Tel Aviv, Israel
Even before the upheaval in the Arab world, Israel began implementing a major overhaul of its air defenses, which have been rushed to the field with newly designed anti-rocket batteries backed up by an integrated central control center to better protect the home front.
"We are the pioneers in the world in this field," said Brig.-Gen. Doron Gavish, a stocky officer who first fired missiles against incoming rockets in the 1991 Gulf War when Saddam Hussein lobbed Scuds on Tel Aviv.
After he took over the Israeli Air Forces' anti-aircraft corps, he changed its name to the Air Defense Forces and brought in a new unit insignia. But more importantly, under his command the Air Defense Forces have been revamped with higher quality manpower and reorganized to deal with what is arguably the greatest threat on Israel - incoming rockets and missiles.
"Unfortunately we've had to develop capabilities against those threats and under those circumstances I can say that, yes, we are a kind of pioneer because we have to deal with it," Gavish told The Media Line. "We have to develop systems very, very fast. We have to develop our doctrines and technologies in order to deal with the threats of rockets and missiles against our civilians."
Israel's enemies long ago learned they would not achieve strategic parity in the conventional battlefield. Their Soviet-equipped divisions and squadrons were no match for Israeli armored columns and its top-of-the-line air force. In the 1980s, Israel's foes began investing in surface-to-surface missiles to bypass the its frontlines and take the war to the rear.
"Israel had wars of luxury where the battles were fought without a threat on the home front. But that all changed in 1991" when Iraq's Saddam Hussein fired 39 Scud missiles on Tel Aviv and Haifa, said Matan Vilnai, Home Front Defense Minister, at an international aerospace conference in Jerusalem on Wednesday.
Israel is arguably the state with the most missiles pointed at it. The Lebanese movement Hizbullah alone is said to have some 40,000 rockets in their arsenal. Early Tuesday, a number of Katyusha rockets landed in northwestern Israel, which were fired from areas controlled by Hizbullah in southern Lebanon. While no group claimed responsibility and residents were not ordered in to bomb shelters, it showed how volatile the region could be.
Israel's air defense network is one of the densest in the world. Not only are all aircraft in the region monitored, but every drone, rocket and missile launch is detected and monitored from as close as the Gaza Strip to as distant as Iran, some 1,300 kilometers (810 miles) away.
Gavish said the advances in missile defense have revolutionized Israel's security doctrine. He said that since the state's inception in 1948 its security doctrine rested on three pillars: early warning, subjugation and deterrence. The innovations of the past 10 years have added "defense" as another pillar.
The anti-aircraft arm of the air force - which last shot down an enemy aircraft during the 1982 Lebanon War - was tasked with downing rockets and missiles too and began integrating first the U.S.-made Patriot, then PAC-2 batteries, anti-aircraft missiles refigured to shoot down mid-range missiles. Later it deployed the Israeli-designed and built Arrow batteries aimed at shooting down long-range ballistic missiles. New batteries such as the David's Sling and the Magic Wand are being developed to flesh out its multi-layered missile and rocket defenses.
"What has been happening in the past few years is that missions that were not part of our classic mission became part of our mission. One of them is the alert. We are now in a phase where we can give a better alert to our civilians. There are all kinds of radars and sensors which are deployed all around Israel and this way we can give better alert and to save lives," Gavish said. "And the other mission is to intercept rockets and missiles."
With no answer for the short-range rockets like Grad, Katyushas and Qassams fired by the Hizbullah in Lebanon or the Palestinian Hamas movement in the Gaza Strip, Israel began designing its own system, called the Iron Dome. Because of the nature of the conflict and the intimacy between the defense and defense industry establishments, weapons development is unusually swift in Israel. Gavish said the first Iron Dome batteries were actually fielded a year ahead of schedule.
The Air Force recently integrated a national Ballistic Picture Control Center (BPCC) in order to enhance its early warning capabilities. In March, two Iron Dome batteries were rushed into field operation before the system had completed its final development to meet an escalation of tensions along the border with the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip. In April, the batteries successfully intercepted eight out of nine Grad-type rockets fired at Israeli cities. And in a flare up in October Iron Dome batteries intercepted four more rockets.
"I can say that in the last year in the three rounds of escalation that unfortunately we saw in the southern part of Israel we intercepted a big number of rockets which were launched on the southern cities of Israel," Gavish told The Media Line.
