No Way to Intercept Rockets

The defense systems' efficiency is questionable, and development prevents the acquisition of cheaper, more suitable substitutes.

Anyone who has followed the defense establishment's decision-making process over the past eight years concerning the development of a missile defense system against rockets launched from Gaza cannot help but wonder how the Israel Defense Forces and the Administration for the Development of Weapons (ADW) have managed to make such poor and misguided decisions.

For instance, their decision to develop two weapons defense systems (the Iron Dome and Magic Wand) both based on the principle of intercepting rockets with guided missiles is so professionally unsound that it is unclear how they were given the go-ahead by people who are supposed to be the world's biggest experts in the field.

The state comptroller has confirmed our suspicions and fears, and determined that incorrect and unprofessional decisions have been made, decisions that probably won't even produce the required defense systems.

The state comptroller's report issued on Monday by the comptroller stated that, "flaws [in the programs] may lead to the development and stockpiling of systems that don't fully answer the operative needs and may lead to unnecessary spending and time wasted."

The comptroller's findings have been well-known for some time, but the public's silence and lawmakers' preference not to tackle the issue allowed the defense establishment to continue to waste billions of shekels on two high-cost defense systems. The systems' efficiency is questionable, and development prevents the acquisition of cheaper, more suitable substitutes.

The IDF has treated the rocket problem rather derisively. How else can one explain that after eight years of Qassam rocket fire the army has yet to define what it wants the weapons defense systems to do? The ADW has not even told manufacturers what kind of system it wants to develop.

But no one can stop the defense establishment. Even though the IDF did not say what its operative requirements were, the ADW decided to develop two systems and even contracted the Rafael arms manufacturer to start.

The decision to fund the Magic Wand system was not brought before the government for approval; the defense establishment itself authorized the expenditure of billions of dollars taken from the defense budget over many years.

Moreover, the ADW decided what Israel's policy concerning weapons defense systems would be, not the cabinet. No one has questioned the logic behind launching a missile whose production costs NIS 1 million to intercept a missile that costs a few hundred dollars to make. As though that weren't enough, the defense establishment is presenting data that at best can be said to be incorrect. Miraculously, the Iron Dome project's budget has skyrocketed by over 40 percent in the past eight months.

The defense establishment continues to refuse to purchase the Nautilus weapons defense system, which uses laser beams to intercept rockets and has been successfully tested in the U.S. Another system, the Phalanx, which the U.S. has successfully used in Iraq to shoot down rockets and mortar shells, has also been rejected even though the Israel Air Force wrote in January 2006 that the Phalanx was "the most prepared weapons defense systems among those inspected." The ADW's response as to why the system has not yet been brought to Israel was: "We're still gathering data on its performance."

Sadly, ministers and lawmakers will not use the comptroller's report to rein in the defense establishment, the ADW and the IDF. The defense establishment will continue to develop systems as it sees fit. The army's top brass and Defense Ministry bigwigs know they are immune from criticism and do not have to answer for their mistakes.