Deterrence is the key

Anti-missile defense systems are not a real match for the increasing number of rockets and missiles directed at Israel.

Line-up of missiles (photo credit: Courtesy)
Line-up of missiles
(photo credit: Courtesy)
The Hebrew month of Adar (which includes the festival of Purim) is a time for Jews to masquerade, to be happy and in a celebratory mood.
This may explain the five-day festival beginning March 5 orchestrated by the Israeli government and the IDF to mark the seizure of an Iranian ship flying a Panamanian flag. After months of intelligence gathering and surveillance, the Israel Navy intercepted the Klos C in the Red Sea, some 1,500 kilometers from Israel. On board were Syrian-made missiles, mortar shells and bullets being shipped from Iran, via Iraq, to Sudan. From there, it appears, the Iranian plan was to smuggle the weaponry to the Gaza Strip. The shipment was most likely intended for Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ), a medium-sized terror group fully sponsored by Iran. Unlike the much larger Hamas movement, which broke off ties with Iran over Tehran’s support of President Bashar Assad in the bloody civil war in Syria, PIJ has remained loyal to Tehran.
To maximize the propaganda effect and score points in the international public opinion arena, the Israeli military went out of its way to accommodate the media with footage, image and sounds from the successful and photogenic operation. The purpose, of course, was to smear Iran and portray it as a state sponsoring terrorism. But the international reaction was very mild, with only a small handful of countries – the United States among them – condemning Iran, which by smuggling the weapons also violated a UN Security Council resolution forbidding Tehran from exporting arms.
The international media, too, showed very little interest and barely covered the story. What was left for Israel in the propaganda battle were mere crumbs – the local media. And even here doubts were raised about the over-stretched propaganda campaign.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was furious. He complained about the lack of interest by international media and foreign governments in the story and accused them of double standards and hypocrisy. Netanyahu meant to say that while foreign journalists and governments tend to focus on Israel and criticize settlement policy and occupation in the West Bank and treatment of the Palestinians, they ignore or show little interest in acts of violence directed against the Jewish State by Iran and its Palestinian terror proxies.
Yet the truth is that the five days of endless news conferences, displays, briefings and speeches were indeed overkill, an exaggerated effort to prolong the story. After all, aside from the excellent intelligence aspect – an indication of the depth of penetration into Syria, Iran and the terrorist groups by the various Israeli intelligence agencies – the strategic importance of the operation is very limited.
The most significant cargo on board the vessel were 40 M-302 missiles, originally developed by China but later produced in Syria. It is a simple, if not primitive, 300-millimeter projectile with no guidance system and therefore not very accurate and can miss its target by as much as two to three kilometers. Nevertheless, with a 120-kilogram warhead and a range of 150 kilometers, the missile can cause severe damage to urban and densely populated areas.
Claims by the military that had the smuggled missiles reached their destination, they would have been a “game changer” fall well wide of the mark. No, they would have not been.
In a recent speech in Tel Aviv, Military Intelligence chief Major-General Aviv Kochavi portrayed a very gloomy reality awaiting Israel. He said that Israel was surrounded by armies, guerrilla militias and terror groups that have 170,000 rockets and missiles in their possession.
A senior military intelligence source provided The Jerusalem Report with the following breakdown. In Gaza, Hamas, the PIJ and the small renegade groups inspired by al-Qaida that operate in Sinai have around 10,000 rockets. Most of them are Katyushas (also known as Grads), with a range of 20-40 kilometers and a payload of up to 15 kilograms of explosives. A few hundred are Fajr missiles with a warhead of 20 kilograms and capable of reaching 75-80 kilometers to Tel Aviv and the densely populated Dan region.
According to the military intelligence source, since Defense Minister Abdel Fattah el-Sisi assumed power in Egypt last August, the Gaza organizations have been under immense pressure from both Israel and Egypt and have found it increasingly difficult to purchase and smuggle weapons via Egypt and Sinai.
Hamas and PIJ therefore established their own homegrown workshops to produce rockets and missiles. There are enough engineers and technicians and other skilled professionals in Gaza who are either self-educated or were trained in Iran and Syria. One of their “prime” products is the M-48 missile, which is a local version of the Fajr and was fired towards Tel Aviv (hitting the nearby city of Rishon Lezion) during the last battle between Israel and Gaza in November 2012. And their products are improving all the time in terms of range and heavier warheads.
