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Israel’s Missile Defense System Taking Shape

June 4, 2012
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Such a scenario has occurred numerous times since the Iron Dome officially went into operation in 2011, and it is just a taste of Israel’s multi-tiered missile defense system that is getting closer and closer to full operational capability. The Iron Dome’s success may not be a perfect fix for the thousands of missiles aiming at Israel, but it is reducing the risk to the Jewish state. It’s like a bullet-proof vest for the Israeli skies; it can’t protect everything every time, but it is a life saver. And it offers hope that Iran and its proxies, Hamas and Hizbullah, are less able to kill and terrorize Israelis than before.

That’s important because the missile threat facing Israel is greater than ever before. In the 2006 Second Lebanon War, Hizbullah effectively paralyzed the North of Israel with fewer and less dangerous rockets than they possess today. Now, every major population center in Israel is under the gun from somewhere: Gaza, Lebanon, or the new threat coming from rogue terrorists in the Egyptian Sinai.

Uzi Rubin, the former director of Israel’s missile defense organization and today the head of the Rubincon consulting company, said, in his opinion, the missile threat is Israel’s “main threat” today. Speaking with The Mideast Update, Rubin said Israel is “facing less threats from what’s called symmetric warfare—tanks and fighter aircraft—and more from missiles from surrounding countries and Iran.”

Iron Dome…Successful

The Arrow missile system at work That’s why the Iron Dome is so encouraging. Rubin said he feels its interception success rate as of early April was 86% based on what he gathered from media reports. “It was very successful. It met expectations, even a little beyond expectations…One would be happy with just 75% [interception success]; even 70% is good.” And that rate isn’t graded on a curve. The Iron Dome faced dozens of missiles fired from Gaza in March. It managed to intercept 56 of the ones heading for Israeli citizens, according to the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) Blog.

The system is a fairly standard missile defense system, using interceptor missiles to destroy threats in the sky. However, it’s unique in that it is able to take on shorter-range missiles such as the Grads fired from Gaza. The larger Arrow system, like the US Patriot program, is for larger, longer-range threats. With the Iron Dome, Israel is building a comprehensive defense network that can shield at-risk targets from virtually every potential missile threat facing it.

The Arrow missile Battle Management & Control unit of an Iron Dome battery www.wikipedia.org/

US Embassy Tel Aviv However, it’s not perfect. If Rubin’s 86% success estimate is right, that means 14 of every 100 interception attempts miss. Furthermore, in March, The Jerusalem Post reported that an interception went awry when pieces of the destroyed rocket damaged a vehicle and a sewer pipe in Beersheba. Still, the system is reducing the number of rockets that would have hit the city.

Like many military technologies, the Iron Dome is only as good as the people behind it, and that means the program is impressive. March’s escalation with Gaza highlighted the skill and bravery in the people running the system. According to Ynet, an incident began with a “technical failure” in an Iron Dome launcher. An IDF technician went to fix it during a combat situation. As he was repairing it, the alarm sounded that a missile was incoming and the Iron Dome was preparing to intercept. The rocket launch from the system releases an enormous amount of heat, and so the IDF has regulated that people should not be anywhere close to it when it fires.

However, the technician stayed to finish his work in order to ensure the system worked properly and the threatening rocket didn’t hit the city of Ashdod. Seeing his comrade’s plight, another IDF soldier hopped into a jeep and drove out to the defense battery to help the technician get to safety. The technician leaped on to the jeep safely, just in time. The Iron Dome launched and successfully intercepted the incoming missile. Later, the soldiers returned for the technician’s equipment, which he had left behind in his haste. The heat from the defense system’s interception launch had melted it—a small loss for potentially saving lives in Ashdod and an exchange Israel gladly took.

Arrow III…Faster

The Arrow The Arrow, known in Hebrew as the Hetz, has been in use by Israel for years. It uses radar and intercepting rockets to destroy incoming missiles, similar to the Iron Dome, but its targets are the bigger missiles in use by Syria, Hizbullah, and Iran. And while two versions of the Arrow have been successfully developed, the Arrow III is nearing operational testing.

