Belmont Club

Iron Dome

On April 7 the Israeli Iron Dome system intercepted the first of what would be several missiles fired from Gaza, less than 2 weeks after it was first deployed. “The system is designed to counter short-range rockets and 155mm artillery shells with a range of up to 70 kilometers.” The total number of missiles available to the attackers is much higher than the capacity of defensive ordnance. Some 36,000 rockets of various descriptions are available for launch at Israel, either from Gaza or Lebanon.

In the cables published today, Israeli intelligence officials tell their American diplomats they expect Hezbollah will launch between 24,000 to 36,000 rockets against it for over two months. That would be a big step up from the 2006 war which lasted 34 days and saw 4,000 rockets hit Israel. Israeli officials quoted in the cables also said that they expect the rocket fire to reach farther into Israel, saying that the terrorist group will target Tel Aviv, which wasn’t hit during the last round of fighting.

And they are bigger rockets too. The rockets being rained on southern Israel are no longer just the primitive Kassams, but Grads, of which 3 were fired from Gaza at Ashkelon. Normally fired in salvos from truck mounted arrays, the 122mm Grads used in Gaza are the Chinese models with much greater warhead sizes. They are modified to be fired from single tubes, thereby complicating counterbattery.

The defensive missiles are expensive, since they must be guided, able to “hit a bullet with a bullet”. Each defensive missile is estimated to cost $25,000. On other hand, Hezbollah and Hamas rockets are terror weapons whose accuracy only needs to be good enough to hit cities. Therefore they are dirt cheap. If Hezbollah and Hamas fire enough of them, they will saturate the defense.

Israel’s Iron Dome system probably operates on the principle of triage; it calculates the probable impact point of an enemy missile and engages it only if it represents an intolerable threat. As with any triage system, the few will have to be risked to protect the many.  But if Hezbollah aims its rockets at Tel-Aviv nearly all of them will be threats. Since they can’t all be shot out of the sky, economics will force Israel to engage the rockets at the source, hitting out at the missile launchers and magazines rather than to attempt the technically difficult feat of knocking out the incoming threat in flight. Wired reports:

Israel is also turning to covert operations to disrupt Hamas’s supply of rockets. The Washington Times‘ Eli Lake reported late yesterday that an attack on a Hamas arms convoy in Sudan this week, the assassination of a Hamas official in Dubai in 2010 and the kidnapping of a Palestinian engineer in Europe, said to have designed rockets for Hamas, were all part of a covert Israeli policy of “intelligence-based prevention” against Hamas.

The dangers of counter battery fire at Hamas or Hezbollah were illustrated by the Goldstone report, recently retracted by its author. You can’t just fire back. A human shield may be struck and then the UN will charge you with a war-crime. Goldstone, writing in the Washington Post said that he had reconsidered his report after learning more:

For example, the most serious attack the Goldstone Report focused on was the killing of some 29 members of the al-Simouni family in their home. The shelling of the home was apparently the consequence of an Israeli commander’s erroneous interpretation of a drone image, and an Israeli officer is under investigation for having ordered the attack. While the length of this investigation is frustrating, it appears that an appropriate process is underway, and I am confident that if the officer is found to have been negligent, Israel will respond accordingly. The purpose of these investigations, as I have always said, is to ensure accountability for improper actions, not to second-guess, with the benefit of hindsight, commanders making difficult battlefield decisions.

Hamas, on the other hand, had “not conducted any investigations into the launching of rocket and mortar attacks against Israel,” according to Goldstone.  Therefore Israel had killed, but unintentionally. Hamas killed and killed heedlessly. But the Goldstone retraction will change nothing.  The Guardian concluded, that retraction or not, “indiscriminate warfare, as opposed to deliberate killing, was undoubtedly Israel’s state policy”. That is the opposite of what Goldstone now believes and will remain true for European left, whatever the facts. Nothing is said about Hamas’ use of human shields. Michael Totten, writing in his new book, interviewed villagers in Southern Lebanon who told him that Hezbollah had moved weapons into their villages in order to force Israeli counter-battery to fire into them. Taking human shields is a war crime, but again that is irrelevant.

Whatever the Left chooses to believe, one reality is inescapable. If Hezbollah rains 36,000 rockets down on Israel, it will almost certainly result in a ground war in the Middle East. The Iron Dome system will simply be unable to protect the necessary civilian areas. The IDF will have to attack either into Southern Lebanon or further up the chain of supply to Syria or Iran itself in order to have any hope of getting out from under. Right after the inconclusive conflict with Hezbollah in 2006, the Times of London reported that Israeli planners came to the conclusion that the only way to achieve a decisive result would be to go to the root.  That would include operations into Syria and airstrikes against Iranian missile depots. The Times wrote:

Iran’s growing confidence after the war in Lebanon means we have to prepare for a full-scale war, in which Syria will be an important player.” …

In Washington, the military hawks believe that an airstrike against Iranian nuclear bunkers remains a more straightforward, if risky, operation than chasing Hezbollah fighters and their mobile rocket launchers in Lebanon.

