Missile Defense Systems Won't Protect Israel

Preparing for missile and rocket threat via defensive systems is utterly ineffective - even supporters of these systems do not claim that after firing its first 200 weapons at Israel, the enemy will desist from using its abundant remaining supply of rockets and missiles.

At a recent meeting of the Knesset's Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee, the outgoing Military Intelligence chief, Maj. Gen. Amos Yadlin, warned that "the future cannot be forecast on the basis of what happened in Operation Cast Lead or the Second Lebanon War. [Future wars] will be much bigger, much wider and with many more casualties."

Just how bad things will be, in his view, can nevertheless be estimated by looking at the past. During the Second Lebanon War, more than 4,000 rockets were fired at Israel's home front, while during Operation Cast Lead in Gaza, Palestinians fired 600 rockets at targets in Israel.

A few days later, Uzi Rubin, one of Israel's leading authorities on missiles, claimed that there are currently 1,500 rockets and missiles in Lebanon, Syria, Iran and the Gaza Strip that threaten Tel Aviv. Thousands of other rockets and missiles are aimed at other targets in Israel.

Yadlin and Rubin are, of course, correct about the potential threat posed to Israel. Hezbollah has more than 50,000 rockets of various kinds; some have a range long enough to reach the Negev. Hamas, for its part, has thousands of rockets, some with a range of dozens of kilometers, while Syria has thousands of ballistic missiles and tens of thousands of rockets. In other words, every spot on the map of Israel is in range of thousands of rockets and missiles.

What the two men did not say explicitly, but was nevertheless implicit in their statements, is a worrisome fact: Israel is investing billions of dollars in the development of defensive systems that will not be effective in a crisis and formulating an erroneous strategy for dealing with the ballistic missile/rocket threat.

The defense establishment is engaged in ambitious, expensive projects to develop defensive systems against ballistic missiles (the Arrow ) and rockets (Iron Dome, Magic Wand ). Without going into the professional dispute over the efficacy of these systems, it is clear that they are incapable of providing an effective solution should the Yadlin-Rubin scenario materialize.

Budgetary limitations will obviously prevent the procurement of tens of thousands of defensive missiles. In the best case, defense officials talk about hundreds of such missiles. Thus even if these systems prove effective (and there is no guarantee of that ), they can provide a defense against only a small portion of the rockets and missiles that would be fired at Israel during a war.

One Arrow missile costs about $3 million. An Iron Dome missile costs $100,000, and a Magic Wand missile will cost about $1 million. These costs prohibit large-scale procurement of such missiles.

Those who defend the continued development and procurement of these defensive systems argue that they are designed to prevent the first 200 or 300 rockets and missiles launched from hitting Israel. This contention merely underscores the fact that these systems are superfluous and that the enormous investment in them is a waste. For even Rubin and Yadlin, who support developing and purchasing the systems, predict that thousands of missiles and rockets will be fired at Israel in the next war.

Should that happen, Israel's arsenal of defensive missiles will be depleted after just one day of fighting and the home front will again be vulnerable. After all, even supporters of these systems do not claim that after firing its first 200 weapons at Israel, the enemy will desist from using its abundant remaining supply of rockets and missiles.

The conclusion is clear: Preparing for the missile and rocket threat via these defensive systems is utterly ineffective. The policy is a mistake that will not solve the problem of high-trajectory weapons. The Israel Defense Forces must formulate a different plan and stop investing huge sums in systems that conjure the illusion of a protected home front.