Ready on the home front?

A chat with Uzi Rubin, a former government adviser on national security and the “father” of the Arrow anti-missile system.

IDF Gas Mask preparedness drill 521 (photo credit: IDF)
IDF Gas Mask preparedness drill 521
(photo credit: IDF)
If Israeli leaders are seriously weighing unilateral military action against Iran’s nuclear facilities sometime soon, as many recent media reports have suggested, one of the key factors for them to consider is whether the Home Front is ready for the anticipated fallout. This would likely include Iran and its proxy militias in Lebanon and Gaza firing thousands of missiles and rockets into Israel’s major cities, just as Hezbollah leader Hassan Narallah threatened to do last month.
For several decades now Israel has been working, often in tandem with the US, on building a multi-tiered anti-missile defense shield to prepare for just such a moment. Some of the pieces of that missile shield are in place, but others are still in development. For a better sense of where these efforts are, The Christian Edition recently turned to Uzi Rubin, a former government adviser on national security and the “father” of the Arrow anti-missile system.
Are Israel’s anti-missile defense systems up to the job yet of stopping massive barrages of ballistic missiles? Or are there still some holes in the missile shield that could be exploited by Israel’s enemies? If you are asking specifically about the Arrow III, it has not done its first flight yet. It’s due shortly, but it’s not ready yet.
Same thing with the next program, the David’s Sling or Magic Wand – it has several names. It has made its fly-out test, but it did not do an interception yet, which is also due sometime in the not too distant future. In our four-layer missile array of the Arrow II, Arrow III, David’s Sling and Iron Dome, we have the Iron Dome operational and deployed, and that arsenal is being built up very fast.
We also have Arrow II operational for many years now, and it has been tested from time to time with good results. So these are two key elements which are there on the ground, and there are two other key elements which are still missing.
How does this factor into the government’s decision-making on whether to strike Iran? I am not in the government, so I cannot answer that question. But the facts are there and everybody knows about them, and the air force is aware of it, and I am sure it’s taken into account.
Let me hasten to add that this four-layer missile shield is not being built against a specific event which is going to take place or not take place… This decision to go into strategic defense mode encountered a lot of resistance in our traditional military thinking, just like in the United States and Europe. But it was taken because of the changing nature of the threat, from front-line threat posed by structured armies to a threat on the homeland from ballistic missiles. We have to defend our military installations and our infrastructure, power stations and water desalination, and we have to defend the population to reduce the risk to them.
How prepared is Israel for what could become an all-out rocket war? No nation can be totally prepared, and I think that not even the US with all its resources could be totally prepared for a threat on its entire homeland territory.
It’s simply unfeasible and unaffordable for any country, it’s so expensive. And what is expensive, by the way, is not missile defense. What is expensive is passive defense. The shelters for people are more expensive than anything else.
So no country can be totally prepared...
But if you ask me if we are more prepared than before, the answer is “Yes!” Obviously, we are more prepared on the organizational side, [which] is perhaps even more important than the technical preparedness, the technical challenge of building and deploying missile defense systems.
How so? In 2006, during the Second Lebanon War, it was discovered that we had no organizational preparation whatsoever.
A lot of people in the North left for safer places, and the problem was how to make the economy and daily life function under fire. It’s not very simple, so lessons were learned which led to the creation of the Ministry of Homeland Defense, just for dealing with these things. On the technical side, we have more missile defense systems than we had before. We have two systems in place already. One of them [Iron Dome] is effective, and the second one – the long-distance Arrow II – has not been tested in battle yet, and I sincerely hope that we never have to. So we are further ahead in our preparations than we were before.
How resilient is the Israeli population? Say, for instance, here in Tel Aviv, which will probably have a big bull’s-eye on it – how long can they take rocket barrages? Weeks? Or months? During [the] Second Lebanon [War], the population in the North evacuated. I hosted family members from Haifa, and when the war was over they took their things and returned because life had to go on. In 1991, people evacuated Tel Aviv every evening. I think they did the right thing. Why stay under fire when you don’t need to? The British evacuated two million children to the countryside during World War II, and that’s the right thing to do.But analysts warn this time the whole country will be under rocket threat, so there’s no place to evacuate to during such a war.I hope it does not come to war; war is not a good thing. But we have been tested severely when the whole country was under fire in the second intifada in the early 2000s. And we did pretty well then. We are a resilient people. I still remember the early years of this nation when the fighting was everywhere, and we prevailed. So I expect us to weather the storm.
What has Israel learned from the situation in the South of constant rocket fire from Gaza? Life must go on, that is the lesson even before Iron Dome. That did not change much, because Iron Dome doesn’t prevent the need to go to shelter.
Yes, there were actually a lot of Israelis out in the streets recently watching Iron Dome intercept Kassam rockets like it was a fireworks show.It’s dangerous out there even if Iron Dome intercepts all the incoming threats. And Iron Dome itself, when it intercepts a threat, produces deadly debris which is showered down. It doesn’t make any difference to everyday life. The only difference is that lives are saved, and there are fewer wounded and less damages.
What is now in the hands of Hezbollah in terms of rockets and missiles? I don’t know if they will be able to fire tens of thousands of rockets a day, as they claim. The question is what kind of rockets, where they go and how accurate they are, and how long the conflict goes on. I think that the threat is severe, but we should take it slightly less severe than they [are] trying to portray it. But I must be very clear: I expect a lot of fire, and I expect a lot of damage and, unfortunately, causalities too.
You know rocket science. How hard would it be for the Iranians to fit a ballistic missile with a nuclear warhead? It’s a matter of mechanics. It’s not a big deal.