Israel’s Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, recently said that Israel is “the most threatened nation on the planet.” He was referring to the threatening ring of missiles aimed at the Jewish state from regimes such as Hamas, Hezbollah, Syria, and Iran. Hamas actually fired 2300 rockets at Israel in 2012 alone.
It was fitting that the Institute for National Security Studies (INSS), headed by top national security adviser, Amos Yadlin, addressed the issue in their conference on “Aerial Threats in the Modern Era” which focused on the growing dangers faced by Israel and how it is coping with the threat.
Israel’s enemies have learned that, to cause Israel significant damage, it requires longer range rockets with more powerful warheads. For Israel not to properly defend itself against this threat means death on a massive scale, and wholesale destruction.
Two problems that Israel continues to face is an enemy that fires into civilian areas with impunity and who launches its missiles from within their own civilian population. Both are war crimes, but the international community has been cynically negligent in doing nothing against these dual human rights crimes. If they fail to do anything in Syria why should they be expected to raise their voices and take responsibility when the target is Israel and the perpetrators are Hamas and Hezbollah. The European Union fails to listen to America, Canada, and Israel and declare Hezbollah as a terror organization.
How can Israel thwart the missile threat against it? Should Israel’s tactics only be defensive? Is it sufficient to build a protective shield over its civilian centers? Or should Israel take offensive measures to degrade the enemy of its improved capabilities before they are launched against it?
The successful interception of rockets has led to the perception by Israel’s enemies that stronger and longer range missiles are the way of the future for them.
Further, the old challenge for Israel’s defense industry of developing an interceptor that would akin to hitting a bullet with a bullet, namely an accurate intercept that could strike an incoming rocket, is already outdated. Today’s challenge concerns developing the many-on-many scenario in which Israel is forced to intercept multiple rockets salvos. There have been successes in real battle conditions where the Iron Dome system intercepted numerous short-range rockets fired collectively against Israel from Gaza.
1734 rockets were fired at Israel from Gaza in November 2012, according to the Israel National Security Agency monthly summary. 85% of them were intercepted. Rockets predicted to land outside defended positions were not intercepted and allowed to fall.
Long range missiles behave differently and an 85% success rate cannot be taken for granted. With ballistic missiles acting much faster in the critical interception stage, the higher incoming velocity imposes greater stress and constraints on the interceptor. On the other hand, the increased size and weight of the ballistic missile offers a better hit rate. Battle space is expanded and increases the intercept window. Longer range missiles also offer a more predictable trajectory forecast that favors the interceptor. The added time enables the launch of anti-missile salvos in the case of attack by multiple rockets.
Multi-tier and multi-system-type defensive layers may be employed against such multiple ballistic missile attacks. Such is the face of the modern battle field for Israel.
The balance of cost and effect comes in to Israel’s benefit with ballistic missiles and Israel’s defense as compared to the multiple rocket fire from Gaza or Lebanon based on simple rockets. Ballistic, longer-range warfare as against the ‘home grown’ kassams swings the cost and effect balance in Israel’s favor.
Such cost effectiveness will prove even more beneficial to Israel with the future introduction of laser defense systems into the IDF. The debate is over the use of either the solid stage laser or the chemical-based laser such as the Nautilus. The perfection of laser science and technology may not see the light of day for more than a decade but the efficiency of the laser anti-missile both in terms of effectiveness and cost-saving will prove decisive. It is estimated that the Iron Dome cost Israel $900 million per day per thousand rockets intercepts. Each launch requires the use, and obvious loss, of very expensive equipment that comes with the explosive response of the interceptor. Once it’s gone it’s gone, and along with it a huge amount of money. The charm of the laser system is that it can be used again and again without the huge expense of throwing away sophisticated weaponry with each launch. Missile defense costs can be radically reduced to a daily cost of two million dollars as against the current nine hundred million dollars, a huge saving.
Laser system tests boast a one hundred percent success rate. Missing the target, it seems, does not exist, with lasers. Faced with the balance of costs it will be cheaper to defend against missiles than to launch costly ballistic missiles. This will cause our enemy to reconsider the effectiveness of developing and launching hugely expensive missiles that will not cause us damage but will leave them with the financial headache of using such ineffective weapons on the battle field of the future.
Up to now Israel has had to face rockets whose targets are land-based. The introduction into the arena of the Russian S-300 supplied to Syria is a significant game-changer. The S-300 targets planes. It can be launched at any plane taking off, landing, or flying over Israel air space from a neighboring country. No plane is safe, not military and not commercial.
The variety of missiles aimed at Israel is frightening. Some of the models include Scud, Grad, SS21, Fajr 3, Fajr 5, SP600,Talul, Shihab 3, Ashura, to name but a few. Each requires the suitable Israeli response based on the characteristics of each attack missile. Today, Israel has the Iron Dome, David’s Sling, Magic Wand, Arrow 2 and 3 as part of its defensive shield. It is essential, despite the military budget cuts, for Israel to enhance its multi-tier anti-missile architecture.