The failures of the Israel Defense Forces and the Defense Ministry in dealing with the threat posed by tunnels the Palestinians are excavating around the borders of the Gaza Strip - one of which served for abducting Gilad Shalit - are discussed in a hush-hush report the state comptroller submitted this week. The report is classified "Top Secret." The Knesset State Control Committee will decide which parts may be published. One can guess the document confirms media reports of the last two years about carelessness and blitheness in the security establishment at the decision-making professional levels.
What is true beneath the surface is also true above. The announced selection of a system for intercepting rockets is admission of an ongoing mistake in having refrained from this during the Katyusha and Qassam years.
In announcing the system, the prime minister and the defense minister skirmished over authority and honor. The announcement was couched in hopeful, forward-looking language. In fact, what it means is that for another two and half years - at the very least - the inhabitants of Sderot and Kiryat Shmona will be exposed to rockets.
If words had the power to destroy rockets, the steep-trajectory weapons of Hezbollah and Hamas would have been long gone. We had "Magic Wand" for the merest hint of the Qassam and "Iron Dome" and "Steel Curtain" - a wall of words that is impenetrable, on condition the enemy understands Hebrew. That's packaging, in the department of marketing and politics.
Inside, in the development department, the aspirations are more modest, because even when the systems are positioned on the ground and the air force has trained anti-aircraft battalions to operate them, the likelihood of interception is estimated at a bit better than 80 percent. One out of nearly every five rockets will still penetrate, a significant fact when rounds are launched; and the danger will increase if the warheads are carrying chemical or biological material.
The process of selecting the system involved three groups, coordinated by the head of the Research and Development Directorate (MAFAT) of the IDF and the Defense Ministry. The rocket, laser and operational research experts sorted all the proposals for ground-to-ground missile interception and first eliminated those intended for the localized protection of naval vessels, military bases or strategic installations, and which would not protect cities with an area of tens of square kilometers.
Two "test scenarios" were examined, a northern scenario and a southern one, on the assumption that in two years' time, the rockets from Gaza are liable to reach as far as Kiryat Gat and beyond Ashkelon.
In examining the operations of the systems, the timetables for development and equipping and the influence of weather, it was determined that in the laser versus missile competition, the missile wins, because a laser interceptor protecting a smaller area will require more systems and will be more expensive.
Yaakov Nagel, the head of the examining committee and the scientific deputy to the head of MAFAT, presented a system that was subsequently approved by the MAFAT chiefs, the director general of the Defense Ministry, Defense Minister Amir Peretz and Prime Minister Ehud Olmert. It combines the systems proposed by Rafael (as chief contractor) and Israel Aircraft Industries; it will cost about $300 million, but in shekels, in the absence of American aid, with the price of each missile between $30,000 and $40,000. It will position about a dozens systems in the North and half a dozen in the South.
This is good business news for Rafael, but in a conversation with Haaretz yesterday, former Rafael CEO Dr. Ze'ev Bonen tried to pour cold water on the enthusiasm. "The active defense against rockets is limited in its nature, and in the future as well it will not be possible to defend a front that is kilometers-wide like in Sderot and Kiryat Shmona," warned Bonen. "The most effective means of preventing firing is diplomatic. If a military means is necessary, the most effective means is offensive, the occupation of the launching strip. The system that will be developed will, years from now, give good, not absolute, protection to the inner part of the country but not to the front strip, which is the focus of the launches and which the enemy seeks to exhaust so as to send its inhabitants fleeing."
Under the screen of words, the rockets will continue to fall, and the tunnels will still be dug.
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