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The war in Lebanon exposed Israel's home front to thousands of rocket strikes. Now, the public is demanding an immediate counter to this threat.

Defense Minister Amir Peretz believes the rocket threat is "strategic." However, experts are divided over the nature of the threat and the availability and efficiency of the various technological solutions.

On Sunday it was decided that the Defense Ministry's director general, Major General (ret.) Gabi Ashkenazi, would head the effort to find "an operational counter to the short- and mid-range rocket threat." With the assistance of experts, Ashkenazi will have to recommend whether Israel should procure a laser gun (Nautilus/Sky Guard), or push ahead with one of the anti-missile missile initiatives that are in the feasibility study stages.

He will also have to decide what kind of budget to allot to the project.

These are difficult decisions to make, involving hundreds of millions of dollars, at a time when defense funding is short and the lessons of the Lebanon war are many. The IDF must prepare for a possible confrontation with Iran, which is moving closer to producing nuclear arms, and perhaps even with Syria. The various branches are rushing to take advantage of the situation and are placing their demands for slices of the defense budget.

"The defense establishment is a bureaucracy," said Dr. Oded Amichai, a former senior scientist at Rafael and an enthusiastic supporter of the laser gun. Dr. Amichai believes Israel could have already deployed one system to counter the Qassam rocket attacks in the Negev.

Another former Rafael scientist, who asked to remain anonymous, said the Barak anti-missile missile, which is used to defend warships and has been sold to a number of navies around the world, could offer a similar counter to the short- and mid-range (200 kilometer) missile threat. He says 20 years ago this idea was floated with the defense leadership, but was rejected.

Uzi Rubin, who headed the Arrow anti-ballistic missile project until 1999, again raised the idea of using the Barak two years ago. His proposal was rejected, probably because the defense establishment felt the system was antiquated. Had the proposal been accepted, it is possible that some of the strategic sites in the North would have been protected.

One conclusion is that at the defense establishment, "they love slides and presentations, but not the hardware." In other words, the R&D officials prefer "new toys over existing systems, proven and efficient," a retired senior defense official said.

Another problem is the tight link between the Defense Ministry, which is supposed to represent the best interests of the public, and the defense industries.

System control is another issue. Therefore to date, the artillery corps has no effective anti-missile missile system, which the air force guards with religious fervor.

While public pressure is likely to act as a catalyst for a quick decision, it should not be forgotten that in the end, no system will be able to provide a hermetic seal against the missile threat. This is a technological cat-and- mouse game, in which for every solution a counter will be developed, either in qualitative or quantitative form.

Israel will have to improve its intelligence capabilities in order to provide the air force and special forces with the necessary information. At the same time, it should not be forgotten that the old and tested form of providing protection for the population, the bomb shelter, should not be overlooked.