Ballistic Expert: Israel Ignoring Option of U.S. Anti-rocket System

IMI veteran Dr. Nathan Farber says Defense Min. disregarding his suggestions for ending Qassam fire.

Dr. Nathan Farber is a ballistic expert who has been persistently trying, to no avail, to present to the Defense Ministry what he sees as a possibly imminent solution to Qassam fire from Gaza.

Farber's suggestion is to deploy American artillery batteries called Phalanx around the Qassam-battered town of Sderot, to intercept the rockets fired by Palestinians.

The U.S. army has been successfully operating the system in Iraq, where it provides its bases with protection from rockets and mortar shells. Canada is also considering deploying it in Afghanistan.

Farber told Haaretz his suggestion should not be rejected out of hand. He said that the system could be tested with a budget of no more than $1 million, even in the "battlefield" itself, by deploying one or two Phalanx batteries near Sderot.

But for some reason the Defense Ministry maintains his suggestion is impracticable, although it has never been tested.

Farber is not an eccentric - his credentials include vast knowledge of and experience in shells and ballistics. He is an accredited aeronautical engineer, a lecturer at the Technion, Israel's Institute of Technology, and a veteran of the Israel Military Industries (IMI).

When his tenure as the IMI missile department's chief scientist ended, he worked as an advisor to the Israel Air Force and the American Missile Defense Administration. Previously, he had been an IAF anti-aircraft officer and later senior intelligence officer.

The Phalanx anti-aircraft artillery system, manufactured by the American Reytheon company, was initially developed for battleships.

A Phalanx battery includes four 20mm-wide shells and radar that tracks the missile, assesses its trajectory and intercepts it from a range of up to a 1.5 km.

Unlike any other system, Phalanx is capable of firing up to 6,000 shells per minute, which are twice as fast as a Qassam rocket (with a speed of more than a kilometer per second). As of today, the system is installed in some IDF battleships.

Farber claims that five batteries will adequately cover the western Negev, and will not cause environmental damage. "Because of their exceptionally high speed, the shells that don't hit Qassams will land in the sea," he said, "although the chances of a direct hit are high."

For years the security establishment has stymied any initiative to develop short- and medium-range missile interception systems, claiming they were wasteful and of questionable efficiency.

Even after the Second Lebanon War, during which the missile threat on Israel's home front materialized, the Defense Ministry remained resolute. An expert panel, headed by then Defense Ministry director general Gaby Ashkenazi (the incumbent Chief of Staff), was eventually set up, following pressure exerted by then defense minister Amir Peretz.

The panel decided to commission Rafael Arms Development Authority to develop two interception systems: Iron Dome, for short-range rockets (like Qassams and Katyushas) and Magic Wand for long-range missiles (up to 200 km), to be developed in conjunction with Reytheon.

A shadow of malpractice was cast on the decision to allocate a development budget of over NIS 1 billion to Rafael, as one of the panel members, Yedidya Yaari, was the former managing director of the authority.

The problem remains that Iron Dome will be operative within three years at the earliest.

"Why not deploy Phalanx batteries in the meanwhile, and protect the residents of Sderot?" asks Farber.

"It will be cheaper, no less efficient, and above all provide immediate protection. If it's good enough for the Americans in Iraq, why can't it be good for us?"

The Defense Ministry provided no definite answer as to why Farber's suggestion hasn't been considered.

A spokesman said that "while the development of Iron Dome is underway, the security establishment continues to consider other options, including the American LUWD system. So far, we haven't found a system that meets our demands, but we continue to look into newly developed as well as existing systems."

Former deputy defense minister Ephraim Sneh said that the Ashkenazi Commission considered every available option and made its decision on a "purely professional basis. The allegations that financial motives were at issue are malicious."