As defense minister, over 19 years ago, I called into my office the representatives of Israel’s defense industries who had mastered ballistic-missile technology and asked them to submit competitive bids for the supply of medium-range ballistic rockets for the Israel Defense Forces. Until then Israel’s response to the large arsenal of ballistic rockets deployed by Hezbollah in Lebanon had been the capability of Israeli aircraft to bomb targets in Lebanon. Bombers were Israel’s answer to rockets.
The use of rockets or the dropping of weapons from aircraft has been a subject of discussion among weapons engineers ever since Germany’s use of V2 ballistic rockets against London toward the end of World War II. Their advantage was that they could not be intercepted. The limited accuracy of ballistic rockets left them a weapon of choice only against large population targets.
Thus they were chosen by the United States and the Soviet Union during the Cold War for delivering atomic warheads against large population centers. And so it remained for many years. Weapons delivery by aircraft was the means chosen for precision attacks against point targets. President Ronald Reagan’s “Star Wars” initiative introduced an era of ballistic-missile interception development, eventually creating the possibility of intercepting ballistic rockets and missiles.
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But ballistic rocket technology also advanced over time. Based largely on German V2 rocket technology, the Soviet Union developed a series of ballistic rockets that became progressively cheaper and were quickly adopted by countries and terrorist organizations that lacked an advanced air force. Attacking population centers was their specialty. It was only a question of time before all of Israel’s population centers were threatened by Hezbollah’s arsenal of improved rockets deployed in Lebanon.
Nineteen years ago, as defense minister, I thought the IDF’s procurement of ballistic missiles would strengthen Israel’s ability to respond to the Hezbollah threat. My initiative was canceled by the defense minister who replaced me, and lay dormant for many years.
In the meantime, new technology made it easy and relatively cheap to adopt precision guidance to ballistic rockets, turning them into effective weapons against point targets. Now some of Hezbollah’s rocket arsenal is being turned into precision-guided ballistic missiles that can be used to attack point targets in Israel.
Israel was slow to respond to these developments. The air force continues to be charged with the mission of destroying enemy targets, even though there are major advantages to the use of precision-guided ballistic missiles for this mission. They can be launched from anywhere and do not require airfields and major infrastructure.
The launch point can be made mobile. Their response can be instant. In effect, in many cases it is easier and cheaper to attack enemy targets at a distance by ground-launched precision-guided missiles than by aircraft.
It was natural that there would be a tendency to retain this mission for the Israel Air Force. It is among the best air forces, equipped with the latest equipment and technology and has demonstrated unequaled capabilities. But the time has come.
The announcement that the IDF has placed a large order with Israel Military Industries for ground-launched ballistic missiles spells a major change in the IDF’s future tactics in dealing with enemy targets at a distance. The IDF has decided to keep up with technological change.