Creating Effective Missile Defense Systems
By C. Hart | October 24, 2007
“Syria is the largest chemical superpower in the Middle East,” according to Major General (Res.) Yaacov Amidror, who addressed an audience of Israeli government and industry military experts at a missile defense forum in Jerusalem on Monday, October 22, 2007. Considered the first public forum of its kind to happen in Israel, speakers addressed the critical need for missile defense for Israel’s national security. The meeting was sponsored by the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs (JCPA) and the Israel Missile Defense Association (IMDA).
Amidror, who is one of JCPA’s Program Directors, gave scenarios of the potential battles Israel faces in the future, asking the rhetorical question of how the IDF will deploy itself. Speaking of the dangers Israel faces from its Syrian neighbor, Amidror said mid-range Syrian rockets threaten Israel’s northern region, including the home front and the IDF. “We have not gone through one war where the IDF needed defense before the war,” he admitted. But, Amidror said, now the IDF needs defense on strategic bases.
The Syrian army is supplying itself with large amounts of missiles, and he believes that Syria could accomplish in hours what it took Hizballah 33 days to accomplish during the 2006 Second Lebanon War. At that time, Israel was barraged with rockets fired from Lebanon, with no way of stopping the terrorist army from hitting northern Israeli populations.
According to Amidror, short, medium and long range rocket fire is problematic for Israel, and each stratum imposes threats, especially the heavier rockets from Syria, including Scuds with chemical warheads. He stated that if the IDF cannot remove the missiles then the army will have no other choice but to control the area, implying much greater use of ground forces in a potential conflict threatening the Jewish state.
Today, the missile threat against Israel hits at the very core of its defense needs, according to military experts. Palestinian terror groups and Hamas continue to attack Israel with short range Kassam rockets launched from Gaza, reaching Israel’s border towns and the western Negev. These rockets can be carried on someone’s back. The power of the rocket is in the ability of a terrorist to shift it around and fire it from anywhere. Hizballah launched the similar Katyusha rockets from Lebanon last summer, as well as longer-range missiles that hit deep into the northern part of Israel. Hizballah, Syria and Iran say they now have rockets that can reach any part of the country.
Amidror believes that in future wars, much of Israel’s home front will spend time in bomb shelters. Regions will be evacuated. There will be a potential for many casualties if heavier long-range missiles fall, and if people are not evacuated in time. The home front could become the focus. Since the IDF is a small army, turning its efforts towards the home front could result in the IDF being away from the main action on the battlefield. This would be a potentially serious problem for Israel.
So, why has Israel not been more prepared?
Yoash Tsiddon-Chatto, Chief of Operations and Planning for Israel’s Air Force (the IAF) on the eve of the Six Day War, said, “It’s a matter of concepts.” Speaking to ThreatsWatch, he admitted that Israel’s defense forces knew the Katyusha’s were in Hizballah’s arsenal for a long time. “But, the idea was, let the Katyusha’s rest. Since they didn’t use them they will probably not use them, and we have other priorities and budget restrictions and so forth. The IDF didn’t do anything. Unfortunately, we react more than we act... You always fight the last war not the next war.”
Now that Israel has learned from its mistakes during the Second Lebanon War, missile defense systems are being perfected to defend the home front against all ranges of rockets. But, it is the shorter range rocket attacks that Israel has not been able to respond to effectively. Israeli officials are now considering what technologies exist elsewhere along with budgetary considerations. In the meantime, according to military analysts, current rocket attacks have put the state in a strategic corner, and with no immediate solution, there could be an erosion of public trust in the government and military.
Amidror pointed out that in the Middle East, there is a constant existential threat to Israel of missile attacks. In an interview with ThreatsWatch, he explained, “If the state of Israel will be under missile and rocket fire from all around; from Iran and the long-range; Hizballah and others on the front; it will be a situation in which to bring the civilians from home; to mobilize them; and to bring them to their bases. Then, to move them into the front will be more complicated that in the past.”
And, what if there is a pre-emptive strike by Israel against a hostile neighbor, like Syria? “The pre-emptive strike I think probably will be made by the air force; and the air force is not dependent on any mobilization. The air force is strong enough to do it with permanent forces.”
Amidror was adamant that if Israel fights a conventional war with Syria in the future, the only legitimate targets are political and military. Under no circumstances should Israel fire missiles indiscriminately on Damascus, hurting the population. “If we have targets which are legitimate targets inside Damascus, we shall destroy them immediately... I think that civilians are not legitimate targets for the state of Israel in the case of war. To launch missiles into Damascus, without having any clear target, but to kill Syrians, I think that morally, Israel should not do it.”
Asked about a scenario where Syria might launch a pre-emptive strike against Israel using a missile with a chemical warhead, Amidror responded, “What I talked about is conventional, and we should not be the first to move it from conventional to non-conventional. If the Syrian’s or others will use non-conventional mass destruction systems, it is a totally different story.”
As Israeli military experts deal with threats and responses from the perspective of Israel’s national security needs, missile defense becomes a strategic consideration on the IDF agenda. It may be a bit late in the game, but Israel is now focused on advanced defense operations against a full range of threats. The IDF continues to plan battlefront scenarios to assure the state’s national security will never again be in jeopardy.
Meanwhile, the unprecedented proliferation of missiles in the Middle East is cause for other nations around the world to work together, addressing the critical priority for comprehensive, accurate, and cost effective missile defense systems that will meet today’s growing global security needs.
C. Hart writes for ThreatsWatch from Jerusalem, Israel.