Each Iron Dome battery costs some $80 million. A senior officer said Israel is planning to procure another six to 11 batteries so that the entire area under missile threat is covered. A top Israeli defense official was quoted as saying last week that the Ministry of Defense planned to invest $1 billion for development and manufacturing of Iron Dome defenses. This reportedly included a U.S. grant of $205 million. Interceptors are costly too, at about $1 million each, which has led to a search for cheaper defensive shields.
Michael Rinn, vice president of Directed Energy Systems at the U.S. aerospace company Boeing, said it is developing high energy lasers to destroy small rockets, mortar and artillery rounds.
"A system like this complements kinetic systems like the Iron Dome," Rinn told The Media Line. "A system that runs off an electrical generator power runs and runs and runs, so you don't run out of rockets. It continues to run. If you let your imagination go, you can see that these kinds of systems which are just starting to hit the test ranges could be so important for a country like this which has a constant threat."
Gavish said that cooperation with the U.S. was extremely important in fostering interoperability necessary for future cooperation against missile threats.
"We are working very close with U.S. forces and hold a series of exercises named Juniper Cobra every two years. The next one will be next year and this is the biggest exercise in the world for active defense. We see interoperability as a very important issue and obviously we see the United States as our strategic ally and friends and working with them is always a learning experience for us and obviously enhances our capabilities here in Israel."
Meanwhile, Israel's PAC-2 radars were recently shipped to the U.S. for upgrade. The process is reportedly expected to cost some $15 million, which is to be paid for out of the $3 billion in annual U.S. military aid. In the interim, Germany, which loaned Israel two PAC-2 batteries in 2003 prior to the U.S. invasion of Iraq, shipped another PAC-2 radar to the Israeli Air Force for free while the older ones are being refurbished, Defense News reported.
- Turkey's Erdogan Most Popular Leader By Far Among Arabs
- Syria: Assad Denies Ordering Killing of 4,000 Anti-Govt Protesters
- The Catastrophic Consequences of a Nuclear Iran
- United Arab Emirates Tighten Sanctions Knot with Iran
- Israel: Air Force Reorganizes Air Defenses to Meet Missile Threat
- Arab Spring: The Fog in Our Future
- Arab Spring Takes Surprising Toll on Expats
- Expected Win by Egypt's Islamists Poses Dilemma for U.S. Policy
- Tahrir Square Protestors Losers in Egyptian Elections
- Plunging Foreign Reserves Pose New Threat to Egypt
- Iraq: The Unstoppable Force and the Immovable Object
- Iraqi Regionalism and its Discontents
- Jordan Urges Palestinians to Stay Out of Local Unrest
- Speculators are to Blame for High Oil, OPEC Says
- Debt Woes Come Back to Haunt Dubai
- Yemen: Children at Risk as Aid Access Denied
- Israel: Rights Groups Express Worry Over Democracy
- 'Unity And Non-Violence' Requisites For Palestinian Statehood
- Saudi Arabia: Deadly Blaze Throws Spotlight on Saudi Girls Schools
- Saudi Convicts Trade Cells for Community Service
- Major Economies Headed for Slowdown
- Is the National Security Complex Too Big to Fail?
- Squeezed By Israel, Palestinians Aim to Collect More Taxes
- Herod Started The Temple But Great-Grandson Finished the Job
- Are Israelis Less Willing to Make Sacrifices?
- Israel Faces Chill Wind from Europe, Central Banker Warns
- Palestinians Evoke '60s Freedom Riders in Bus Protest
- Egyptian Elections in Doubt as Violence Returns to Tahrir
- Egypt's Generals Fail to Stem Human Rights Abuses
- Egyptian Citizens Take Up Arms Amid Insecurity
- Rule of Law Under Siege in Egypt
- Sinai Bedouin Join Al-Qaeda Out of Bitterness, Not Ideology
- Tunisia's New Premier Faces Islamic Test
- Rebuilding Libya
- Syria, Iran and the Balance of Power in the Middle East
- How United States Could Encourage Peace in Syria
- Lebanese Ready to Take Up Arms Against Syrian Incursions
- Jordan to Erect Refugee Camps for Fleeing Syrians
- Countering Iran in the Covert World
- Is Iran Iraq All Over Again?
