March 18, 2011 | 180 comments
It’s come under fire again from Gaza. Why weren’t its defense systems ready? (Updated, March 28, 2:05 p.m.)
(Updated, March 28, 2:05 p.m.)
While the U.S. has been preoccupied with American and European involvement in Libya, Israel has come under fire yet again.
According to Thursday’s Jerusalem Post, about a dozen rockets and half a dozen mortar rounds had landed in the southern part of the country. That was round one.
By Friday, defense minister Ehud Barak noted in the Jerusalem Post that “some 100 rockets and mortars… reaching communities further [from the Strip] than usual” were fired, with targets including Be’er Sheva, Ashdod, Sderot, Ashkelon, and Gaza border-region communities.
The Israeli Air Force retaliated with strikes into Gaza, and Israel has warned of massive ground-based retaliation. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who met with U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates March 25, said Israel is ready to use “great force.”
One regional paper called the potential situation “the worst since Israel’s deadly offensive in Gaza in the Winter of 2008-2009.”
By Sunday, an Iron Dome anti-missile battery had been deployed near Be’er Sheva in the south, and the mayors of other southern towns were attacking the government for not having more batteries ready, and for failing to site them near their towns, according to Haaretz. In a somewhat cynical statement, the mayor of Sderot told his Be’er Sheva counterpart, “Don’t get too excited over the system they deployed near your city. I’m not sure it’s yours; it has wheels.”
Haaretz added that “…The mayor of the Bedouin town of Rahat Faiz Abu Sahiban bemoaned what he considered the abandonment of Israel’s Bedouin citizens in the face of Gaza fire, saying: ‘We are within the rockets’ range, closer in fact than Be’er Sheva.’”
There is room for irony in this situation. Despite nearly fifteen years of work and about half a billion dollars in spending, plus U.S. aid, this attack caught Israel defenseless against a threat it has faced for decades.
So far as can be determined, Israel has either developed or participated in the development of at least two short- to medium-range systems designed to deal with Palestinian stove-pipe rockets and the more sophisticated Grad/Katusha missiles now becoming available, but for various reasons, nothing was ready when this attack came.
Hamas’ original unguided rockets may have carried a warhead, but they were as unsophisticated as a teenager’s science project; some still are. But while inaccurate, they could kill, and they injured hundreds, according to the BBC. Best, from Hamas’ perspective, they were cheap — basically a steel pipe with fins, propellant (sugar and fertilizer) and a warhead. They were simple enough for amateurs to build in garages by the hundred and in 2008 alone Hamas fired an estimated 1,750 into Israel. More followed. More are following this week.
Now the longer-ranged Grad/Katusha is becoming available, deadlier because its warhead is professionally designed and because it can be aimed more precisely. Thus the risk increases while the defensive situation remains almost static.
Against the Missiles
The first of Israel’s anti-rocket developments may have been a chemical-laser system called THEL, the Tactical High Energy Laser. THEL looks like a searchlight, but it does not illuminate, it eliminates. THEL’s beam either physically destroys its target though energy transfer and thermal shock or heats its warhead until it detonates. THEL’s potential range is about ten kilometers, according to missilethreat.com.
Although accounts differ, it appears that THEL could have been deployed in Israel’s defense in the early 2000s, and stove-pipe rockets and mortar shells might have been regularly turned into bits of falling scrap long ago — more to the point, this week.
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