Doron Gavish
Brig. Gen. Doron Gavish at a defense conference, May 5, 2010. Photo by Nir Kafri
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The anti-missile systems currently operating in Israel do not provide the country with sufficient protection against surface to surface missiles and rockets, according to the chief of the Israel Air Force's air defense network.

Speaking at Israel's first international conference on the subject, Brig. Gen. Doron Gavish said the current systems could not provide the necessary defense because "of the massive deployment of weapons of this type in enemy countries and terror organizations."

The conference, which opened yesterday at Airport City near Lod, was attended by representatives from the defense establishment, military industries and European armed forces, as well as members of the U.S. Congress.

Security officials told Haaretz yesterday that the M-600 rockets in Hezbollah's possession worry the defense establishment more than the outmoded Scuds recently brought in from Syria.

The M-600s, which are manufactured on standard assembly lines in Syria, have a 300-kilometer range, can carry a warhead weighing up to half a ton (including unconventional warheads ) and because they are powered by solid fuel they can be prepared for launch quickly. Most worrisome is the fact that they are more precise than other weapons in the Hezbollah arsenal.

It is believed that Israel will only be able to effectively defend itself against rockets and missiles in 2014, after it completes development of the Magic Wand system to intercept mid-range missiles. Security officials said the Magic Wand will be able to intercept M-600s, as can the Arrow system, which is already operational. The Arrow can also intercept variants of Scud, Sejil and Shihab missiles. The Iron Dome system, which will be operational this summer, can intercept Katyushas and Qassams.

Israel will be working in the coming years to develop the third generation of the Arrow system, which can intercept missiles some distance from Israel's borders and before they enter the atmosphere.

Senior security officials said that if resources had been allocated in the past, these systems could have been developed years ago and "we would already be starting to talk about the Arrow 4."

Multi-layer defense

Gavish did not mention Hezbollah's new weapons in his address yesterday. However, the information he presented left no room for doubt about Israel's concerns over the tens of thousands of rockets and advanced missiles being acquired by Syria, Iran and Hezbollah. In a future war, these weapons could be aimed simultaneously at Israel.

"This constitutes a real challenge for us," Gavish said. "The configuration of threats we will have to deal with is large, complex and varied, and the response times we will have at our disposal will be very short. In the case of missiles, we will have to make decisions in minutes, and in the case of rockets - it's a matter of hours. In terms of war, this [gives us] no time, but we will know how to act wisely in choosing targets we will have to intercept."

Gavish said Israel aspired to a multi-layer defense against missiles, focusing on a common language between the intercept systems. Israel has greatly improved its early-warning systems since the first Gulf War, and quality intelligence has also been developed to enable strikes at launch sites, Gavish said.

He added that the Iron Dome, which in recent tests had successfully intercepted a barrage of more than 10 rockets fired simultaneously, would be ready for operational deployment this summer.

Maj. Gen. Ilan Biran called yesterday on the security establishment to push ahead in its development of the Magic Wand. "The day will come when our skies will become very crowded," he said. Even if the missiles he was referring to are conventional, their quantity, he explained, "will create a new kind of unconventional threat." Magic Wand, according to Biran, would "free up the air force for attack instead of defense."

The chairman of the board of Israel Military Industries, Brig. Gen. Avner Raz, yesterday called on the IDF not to make do with the multi-layer defense system, but to also reinforce structures at sensitive sites like army reserve call-up points, and to build up a system of precise rockets and missiles to strike at launch sites.