FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

Israel Shields Public from Risks of War with Iran

Tel Aviv

The government of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has been telling Israelis that Israel can attack Iran with minimal civilian Israeli casualties as a result of retaliation, and that reassuring message appears to have headed off any widespread Israeli fear of war with Iran and other adversaries.

But the message that Iran is too weak to threaten an effective counterattack is contradicted by one of Israel’s leading experts on Iranian missiles and the head of its missile defense program for nearly a decade, who says Iranian missiles are capable of doing significant damage to Israeli targets.

The Israeli population has shown little serious anxiety about the possibility of war with Iran, in large part because they have not been told that it involves a risk of Iranian missiles destroying Israeli neighborhoods and key economic and administrative targets.

“People are not losing sleep over this,” Yossi Alpher, a consultant and writer on strategic issues and former director of the Jaffee Center for Strategic Studies at Tel Aviv University, told IPS in an interview. “This is not a preoccupation of the public the way the suicide bombers were a decade ago.”

Alpher says one reason for the widespread lack of urgency about a possible war with Iran is that the scenarios involving such a war are “so nebulous in the eyes of the public that it’s difficult for them to focus on it”.

Aluf Benn, the editor in chief of Haaretz, told me in an interview, “There is no war mentality,” although he added, “that could change overnight.” One reason for the relative public calm about the issue, he suggested, is the official view that Iran’s ability to retaliate is “very limited”.

Jeffrey Goldberg wrote in Bloomberg Mar. 20 that “Some Israel officials believe Iran’s leaders might choose to play down the insult of a raid and launch a handful of rockets at Tel Aviv as an angry gesture rather than declare all-out war.”

But Uzi Rubin, who was in charge of Israel’s missile defense from 1991 to 1999 and presided over the development of the Arrow anti- missile system, has a much more somber view of Iran’s capabilities.

The “bad news” for Israel, Rubin told IPS in an interview, is that the primary factor affecting Iran’s capability to retaliate is the rapidly declining cost of increased precision in ballistic missiles. Within a very short time, Iran has already improved the accuracy of its missiles from a few kilometers from the target to just a few meters, according to Rubin.

That improvement would give Iran the ability to hit key Israeli economic infrastructure and administrative targets, he said. “I’m asking my military friends how they feel about waging war without electricity,” said Rubin.

The consequences of Iranian missile strikes on administrative targets could be even more serious, Rubin believes. “If the civilian government collapses,” he said, “the military will find it difficult to wage a war.”

Rubin is even worried that if the accuracy of Iranian missiles improves further, which he believes is “bound to happen”, Iran will be able to carry out pinpoint attacks on Israel’s air bases, which are concentrated in just a few places.

Some Israeli analysts have suggested that Israel could hit Iranian missiles in a preemptive strike, but Rubin said Israel can no longer count on being able to hit Iranian missiles before they are launched.

Iran’s longer-range missiles have always been displayed on mobile transporter erector launchers (TELs), as Rubin pointed out in an article in Arms Control Today earlier this year. “The message was clear,” Rubin wrote. “Iran’s missile force is fully mobile, hence, not pre-emptable.”

Rubin, who has argued for more resources to be devoted to the Arrow anti-missile system, acknowledged that it can only limit the number of missiles that get through. In an e-mail to me, he cited the Arrow system’s record of more than 80 percent success in various tests over the years, but also noted that such a record “does not assure an identical success rate in real combat”.

The United States and Israel began in 2009 developing a new version of the Arrow missile defense system called “Reshef” – “Flash” – or “Arrow 3”, aimed at intercepting Iranian missiles above the atmosphere and farther away from Israeli territory than the earlier version of the Arrow. The new anti-missile system can supposedly alter the trajectory of the defensive missile and distinguish decoys from real missile reentry vehicles.

Until last November, the Arrow 3 system was not expected to become operational until 2015. And that plan was regarded by U.S. Missile Defense Agency (MDA) as probably too ambitious, because such a system would normally take a decade from conception to deployment.

But Xinhua news agency reported in November that Israeli Air Force officials said they expected Arrow 3 to become operational by mid- 2013, cutting even that abbreviated timeline for development of the system in half.

Nevertheless, the ability of the Arrow 3 system to shoot down an incoming missile still has not been announced, although an Israeli official said Mar. 1 that such a test would take place after the meeting between President Barack Obama and Prime Minister Netanyahu.

In December 2008, Western intelligence sources were reported by Israel’s Ynet News as saying the improved version of the Shahab 3 missile had gone into production earlier that year and that Iran was believed to be able to produce 75 of the improved missiles annually.

Gen. Gabi Ashkenazi, then IDF chief of staff, told a visiting Congressional delegation in November 2009 that Iran already had 300 missiles capable of hitting Israeli targets, according to a U.S. State Department cable released by WikiLeaks.

Those reports suggest that Iran now has roughly 450 missiles that can reach Israel, half of which are improved models with much greater precision. Even if only one-fifth of those missiles get through Israel’s missile defenses, Israeli cities could be hit by at least 100, most of which are able to hit targets with relative accuracy.

