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The Cross of Bethlehem II

Three Layers of Deception

Rafael, missile and antimissile technologies



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One of the readers asked “what about the anti-missiles defenses of Israel?” implying that they would interfere with several points I made in the past. An event of my past perfectly illustrates several problems of this technology. During the first war in Iraq, I was a student at the Tel Aviv University and lived at the Green Village, where I taught at the National Multimedia Center. The village is at the northern outskirts of Tel Aviv, on its border with Ramat Hasharon and not far from the Glilot Junction. The last was a major target of the Iraqi Scud missiles.

One of them did fall very close to the gas tanks farm located nearby and almost blew up the Mossad headquarters, a major SIGINT base and the junction itself. Saddam Hussein had almost succeeded in inflicting strategic damage to Israel with the oldest missiles technology available. Immediately, a Patriot missiles unit was placed nearby. Every night we enjoyed fireworks, a rarity in Israel; yet, seldom did the missiles and interceptors meet. The danger of debris – either from the scud or the patriot – hitting the tanks was real. Would a patriot hitting a scud just over a tank and destroying both have been considered a success of the anti-missiles technology? I doubt it. This event also illustrates the fact that in crowded Israel almost every point is strategic.

Moreover, as I recently stated regarding Dimona, some things are not exactly what they seem to be in the Israeli missiles industry (ironically “anti-missiles weapons” is a synonym for “more missiles”). Some people are getting very rich, while others – most of the Israeli citizens and all America’s taxpayers – pay the bill.

In order to explain the last statement let me make a short introduction of the industry. The anti-missiles weapons (I use this term to avoid including anti-tank and air-missiles that are also being developed by RAFAEL and others) are divided into three categories as per their interception range.

The Iron Dome system is the newest and still not fully operational, it is intended to intercept short-range rockets (0–70 km). The David's Sling system is designed to intercept medium- and long-range rockets, meaning between 70 km and 250 km, while the Arrow is designed to intercept ballistic missiles from up to 500 km. Each one of them includes several subsystems and thus can be referred to with a variety of names; I’ll skip the details here.

The main threats against which these weapons are being developed are Qassam rockets from Hamas, the Islamic Resistance Movement in Gaza, Katyusha rockets from Hezbollah, the Shiite Party of God in Southern Lebanon, and Iran's ballistic missiles. The Israeli Ministry of Defense claims that around fifty thousand missiles are overall aimed at the country.

Only the Arrow is fully operational. Due to their nature, the development of these systems takes time and evolves during the process to the extent that many initial specifications are later changed. The Hebrew media reported that the Iron Dome costs soared by 40 percent over the eight months ending in March 2009. These systems never get cheaper, thus some serious control of the Ministry of Defense should be expected; after all they should protect our taxes.

Thus the constant support of several Ministers of Defense on these projects is strange considering that:

* The Iron Dome is not a good solution to the Qassam rockets. The following data is public knowledge: The Qassam's speed in the air is 200 meters per second. The distance from the edge of Beit Hanun to the outskirts of Sderot is 1800 meters. A rocket launched from Beit Hanun takes about nine seconds to hit Sderot. The preparations to launch the intercepting missile at their target take up to about 15 seconds (the system locates the target, determines the flight path and calculates the intercept route in that time). The Qassam will hit Sderot a number of seconds before the missile can intercept it even if launched. Other limitations exist and are also public. Yet, the minister keeps pouring money onto the project.

* All the three anti-missiles weapons are very expensive; countering an attack of fifty thousand missiles is economically impossible. An Iron Dome final price is expected to be anywhere between forty to a hundred thousand dollars per unit. A Qassam is prepared for less than a hundred dollars. Even if the Iron Dome has a 100% success rate, it may turn out being a hundred percent hits against 0.1% of the fired missiles or less. A drop in the sea. Each interceptor costs vastly more than the low-tech Qassam rockets from Gaza and the multiple-launch rocket mortars from Southern Lebanon. In more mathematical terms, the price ratio interceptor/missile is high, thus it cannot provide a solution. Yet, the minister keeps pouring money onto the projects.

* Moreover, the firepower in interceptors may be enough to destroy sophisticated ballistic missile heads by the Arrow, but the Iron Dome may just create more polluting debris if hitting unsophisticated missiles containing just explosives or other simple, but dangerous, heads.

There are more similar points showing that this technology is of little relevance. Thus, why the massive efforts of Israel? First, the coin has two sides. If you develop an anti-missiles technology, you automatically gain the missiles technologies. If you can hit a missile in the air, you can hit also a far away and small target on the ground. But that’s not all, concentrating such big budgets (hundreds of millions of dollars for each system) allows easy ways of siphoning budgets to subcontractors and related industries. The core of the anti-missiles industry belongs to the state – RAFAEL – but its profitable margins are in private hands of contractors favored by the Ministry of Defense that get smaller related projects or just provide services to the industry. To put it in a funny way, the tea-maker in RAFAEL may be the old aunt of the Minister of Defense. I don’t remember having voted for that way of spending the taxpayers’ money.

So, how to solve the problem? This is another case clearly showing that political problems have only political solutions, to be negotiated between the sides in the conflict. Violence brings only violence. Obviously having the intellectual resources needed to develop anti-missiles weapons doesn’t imply you can understand the simple moral equation of the problem stated above. Israel doesn’t understand the moral side of the conflict, and probably that’s the result of most of its people rejecting God. Jesus reproached them on similar grounds two millennia ago. But then, Israel didn’t develop most of the technologies involved…

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