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Scuds in Lebanon: Israel’s Déjà Vu, Again and Again

Israel must ignore the international minimizing of the threat. Iraqi Scuds and Egyptian anti-aircraft missiles were once minimized, too.

by
Lenny Ben-David

Bio

April 30, 2010 - 12:00 am
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Sitting on my desk is a mangled chunk of steel, a large piece of shrapnel from a Scud missile that hit a Tel Aviv community center in 1991. It serves to remind me of the terror of the Gulf War, when Saddam Hussein fired 39 long-range Scuds at the Tel Aviv and Haifa regions over a six-week period.

Earlier this month, Arab, American, and Israeli sources all confirmed that Syria transferred Scud missiles to Hizbullah forces in Lebanon. Immediately, several commentators and analysts minimized the Scuds’ dangers. From Time:

Scuds can be easily tracked and destroyed by the Israeli air force before launching.

The Los Angeles Times editorialized:

[The] large 1950s-era missiles are inaccurate, and Israel has the capacity to intercept them.

The Kuwaiti paper Al-Rai reported:

Hizbullah sources confirmed Thursday that the terror group received a shipment of Scud missiles from Syria. … The missiles were claimed to be old and unusable.

American officials hemmed and hawed: maybe the Syrians just “intended” to provide them … perhaps the missiles weren’t “delivered in full” yet.

Déjà vu

The media apparently has long-term memory loss and is incapable of remembering the 1991 Gulf War Scuds crashing down on Israel. But what excuse is there to forget the barrages of Hamas’ Kassam and Katyusha rockets that set off the 2009 Gaza conflagration?

Over a period of eight years, analysts and reporters described the thousands of Kassam rockets fired at Israeli civilians as primitive, inaccurate, homemade, and relatively harmless. They minimized the threats to Israeli citizens, as Jewish children in their playgrounds scurried to bomb shelters or families cowered in “safe rooms” while Kassams — and later, the bigger Katyushas — crashed into their towns.

The “primitive” missiles killed and wounded Israelis.

When Israel’s army finally responded, Israel was condemned with unprecedented opprobrium by governments, the media, the UN, J Street Jews, the self-righteous left, and the bigoted.

A recommendation to Israel: Assume the Scuds are in place and in the hands of a terrorist organization. Take the threat seriously.

Déjà vu, again

Every adult Israeli remembers lugging gas masks everywhere during the 1991 Gulf War. Many sat in long lines of cars leaving Israel’s coastal towns in the late afternoon to ferry families to the relatively safer Jerusalem or Eilat areas. Hearing an ambulance siren today still triggers for many Israelis the memory of the dreaded air raid sirens, scurrying to shelters, and squeezing their smallest children into sealed plastic coops with purified air.

The Scud missiles were supposed to be inaccurate, but at least six hit residential areas in Israel, and their one ton explosive warheads left swaths of devastation. Thousands of homes and businesses were damaged. The lethality of the missile was seen in one case in Saudi Arabia, where a Scud killed 28 U.S. soldiers in Dhahran and wounded more than 100. Moreover, if the Hizbullah Scuds are the “D model” in Syria’s arsenal, then their accuracy is supposed to be pretty good — within 50 meters of the target.

But Scuds do not have to be accurate to be effective. They just need to explode.

They are terror weapons (may one use the word “terror” today?), intended to panic Israel’s civilian population and shut down Israel’s economy. And for several years now, American intelligence has been warning that “a portion” of the hundreds of Syria’s Scuds “may have chemical warheads.”

As Iran’s proxy on the Mediterranean, Hizbullah works closely with Syria and the Iranian Revolutionary Guard. Hizbullah caught the Israeli navy off-guard during the 2006 war, shooting a sophisticated Iranian-produced missile at an Israeli missile boat and killing four IDF sailors. Israeli defenders were also caught by surprise when Hizbullah unmanned aerial vehicles flew over northern Galilee. In any future combat, the Israeli air force may find itself flying through a thicket of sophisticated anti-aircraft missiles provided to Hizbullah by Iran, or covering Lebanon’s airspace while based within Syria’s adjacent territory.

Since the Gulf War, Israel developed the Arrow anti-missile system to intercept weapons such as the Scud or Iran’s more advanced Shehab missile, but a massive barrage of missiles could possibly overwhelm Israel’s defenses. The new Israeli “Iron Dome” system is supposed to block Katyusha missiles such as the ones Hamas and Hizbullah rained down on Israel, but it’s not battle-tested. The United States has provided a high-powered X-band radar station to provide early warning of long-range missile launches.

But who wants to rely on such defensive systems to shoot down missiles falling on your head? Israel must have the ability to preempt.

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