The Netanyahu government has sought to minimize the threat of Iranian retaliation for an Israeli strike against Iran in part by likening war with Iran to those fought against Hezbollah and Palestinian rockets in recent years, which have resulted in relatively few Israeli civilian casualties.

That was the message that Israeli military officials conveyed to the Israeli news media after an escalation of violence between the IDF and Palestinian armed groups in Gaza earlier this month.

Columnist Zvi Barel of Haaretz speculated on Mar. 11 that the purpose of the escalation, provoked by the IDF assassination of Zuhair al- Qaisi, the secretary general of the Popular Resistance Committee in Gaza, was to show the Israeli public that Israeli missile defense system could protect the population against rockets that the IDF linked to Iran.

Barel went even further. “After Iron Dome demonstrated its 95 percent effectiveness,” he wrote, “there is no better proof to Israel’s citizens that they will not suffer serious damage following an assault on Iran.”

The success of the Iron Dome against short-range rockets from Gaza is irrelevant, however, to what could be expected from a relatively untested Arrow system against Iranian ballistic missiles aimed at Israeli targets.

GARETH PORTER is an investigative historian and journalist with Inter-Press Service specialising in U.S. national security policy. The paperback edition of his latest book, “Perils of Dominance: Imbalance of Power and the Road to War in Vietnam“, was published in 2006.

 

More articles by:

Gareth Porter is an independent investigative journalist and winner of the 2012 Gellhorn Prize for journalism. He is the author of the newly published Manufactured Crisis: The Untold Story of the Iran Nuclear Scare.

Weekend Edition
June 22, 2018
Friday - Sunday
Karl Grossman
Star Wars Redux: Trump’s Space Force
Andrew Levine
Strange Bedfellows
Jeffrey St. Clair
Intolerable Opinions in an Intolerant Time
Paul Street
None of Us are Free, One of Us is Chained
Edward Curtin
Slow Suicide and the Abandonment of the World
Celina Stien-della Croce
The ‘Soft Coup’ and the Attack on the Brazilian People 
James Bovard
Pro-War Media Deserve Slamming, Not Sainthood
Louisa Willcox
My Friend Margot Kidder: Sharing a Love of Dogs, the Wild, and Speaking Truth to Power
David Rosen
Trump’s War on Sex
Mir Alikhan
Trump, North Korea, and the Death of IR Theory
Christopher Jones
Neoliberalism, Pipelines, and Canadian Political Economy
Barbara Nimri Aziz
Why is Tariq Ramadan Imprisoned?
Robert Fantina
MAGA, Trump Style
Linn Washington Jr.
Justice System Abuses Mothers with No Apologies
Martha Rosenberg
Questions About a Popular Antibiotic Class
Ida Audeh
A Watershed Moment in Palestinian History: Interview with Jamal Juma’
Edward Hunt
The Afghan War is Killing More People Than Ever
Geoff Dutton
Electrocuting Oral Tradition
Don Fitz
When Cuban Polyclinics Were Born
Ramzy Baroud
End the Wars to Halt the Refugee Crisis
Ralph Nader
The Unsurpassed Power trip by an Insuperable Control Freak
Lara Merling
The Pain of Puerto Ricans is a Profit Source for Creditors
James Jordan
Struggle and Defiance at Colombia’s Feast of Pestilence
Tamara Pearson
Indifference to a Hellish World
Kathy Kelly
Hungering for Nuclear Disarmament
Jessicah Pierre
Celebrating the End of Slavery, With One Big Asterisk
Rohullah Naderi
The Ever-Shrinking Space for Hazara Ethnic Group
Binoy Kampmark
Leaving the UN Human Rights Council
Nomi Prins 
How Trump’s Trade Wars Could Lead to a Great Depression
Robert Fisk
Can Former Lebanese MP Mustafa Alloush Turn Even the Coldest of Middle Eastern Sceptics into an Optimist?
Franklin Lamb
Could “Tough Love” Salvage Lebanon?
George Ochenski
Why Wild Horse Island is Still Wild
Ann Garrison
Nikki Haley: Damn the UNHRC and the Rest of You Too
Jonah Raskin
What’s Hippie Food? A Culinary Quest for the Real Deal
Raouf Halaby
Give It Up, Ya Mahmoud
Brian Wakamo
We Subsidize the Wrong Kind of Agriculture
Patrick Higgins
Children in Cages Create Glimmers of the Moral Reserve
Patrick Bobilin
What Does Optimism Look Like Now?
Don Qaswa
A Reduction of Economic Warfare and Bombing Might Help 
Robin Carver
Why We Still Need Pride Parades
Jill Richardson
Immigrant Kids are Suffering From Trauma That Will Last for Years
Thomas Mountain
USA’s “Soft” Coup in Ethiopia?
Jim Hightower
Big Oil’s Man in Foreign Policy
Louis Proyect
Civilization and Its Absence
David Yearsley
Midsummer Music Even the Nazis Couldn’t Stamp Out
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail