Monday, June 04, 2007

C-RAM or War?

According to Israel radio, for the first time after weeks of daily rocket attacks, not a single Qassam rocket was fired into Israel overnight Sunday and during morning hours Monday. However, according to the Haaretz daily newspaper, three mortar shells and a Qassam rocket fired from the Gaza Strip landed in open areas in the western Negev on Monday. There were no reports of casualties or damage.

Israel radio also reported that earlier Monday, the Israel Defense Forces sent ground troops and more than 15 tanks backed by helicopters into the Gaza Strip, pushing about a mile into Palestinian territory in what military sources called "defensive activity to negate threats," The operation reportedly focused on an area inside the Gaza border near the Sufa crossing in the southeastern Strip.

The troops took over houses in the area, searched them, and arrested a number of suspects, it said, adding that military bulldozers excavated areas used by gunmen as hiding spots.

The Jerusalem Post reported today that the British were implementing a successful anti-rocket device in Iraq that, according to the report, could effectively prevent Qassam rockets from landing in the beleaguered Negev town of Sderot.

Reportedly, Britain's Ministry of Defense has ordered the rapid-fire cannon called the C-RAM (Counter-Rocket, Artillery and Mortar), originally designed to defend navy ships from missiles. The system reportedly has a 70 percent to 80 percent success rate in intercepting incoming shells and rockets. The 20mm cannon is controlled by radar that detects and locks in on incoming enemy projectiles.

The C-RAM is manufactured by Raytheon and is already in use by the Americans to protect the Green Zone in Baghdad. According to military experts, four C-RAM systems - at a cost of $15 million a piece - could effectively defend the town of Sderot from Qassam rockets.

"It is a system that has proven to be quite successful," said Uzi Rubin, missile expert and former director of the Defence Ministry’s Homa Missile Defense Agency. "It disturbs me that nothing was done for years to locate and procure or develop a system that works."
Israel’s Ministry of Defense however, has refused to order the C-RAM , which theoretically at least could protect Sderot, hit by hundreds of Qassam rockets over the past three weeks. Israel's Defense Ministry said it is investing its resources in the "Iron Dome" - an antirocket missile system under development by the Israeli Rafael Armament Development Authority. The “Iron Dome” is not expected to be operational until 2011.
Sources in the Defense Ministry said the C-RAM system was checked by its Research & Development Directorate (MAFAT) and was found to be unsuitable for Sderot. While recognizing the C-Ram's relatively high success rate, defense officials told the Post the system could only protect isolated areas of several hundred square meters.
One pundit speculated that a wealthy supporter of Israel might put his or her money to good use by donating a unit. Should the UJC decide to have an emergency campaign to protect Sderot, each Jewish community in America might be able to donate a unit, or part of one. Tie in Keren Hayesod and the Jewish communities outside the USA, like Canada, Britain, Argentina, Brazil, and others, and it’s possible that Sderot residents might be able to sleep peacefully again.

Another pundit speculated on the cost of a unit compared to the cost of mounting a military campaign to stop the Qassam rockets from continuing to rain down on the Negev. A military invasion of Gaza would cost hundreds of millions of shekels, perhaps billions, as the ill-rated War in Lebanon II did. Effective costs could be saved using this system, not to mention eliminating of risk to the lives of young Israelis soldiers who would have to fight their way through Gaza looking for illusive Qassam factories, launch sites, and terrorists.

Should the efficacy of Qassams, and perhaps even Scuds from Hezbollah, be eliminated, the requisite need to neutralize them would also evaporate.. Add to the equation Syria’s threat to invade Israel from the north should Israel invade Gaza, and mix in Hezbollah’s reaction to such an invasion, and the price of each C-RAM unit starts to sound like shopping at WalMart.

