What to Do Against Thousands of Rockets?

The IDF will only be able to buy a limited quantity of anti-missile systems, unless it opts to devote its entire budget to the purchase of defensive missiles.

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The bad news is that according to the latest defense establishment assessment, if a war erupts in the north 3,000-4,000 rockets, many of them capable of reaching greater Tel Aviv, will be launched at Israel from Lebanon daily. The worse news is that the IDF has no defensive solution for so many rockets.

So what can be done? The IDF’s plans for such a scenario call for a conquest of southern Lebanon, the area that is home to 80 percent of Hezbollah’s fighters. Such an operation would take about a week, during which the rocket barrages on the Israeli home front would be somewhat reduced. It would take three weeks for the IDF to finish “cleansing” southern Lebanese territory of rocket launchers. Since 2006, Hezbollah has built a series of underground bunkers that cannot be hit from the air.

The opening move of the Second Lebanon War included precision bombardment and the destruction of a large portion of Hezbollah’s long-range rockets. In the next war the Israel Air Force won’t be able repeat this, since Hezbollah, having learned the lesson of 2006, has scattered its long-range rockets in 200 different towns and villages, some in central or northern Lebanon, far from the south. In each village, Hezbollah personnel seized at least 50 buildings, appropriated one or two floors of each and installed the rockets there. So even when the IDF has precise intelligence about the weapons’ locations, Israel will face a very difficult dilemma: Bomb hundreds of buildings filled with civilians in order to destroy the rockets?

The short-range rockets have been dispersed throughout southern Lebanon. The tens of thousands of such launchers cannot be destroyed from the air either. Altogether, Hezbollah has about 70,000 rockets, an arsenal that gives the organization the ability to maintain a high firing rate over a long period of time. And bear in mind that in the Second Lebanon War, Hezbollah kept firing rockets for a month.

These statistics call into question the defense establishment’s current policy for defense against rocket launches. In addition to the Iron Dome system, the armaments producer RAFAEL is currently developing the Magic Wand anti-missile system, also known as David's Sling, meant to intercept rockets with a slightly longer range than those the Iron Dome can intercept. The problem is the cost: A single Magic Wand missile can cost as much as 3.5 million shekels (about $1 million). At that price, the IDF will only be able to buy a limited quantity of missiles, unless it opts to devote its entire budget to the purchase of defensive missiles. Even if Magic Wand turns out to be highly effective, given the expected rate of Hezbollah rocket fire, the supply of these defensive missiles could be depleted in just a day or two of fighting.

The same goes for Iron Dome. Each missile for this system costs about 350,000 shekels. The number of Iron Dome missiles purchased by the IDF is classified information, but it must be a fairly limited number. Deploying Iron Dome systems in the north will add a certain amount of interception capability, but here too the missile supply will likely be quickly depleted.

And all of the above applies if the next war erupts once the Magic Wand system is fully developed, and adopted and deployed by the air force. But what happens if war breaks out before that?

The good news is that Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah, who has a major contingent of his elite fighters involved in combat in Syria, isn’t interested in war and escalation with Israel right now. Let’s hope he doesn’t change his mind.

The 'Magic Wand' system, also known as "David's Sling," is designed to intercept mid-range missiles. The problem is that each missile costs 3.5 million shekels.Credit: Courtesy