- Military Action Might Be The Only Option With Iran
- An Attack Would Only Strengthen Iran's Influence
- Diplomacy Best Option in Dealing with Iran's Nuclear Aims
- Only Threat of Military Action Will Stop Iran
- Incite Change From Within Iran
- Iran: Learn the Lessons from Iraq
- Iran: Let Opposition Groups Do the Hindering
- Jordan in Bid to Create Hub with Airport Expansion
- United States Hesitant to 'Reckon With Evil' in Syria
- Surprise! Iran Has Nukes
- As The World Turns and The Centrifuges Whirl in Iran
- Two-State Solution is Only Solution in the Middle East
- A Silver Lining for Palestine?
- Gilad Shalit's Release Emboldens Netanyahu's Iran Mandate
- Iran Plot: A Pretext for War
- Israel: Iranian War Fever-Pitch Debate Blasted Wide Open
- Israel: In Quest For Cool, Tel Aviv Taps Tech
- Middle East: Buffeted by the Winds of Change
- Tunisia Elections: The Real Thing This Time
- Libya: Victory, Tragedy, Legacy
- Fitting End for Libya's Bloody Dictator
- Bahrain's Courageous Doctors
- Syrian City Of Hama Under Attack
- Syria Agrees to Withdraw Military from Streets Under Arab League Deal
- United States: Iraq Syndrome
- French Push Hard to Clinch Jet Deal with UAE
- Israel: Where Pilgrims Once Trod, Sewage Flows
- Dead Sea's 7 Wonders Bid Spurs Politics and Patriotism
- Europe's Woes Make Their Way Across the Mediterranean
- Egypt and Tunisia Try to Lure Back Their Tourists
- Guide to Egypt's First Post-Revolution Elections
- Egyptians Feel Less Secure on Streets and in Wallets
- Seven Billion People: So Why Do Some Fear Population Decline?
- Democracy in Revolution: the Mediterranean Moment
- Riots and Revolutions in the Digital Age
- When Do You Know You Have Crossed a Watershed?
- Global Financial Regulation: Goal Many Espouse But Can It Be Done?
- Forging a Lasting Peace
- Why We Still Need Nuclear Power
- Arab Spring: Fall Update
- Libya and Iraq: The Price of Success
- Libya and Tunisia Still Face Obstacles on the Road to Democracy
- Tunisians Celebrate Elections, Worry What Follows
- Powder in the Eyes in Algeria
- Gaddafi Took Knowledge of Where Bodies Were Buried to the Grave
- Gaddafi's Death: Mission Accomplished!
- Gadhafi Bites the Dust ... What's Next?
- What's Next for United States - Libyan Relations?
- Qadhafi's Death Leaves Libyan Oil Industry Uncertain
- Obama Sets New Precedent with Role in Getting Gadhafi
- Libya: Now the Hard Part Starts
- Post Gaddafi Libya: What Happens Next?
- Libya: The True Costs of Humanitarian Intervention
- Libya: Humanitarian Intervention Comes of Age
- As Arab Awakening Gets Messy, US Involvement Weakens
- Obama Risks an Oil Opportunity
- Gaddafi's Grim End
- Gaddafi Just Another Tyrant Who Painted Himself Into a Corner
- Lack of Education Hinders Arab Economies
- Mecca Pilgrimage Ripe for Sectarian Clash
- Iraq: American Imperialism? Please
- Mixed Emotions as the United States Leaves Iraq
- United States Iraqi Pullout Whets Iranian Appetite for Trouble
- The Broken Contract: Inequality and American Decline
- The Wisdom of Retrenchment: America Must Cut Back to Move Forward
- Putting a Face on Iran Policies a Study in Frustration
- UNESCO Vote to Admit Palestinian Authority Stirs Tempest
- A Shift in Israel-Hamas Relations?
- The Problem Is Palestinian Rejectionism
- Israel's Bunker Mentality
- United States Law Enforcement Chiefs to Israel
- Israelis and Palestinians Deploy New Technology in Fighting
- Senator Landrieu: Don't Cut Aid to Israel
- NATO Reluctant for Military Intervention in Syria
- Why Syria is Not Libya
- Egyptian Blogger Finally Becomes Cause Celebre
Copyright 2011, AHN - All Rights Reserved