To the northeast of Israel, Syria has nearly 40,000 rockets and missiles of all sorts – the largest being Scuds, which are capable of carrying 500 kilograms of explosives. True, the Syrian Army has launched thousands of them against opposition forces during the bloody, three-year civil war. Yet, Syria still has sufficient rockets and missiles to hit almost every point in Israel.
TO THE east, Iran has an arsenal of some 70,000 rockets and missiles, of which around 1,000 are Shahabs, which carry 750-kilogram warheads and have fairly accurate guidance systems that can strike anywhere in Israel.
And then, in Lebanon, there is Hezbollah, with an impressive array of nearly 100,000 rockets and missiles. In this aspect, the Shi’ite movement is among the 10 biggest military powers in the world – in the same league with the US, China, Russia, India, France, the UK, Pakistan and Iran. Hezbollah has a wide range of missiles, including Grads, Scuds, M-600s, and the M-302.
Thus, all of Israel is targeted. Every city, village, military base, airfield and all of Israel’s strategic sites, including the Dimona nuclear reactor, power stations and major water projects, are within range of the enemies’ missiles and rockets.
So how could Israeli leaders and military chiefs claim that an additional 40 M-302 missiles could be a “game changer”?
The Israeli home front was hit for the first time by missiles – Scuds fired by Iraq – in 1991, during the first Gulf War. But it took Israel another 15 years to understand that it needs to think about how to defend its civilian population. This came after the Second Lebanon War of 2006. Until then, the military and, above all, the Israel Air Force showed disregard and even despised any notion that the home front should or could be defended from missiles.
They thought that every shekel and dollar should be spent on offensive weaponry – more bombs, more missiles – and not defensive arms. But during the 2006 war, which lasted 33 days, Hezbollah fired more than 4,000 rockets and missiles, hitting villages and towns up to 120 kilometers from the Israel-Lebanon border. Luckily enough, due to precise intelligence provided by the Mossad and Military Intelligence, the IAF managed to destroy Hezbollah’s long-range missiles in the first 30 minutes of the war, thus preventing a strike on Tel Aviv.
The daily barrage nevertheless had a tremendous psychological effect on Israelis, who felt that their government was indifferent to their fate. Thus, despite opposition from the IDF, the government was forced by public opinion to change its security doctrine and invest in defensive anti-missile systems. Over the last eight years, Israel has invested close to NIS 15 billion ($4 billion) in researching and developing its three layers of anti-missile defenses. Nearly half of it is American taxpayer money. The US government (with leading American contractors) is involved in financing the three major Israeli projects: Iron Dome, David’s Sling (sometimes called by the translation of its Hebrew name, Magic Wand) and the Arrow.
First came the Iron Dome system, which is designed to intercept rockets and missiles with a range of up to 40 to 50 kilometers. At the moment, Israel has six Iron Dome batteries – each with three launchers (each launcher with 20 missiles). Iron Dome became operational two years ago and demonstrated its capabilities during the last war in Gaza. The military boasted that its success rate in shooting down rockets was 84 percent. But independent experts tend to think that it was not more than 50 percent.
Indeed, the system from the technological point of view is very impressive. But as recent events in Gaza have shown, when PIJ fired 100 rockets during the second week of March, Iron Dome is far from perfect. It has its flaws. Besides, to cover its entire territory, Israel will need at least triple the number of batteries currently at its disposal. This requires an additional $700 million. Israel does not have the budget for it and it is unlikely that the US, which has already invested nearly $1 billion, will provide more – not to mention the cost-effectiveness of the game. Each interceptor missile costs about $70,000, while an enemy Grad missile costs maybe $3,000.
The mathematical ratio is even more complicated when it comes to David’s Sling. The system, as a second layer of air defense, is designed to intercept enemy missiles with a range of 40 to 200 kilometers. It will be ready only in two years, probably later, and each of its interceptor missiles will cost more than one million dollars. This means operators will think twice before launching their costly gadget against the enemy.
The third system of Arrow-3 batteries is also at an early stage of development and its sole purpose is to counter Iran’s long-range Shahab missiles.
More and more Israelis, certainly experts, realize that anti-missile defense systems, be they as technologically impressive as one could dream of, are not a real match for the increasing number of rockets and missiles directed at Israel. The defense systems can destroy a large number of missiles and frustrate the enemy to a certain degree, but at the end of the day, they are more a weapon of psychological importance. They can calm the population and give people a sense that the government does care about them and is providing them with defense shields.
The only effective tool against the rockets and missiles engulfing Israel is deterrence – to make it absolutely clear to the enemies that they will pay a very, very heavy price in the event of war.