According to Rubin, the third version of the Arrow picks off incoming threats faster and higher up. “If you intercept far away enough, you have enough time to observe whether your missile hit the target or not, and if it doesn’t hit the target, you send another interceptor to a lower altitude. But if you hit the target, there is no point in sending any more interceptors, so you save ammunition.”

The Arrow III is not an entirely new system. Rather, its main difference from the Arrow II is the missile. A successful test in February checked Arrow’s response to a threat without launching the intercepting missile. A Defense Ministry press release said the test “was a major milestone in the development of the Arrow Weapon System and provides confidence in operational Israeli capabilities to defeat the developing ballistic missile threat.”

Rubin cited an Israeli official as saying that the first flyout, in which the missile is test-launched without it intercepting a target, was expected for the Arrow III soon without specifying if that was days, weeks, or months away. “A flyout of the missile means that development is very well advanced,” said Rubin.

The David’s Sling…Developing

An illustration of the David’s Sling missile defense system in action Despite the biblical account behind the name, the Sling is not designed to take on missile Goliaths. Rather its focus is on medium-range missiles and a very specific and unique threat—cruise missiles. These missiles, such as the Tomahawk, fly low and slow, making them a very different target from the other systems. Rubin said of the cruise missile, “It hugs the ground, so you have to find it and kill it, and you need to do it with a very sophisticated system.”

The development of the David’s Sling isn’t letting down, but rather “moving along,” according to Rubin, with a flyout already completed. However, an interception test has not yet occurred, and the testing for this system is more complex than the Arrow. “This is a completely new system, so a flyout is just a smaller part of the progress than what it signifies in Arrow III…[The interceptor missile] is only one-third of the system,” said Rubin, who noted the radar system and complicated computer software are extremely important.

Many Threats, Many Defenses

The three missile defense systems are cooperative projects between Israel and the United States. The three above systems—all cooperative projects between Israel and the United States—will eventually combine to form a multi-layered defense system that will protect Israel from shorter- and medium-range missiles, long-range missiles, and cruise missiles. That effectively covers almost every significant projectile threat faced by Israel.

However, Rubin notes that no country can protect everything all the time. Hence he believes the Israeli system should be strategically placed to defend the country best, protecting Israel’s most significant targets first and foremost. That may not be a perfect defense, but it gives Israel a crucial advantage in almost any missile conflict.

Despite its cost and range limitations, the Iron Dome has already impacted the battlefield. The New York Times wrote in March that the system reduces pressure on Israel’s leaders and gives them the luxury of time. That appears to be true, and its impact is noteworthy, as noted by media reports and commentaries in Israel.

The IDF is able to respond gradually and intentionally to the Gaza rocket threat. Rather than being forced to react harsher and stronger to rockets fired deeper into Israel, and rather than being forced into escalating the IDF’s response by a tragedy, Israel is able to hold the cards in any conflict with Gaza. The IDF’s response can be as strong or mild as Israel’s leaders deem best to protect the country. That doesn’t change the fact that a missile barrage can cripple Israel’s South by driving its residents into bomb shelters, but it does mean that the damage and casualties caused by the attacks are less likely to force Israel’s hand.

www.israelimages.com/sergei attal

Because of the security wall around Gaza and the West Bank, suicide bombers are no longer the weapon of choice against Israel.
It also puts the terrorists and their allies in Gaza, Lebanon, and Iran at a real disadvantage. Previously, suicide bombers were the weapon of choice against Israel. But then the Jewish state built the security fences around Gaza and the West Bank (Judea and Samaria). The bombers no longer were able to easily reach their targets and subsequently the threat has all but disappeared.

Then Israel’s enemies saw a different opportunity: They could just shoot rockets over fences and borders. Now Israel is combating that option as well. More rockets, more expense, and more risk is needed by the terrorists to do even close to the same damage as before the Iron Dome began service. And once Israel builds more batteries and finishes the Arrow and David’s Sling, her enemies will have even more difficulty.

Israel’s missile defense isn’t finished yet, and it probably won’t ever make the threat disappear completely, but the cost-benefit analysis for Israel’s enemies is changed. They now must ask if it’s worthwhile to attack. And that alone is worth it for Israel.

Source: By Joshua Spurlock, The Mideast Update

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