept them. Yet the Israelis have overcome this hurdle. Although the Iron Dome system is still new, its developer, Rafael Advanced Defense Systems, boasts that it is designed to operate in all weather conditions. And if an enemy elects to fire a barrage of missiles, Iron Dome is there to intercept every one of them.

In the United States, missile defense is often a more philosophical debate. Some argue that it is the government’s moral responsibility to defend innocent Americans, instead of relying on a policy – Mutually Assured Destruction – that simply avenges their deaths. Others insist missile defense is wrong because it unnecessarily inflames America’s foes and gives the US an unfair advantage. In Israel, a “one-bomb state,” missile defense is a matter of simple survival.

The Israelis continue to impress by developing cutting-edge technologies, because they live in a neighborhood where the daily weather report can include incoming SCUDs and artillery shells. Israel’s situation gives new meaning to the cliché “necessity is the mother of invention.”

THE TACTIC of hostile forces firing many missiles at once is not merely an Israeli problem; it is also a threat to US forces, European and Asian allies. Two years ago, the vice chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff, General James Cartwright,warned that Iran and North Korea were developing hundreds of short and medium-range missiles. Consequently, it’s no longer enough to be able to knock out one incoming missile; the US missile defense architecture has to be able to handle a missile raid.

In light of this, the Obama administration chose to focus the US missile defense budget on developing and increasing elements that handle short and medium-range threats. The US would be wise to spend more money upgrading and increasing in number its seabased Aegissystem, as well as our land-based system, THAAD. It should also deploy some of these short-range defenses against shiplaunched attacks.

But it should not deny funding to the Ground-Based Midcourse Defense (GMD) system – the only element of the system designed to intercept long-range missiles – in favor of short-range defenses that Russia and China find more agreeable.

Iran is developing long-range missiles, as is North Korea. The only reason they don’t yet have an intercontinental ballistic missile is because they haven’t yet perfected the technology. But in 2009, Iran successfully orbited its first domestic satellite. The following year, a CIA report related that “Moscow appears to have become more worried about the security implications of assisting Tehran with the further development of its space capability.”

Although it may be “news” to the Russians that the technology used to launch a satellite is directly transferable to a long-range missile, the US and its allies have long said as much. Once the Iranians perfect this technology, little will stop them from producing as many ICBMs as they like.

The Obama administration and Congress have said the US will deploy only 30 of 44 large rockets capable of intercepting North Korean or Iranian ICBMs, even though this will mean seven empty silos. Put another way, the US is choosing to leave some of its defensive bullets un-chambered. This is because countries like China and Russia get nervous whenever the US builds up its strategic defenses “too much.”

The Israelis cannot afford to skirt others’ sensitivities. While the missile-defense debate continues in Washington, the enemies of the United States and its allies will continue to improve their arsenals. Meanwhile, the Israelis will move forward with their own defensive system, developing evermore- effective, sophisticated technologies in whatever quantities the threat demands, whether or not other states wish them well.

It is a model worth studying, and, most importantly, emulating.

The writer is an adjunct fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, and a former military legislative assistant to United States House Armed Services Committee member Trent Franks (Republican, Arizona).

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