“Fixed targets are hopelessly vulnerable to precision bombing, and with stealth bombers even a robust air defence system doesn’t make much difference,” said Richard Perle, a leading neoconservative. …

A new infantry brigade has been formed named Kfir (lion cub), which will be the largest in the Israeli army. “It is a partial solution for the challenge of the Syrian commando brigades, which are considered better than Hezbollah’s,” a military source said. …

The Israelis are integrating three elite brigades that performed well during the Lebanon war under one headquarters, so they can work together on deep cross-border operations in Iran and Syria.

Arutz Sheva reports that Hezbollah is already fortifying ground positions in Southern Lebanon. “Hezbollah has built as many as 550 bunkers in the southern Lebanon region, holding various weapons. In addition, the organization has built 300 underground facilities and 100 storage units for munitions including rockets, missiles and other weapons. Many of these terror centers are located near hospitals, private homes and schools, Hezbollah’s way of taking advantage of the civilian population of Lebanon.”  Hezbollah chief Nasrallah is already leaning forward. He told supporters that once hostilities start, Hezbollah may at some point cross the border into Galilee.

The seeds of the tragedy were sown in 2006. Now the stage is set. If the curtain rises, literally anything can happen.  Maybe Syria, already under pressure from dissent, will fall apart, or it may come together to face the Israel.  Perhaps Egypt will remain neutral, perhaps it would attack up through the Sinai in solidarity. Maybe airstrikes against Iran could rock Teheran back on its heels. Or it could could widen the war into the Persian Gulf.  Israel could inflict a decisive defeat on Hezbollah and Syria; or with its lack of staying power and absence of strategic depth, get stalled and go over the knife edge into defeat. And defeat for Israel doesn’t mean “live again to fight another day”. The day of defeat is the last day. That makes for danger.

The only nearly certain thing is that if missiles start falling in massive numbers on Israel, it will have no realistic option whatsoever but to strike back hard on the ground.  And then what?  Who could manage the forces unleashed? Not Europe. If European forces couldn’t cope with the fourth-rate military establishment of the Duck of Death, they will have no chance whatsoever in the face of a conflict which may involve the far larger forces of Egypt, Syria, Iran and Israel.

Only the United States would have any military options available to alter the course of hostilities. Those forces are commanded by Barack Obama, who may or may not, depending on how he feels and what he’s thinking at the time, do something for an unspecified period. But Europe itself will have nothing to do but bluster and watch. The dangerous diplomatic game which the European Left has engaged in for the last decade is now close to reaching a disastrous climax. By failing to prevent Hezbollah from restocking with arms under the UNIFIL mandate; by abetting the attacks on Israel from Gaza through “flotillas” and UN investigations, etc,  by isolating Israel in every way it could, the European left has created the possibility of war, even the probability of war in the Middle East. They can disclaim responsibility as much as they want.  But once started, as it can be at any time by Hezbollah, they will be utterly powerless to direct its course. Once underway not the Guardian, nor the BBC, nor Lauren Booth, nor even the British government itself can do much else but watch the flames creep closer.

It is ironic that Lauren Booth, whose grandparents may have had memories of the V-1 and V-2 rockets landing unguided on London during the Second World War, should have not have remembered how the British stopped those attacks. The threat that Britain faced was similar, but not comparatively not as severe as the one facing Israel today. Like Iron Dome the British air defense system could not stop all the missiles directed at it. Therefore Churchill ordered a kind of triage, using electronic countermeasures to cause the V-1s to fall on the British countryside instead of London. Some would die so that others would live. As Thomas Pynchon put it in his famous lines:

A screaming comes across the sky. It has happened before, but there is nothing to compare it to now. It is too late. The Evacuation still proceeds, but it’s all theatre. There are no lights inside the cars. No light anywhere.

Except at 10 Downing. The next thing Churchill did was to ruthlessly destroy all the V-weapon installations. The RAF, without a Goldstone to investigate them, relentlessly bombed the V-2 launch sites.  In one poorly executed raid, 500 Dutch civilians were killed.  The War Cabinet authorized Operation Crossbow to designate the campaign of strikes against V-2 sites. Ultimately both the V-1 and V-2 threats were ended when ground assaults took their launching sites in Europe. Only then did the “screaming across the sky” stop.  Why should people like Lauren Booth think things are different now? Those who cannot remember the past,” George Santayana famously wrote, “are condemned to repeat it”. It is the human condition to be forgetful. His other famous quote is, “only the dead have seen the end of war.” Maybe that is the human condition too.

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