A word from the Director …
Chaos, Terror War and Missiles: The Mess in the Middle East
In the summer of 1949, delegates to the Geneva Convention celebrated a hard-won achievement: The signing of the landmark “Treaty for the Protection of Civilian Persons in Time of War.”
Today, 65 years later, their legacy is dead.
There was never really much hope for the delegates’ brave dream. As I write these words countless refugees surge across the Middle East, from one conflict zone to another in a vast, no-holds-barred terror war. Like a vicious human hurricane churned by Iran and other cynical players, it has swept up millions of victims in a region too poor to support even stable, pre-war populations. Of course, with the world now focused on the thousands of evacuees fleeing the war Hamas launched from behind Gaza’s human shields, the vastly larger tragedy has been, for the moment, forgotten.
How does Hamas’s terror war fit into the bigger, chaotic Middle East mess? As the chaos spiraled and grew over the last few months, Israel remained an island of stability. And then, three weeks ago Hamas, firing mortars, katyushas and Iran-supplied Tel Aviv-range rockets, tried to suck Israel into the hurricane.
While hundreds of rockets have been launched toward Israel’s biggest cities, in Jerusalem children still fill the playgrounds, pizza parlors are full and in Tel Aviv, the Silicon Valley of Europe, business is brisk. To be sure, some of the closest Gaza-adjacent towns are largely empty. In Tel Aviv, the normal pace of city life has slowed and Air France, Lufthansa and most U.S. airlines did, briefly, spurn Ben Gurion Airport. There have been impacts. But unlike in the previous missile wars Israel has had to deal with, life goes on. And that is remarkable.
Missile Defense: Keystone for stability
There are many factors to thank for this remarkable reality – the indomitable spirit of Israelis, the ubiquitous military training, the IDF – but ask any Israeli and he will point to one dominant factor: Missile Defense. Every major city in Hamas’ range is covered by an Iron Dome: Of the hundreds of rockets launched, a remarkably small number have survived to hit their targets.
Multi-layer active missile defense – Of course the “Iron Dome” is only the innermost of a series of nested layers, designed to handle everything from Hamas’ short range rockets to medium and long range ballistic and cruise missiles. With Arrow 2 deployed for long range threats, David’s Sling in final development for medium range and Arrow 3 due to add another very long range layer, Israel’s comprehensive missile defense model is unique.
Passive missile defense – Steps toward EMP protection
On top of all this, Israel is now taking steps toward highly leveraging passive missile defense measures, preparing to take yet another serious vulnerability off the table by protecting its national power grid from EMP.
The Resilience Challenge
Israel’s outstanding missile defense architecture is a good example of resilience, which never comes easy. It is much quicker to exploit serious vulnerabilities than to correct them – an aggressor might acquire, say, a bootleg Pakistani WMD in a time far shorter than it would take to develop missile defense or EMP protection. And where geopolitical changes can happen quickly, the offense - defense gap can be particularly deadly.
This makes Israel’s remarkable resilience in the Hamas terror war a very unusual success story. And the investment – in active missile defense and passive EMP protection – is continuing. What are the forces driving this investment?
Mapping a Geopolitical Maelstrom
In a period of just a few years Syria, Lebanon and Iraq are no longer recognizable nations, with their territories now controlled by a kaleidoscopic mix of competing, marauding irregular armies. Hezbollah’s global activities are reportedly expanding. The new Al Qaeda offshoot, ISIS, now controls continuous territory stretching from deep inside Syria to inside Iraq, and is doing a brisk business in sales of electricity and oil from captured power plants, in both Syria and Iraq, where they now control Iraq’s largest power plant and oil refinery. Pakistan’s vicious Lashka terror organizations have become increasingly bold, and it is difficult to take comfort in Islamabad’s newest request for U.S. anti-terror funding, as government security forces are believed to actively support terror.
What unites these groups is their hatred of Israel, the United States and other Western powers, and their desire – and in many cases possession, of deadly, destabilizing offensive missiles.
Of all the flavors in this noxious, violent brew, ISIS is particularly alarming. Their explosive growth, their ability to acquire and effectively leverage their growing territory and resources, their radical world view – which includes, of course, destruction of Israel and its friends and allies – combine to make them uniquely dangerous. The U.S. worries that they may have acquired highly advanced, Stinger shoulder-fired anti-aircraft weapons – a concern with a serious, rather terrifying resonance given the intercept of the passenger flight over Ukraine, not to mention other recent, suspicious crashes.
Particularly alarming is their evident desire to acquire WMDs. They reportedly already captured “reduced effectiveness” chemical weapons, and more recently nuclear material. And there are some media reports that they claim access to bootleg nuclear weapons. This last, whether true or not, is an indication of a chilling objective. And it is worthwhile to remember that ISIS, a Sunni terrorist group, has nuclear-armed co-religionists nearby, in mostly Sunni Pakistan.
In this environment, Israel’s efforts in recent years to expand its missile defense systems seem prophetic. And given the long term objectives of Iran, ISIS and other regional and trans-national terrorist groups, the new push for basic EMP protection is also timely.
International security concerns
Of course, Israel is not the only missile and rocket target in the sights of the world’s terrorist organizations. GRAD rockets and Polish anti-aircraft missiles have been reported in the Ukraine conflict, and Ukraine rebels are apparently good students of Hamas’s “human shield” policy, with katyushas reportedly based in kindergartens.
And in addition to the global threats implied by Middle East and other nearby terrorist organizations, the U.S. also has growing missile threats to worry about. With its recent missile testing, North Korea continues to send the world reminders of the unstable powder keg festering in Southeast Asia. And, perhaps even more important, both Russia and China are reportedly vigorously modernizing their nuclear weapon fleets.
This last is particularly disturbing news for the United States which, under current defense budget and policy conditions, is not in a position to match these upgrades from its historic competitors. And with disturbing stories of physical and manpower issues for the U.S. nuclear deterrent continuing to show up in the press, analysts have begun expressing growing concerns over the direction of the U.S. – Russian – Sino balance of power.
Among all of these grim news stories, there do remain a few bright spots.
In the U.S., concerns over the efficacy of the advanced U.S. missile defense system have sharply declined after a successful new and important missile defense test.
And in Israel, in spite of the regional geo-strategic terrorist superstorm, the tiny nation’s prophetic missile defense investment is reaping a bountiful crop, as Iron Dome helps ensure life can go on, with minimal disturbance, in the eye of the hurricane.
Thank you for supporting Israeli Missile Defense.
Executive Director, IMDA