However, as seen by the last War in Lebanon, many Israelis are suspicious that the Ministry of Defense has lost its edge. The debacle in Lebanon, they say, proves this. Reorganization of the army is underway, but doubts remain that the decision makers who have sat so long in the various Defense Ministry offices are still there, like Jabba the Hutt, the unsightly blob of Star Wars fame who controlled much of went on in the galaxy’s underworld.

Perhaps the contracts with the Israeli companies who supply the military have become so sweet, with the crumbs falling into the mouths of anyone near them, that security has taken a backseat to commerce. Or perhaps its just simply hubris; the patriotic belief that the Israeli companies can do the job, and there’s no need for outside sources.

Raytheon, it must be remembered, also made the famous “Patriot” anti-missile system, which was the only system that even came close to protecting Israel when Saddam Hussein sent his Scuds hurling into Tel Aviv and Ramat Gan back in 1991.

The Patriot wasn’t much, but it was all Israel had. Now the Arrow system, developed by Israel and the USA, is supposedly capable of doing the same job as the Patriot, but much much better. Hopefully, that system will nevr be put to the test.

Meanwhile the residents of Sderot are under attack. The Israeli army is making small moves into Gaza, the stakes are being raised.

The current struggle for the leadership of the Labor party will influence the way the missile threat is handled. Former PM Ehud Barak, who was also a former Minister of Defense, and a former Chief of Staff, is the front runner for the head of the Labor Party. His chief opponent, in this upcoming second round of voting, is former admiral Ami Ayalon, once head of the Shin Bet, Israel’s FBI.

Israelis are thirsty for a man with military experience to run the country after the failure of the technocrats during the last war. However, both Ayalon and Barak were part of the culture that led to the debacle in Lebanon. Barak pulled out unilaterally from Lebanon. According to many analysts this one-sided withdrawal without a quid pro by Hezbollah or the Lebanese government only encouraged Israel’s enemies, including Hamas, Hezbollah, Syria and even Iran, to entertain the notion that Israel could be pressured into concessions, and even defeated in battle.

Barak was also rumored to be part of the “newthink” that espoused cutbacks in Israel’s military capability, since the Middle East was on the verge of peace, with no substantive enemies. Since his defeat in his last bid as Prime Minister, when Benjamin “Bibi” Netanyahu sent him into political retirement, Barak has reportedly made a small fortune representing various American and Israeli business entities. Labor party loyalists find this streak of capitalism a stain on Barak’s socialist credentials, since the Labor party is ostensibly the repository of Israel’s moderate socialist thought.

Ami Ayalon was also part of the military, and then the Shin Bet. His political philosophy was also peace oriented. At one point he teamed up with Palestinian professor Sari Nusseibeh, scion of a famous aristocratic Palestinian family, in starting dialogue between the two sides. Many observers saw this move as utopian wishful thinking. However, Ayalon is a new face in the upper echelons of Labor Party leadership, and many are willing to give him a chance.

Still, faced with the threat of Iran’s bombastic leader’s constant claim that he’s going to wipe Israel off the map; with Syria threatening War, or Peace talks, depending on which day it is; with Hezbollah reportedly readying for another strike, with Syrian assistance, this summer, and with Hamas ignoring any entreaties for peace, Israel seems to be in dire need of an experienced military leader to face what appears to be an imminent existential threat..

Prime Minister Ehud Olmert has said that Israel emerged victorious from the last War in Lebanon. All those military men, the Generals and Colonels who resigned after the war saying they’d failed, and lost, apparently disagreed with him. Olmert’s right-wing rival Netanyahu is the only other candidate on the horizon, besides Ayalon and Barak.

All but Ayalon have served as Prime Minister. None distinguished themselves with anything approaching success or wisdom. Given the alternatives, it seems just buying the cheap C-RAM anti-rocket system is a good choice, especially if it keeps the lid on Gaza, Lebanon and Syria, by denying Israel’s enemies an excuse to start another war: a war that Israel appears unprepared to fight, due to obdurate military strategies, and poor leadership.