Friday, February 05, 2010

What Were They Thinking?

A recent announcement by Israel’s Ministry of Defense sent the residents of the beleaguered Southern Israeli town of Sderot scurrying to their phones to call the media, and
whomever else they could, to muster support for an initiative to change the Ministry’s mind over the decision not to implement an anti-missile system for the small towns along Israel’s Southern and Northern borders.

At stake was the safety of the citizens of Sderot. The Ministry of Defense decided that the Iron Dome anti-missile system, recently tested successfully by Rafael Industries off the coast of Israel, would be stored at an airforce base in the South of Israel.

The media pointed out that Minister of Defense Ehud Barak, and others in the Ministry’s R&D division, championed the Iron Dome system as a solution to the problems of Sderot’s residents. The Iron Dome, Barak claimed, was going protect the citizens of Sderot from mortars and short-range Katyusha rockets.

Now the Ministry says that the Iron Dome takes nearly 30-seconds to go on-line, about twenty-seconds longer than it takes a rocket to fly the two or three kilometers from Gaza into Sderot. The Ministry also said that the Iron Dome was more effective with larger rockets, like the Iranian made Fajr 5, with a range of 75 kilometers.

Clearly the Iron Dome is a system that is needed to defend Israel’s industrial heartland and major population center around Tel Aviv against Hamas in the South and Hezbollah in the North. In fact, no Iron Dome batteries are planned for deployment in the North at this time, according to the Ministry.

Military correspondent Yossie Melman, writing in Haaretz this week, said that the Iron Dome system was never designed to protect the Northern settlements nor those in the South. Rather it was a nod to Rafael, one of Israel’s major defense contractors, who lost out in the development of the Arrow anti-missile system, designed to protect Israel from long-range rockets flying out of countries like Syria and Iran.

According to Melman the anti-missile Gattling gun and the Nautilus laser canon system, would have been much more effective to defend Sderot, or Kyriat Shmona. Back when these systems were being tested experts claimed that the Ministry of Defense was concerned that should either the Gattling gun or Nautilus alternatives be chosen then the Iron Dome would be put on a back burner. The indications are that the Iron Dome was shoved through under false pretenses in order to throw Rafael work, and not directly for security reasons.

One pundit defended the Ministry’s actions arguing that companies like Rafael must be kept in business because they provide a vital role in developing and manufacturing systems used to defend Israel. The consolation prize of the Iron Dome would insure Rafael’s profitability since each Iron Dome battery will cost the government over $50 million, and dozens of the batteries are needed to protect the country, and form a real Iron Dome. The total cost is now estimated at over $1 billion. One analyst pointed out that estimated budgets are usually thirty-percent below the final cost.

An observer of the defense industries pointed out that if this was a bone tossed to Rafael, he’d hate to see what happened when they tossed them a real consolation prize.

The residents of Sderot have begun a campaign to change the Ministry’s mind, and have the Iron Dome deployed in Sderot rather than warehoused in an airforce base even though sources pointed out to these residents that anyway the Iron Dome wouldn’t be able to protect them, since the system was too slow to stop short-range rockets.

Will the Ministry of Defense now turn to the Gattling gun or Nautilus solution? Pundits speculate that depends on how much pressure Sderot can put on the government.

As for Syria, recently the Syrian Foreign Minister accused Israel of dragging Syria into a new war that would encompass the entire Middle East. Israel’s Foreign Minister Avigdor Leiberman responded that should Syria attack Israel, Syria would be defeated and a new regime would then take over power in Syria.

Both Israel’s PM Benjamin ‘Bibi’ Netanyahu and Israel’s Minister of Defense Ehud Barak have tried to downplay Leiberman’s threats. Most analysts believe that neither Syria nor Israel are preparing for nor want a war, rather that Syria is blowing off steam. Israel’s Foreign Minister, say these analysts, is talking tough for no good reason other than that’s who he is.

Avigdor Leiberman is still under investigation by the Israel police for a variety of charges, most involved in money laundering of one type or another. The police have been investigating Leiberman for over a decade, and no indictment has ever been issued. Leiberman has called on the government to stop the investigation, saying that a decade is long enough to be harassed by the police.

A few analysts say that the investigation is used primarily to keep Leiberman in line, with the threat of an indictment over his head in case he goes too far in a direction the ‘powers that be’ find offensive. No proof has been given to this cynical observation, other than the fact that the investigation continues with no indictment.

Gilad Shalit is still a captive in Gaza, facing his fourth year of imprisonment. Observers say that as ususal, whenever Hamas feels they’re not getting attention they trot out Shalit and offer to renew negotiations. This policy, observers say, is the same one that PLO founder Yassir Arafat used for decades to keep the ‘Palestinian Issue’ on the front burner of the world’s consciousness. Pundits say that Hamas realizes the tactic worked wonderfully for Arafat, so why not for them. So far, say these pundits, Hamas is correct.

Analysts wonder why the Palestinian issue has such great appeal around the world, when so many other burning problems exist?

Hezbollah, the Shiite terrorist organization in Lebanon, is now a part of the Lebanese political establishment. Recently the UN caught Hezbollah with tons of weapons stockpiled in S. Lebanon. Israel used this discovered to claim that Hezbollah is preparing another war with Israel. Hezbollah claims it is Israel preparing for the war. One observer states that Hezbollah has vowed to eliminate Israel, as have both Hamas and Iran. Israel, says the analyst, has never vowed to eliminate any of these forces. So why, the analyst asked, is Israel seen as the aggressor?

Given that Israel is facing long-range threats from Iran, and medium range rockets from Hezbollah and Hamas, it is clear why the Iron Dome is needed. But one pundit asked why Sderot and the border towns in the North should be exposed to danger, using only the early warning system of sirens and bomb shelters, for their safety? What were the defense officials thinking, asks this pundit, when these small communities were ignored?