In 2006 the residents of the North of Israel were subjected to a rocket, missile and artillery barrage larger than anything seen since the 1980s. The war against Hezbollah that took place that year showed up the IDF as being ill prepared, ill equipped and under trained. The war also forced Hezbollah to understand that this was a fight they didn’t need and couldn’t win. Even at its worst the IDF could rain down destruction upon Lebanon to a level they couldn’t stand.
The barrage of 2006 saw a mass exodus from the North of Israel towards the center. Israelis chose to leave the danger zone and wait out the conflict at the homes of friends and family further South. Since then the buzz words have been Missile Defense. The search to find an answer to the continuing barrages being fired into the South of the country from Gaza ensured that missile defense only became more important to Israeli strategic thinking.
Fast forward to 2014 and for the second year in a row the Defense and finance ministries are at each other’s throats. The latest flare-up has resulted in the cancellation of a training exercise designed to prepare the Home Front command for the inevitable mass barrage of missiles that a future conflict would bring.
Israel has defensive weapons designed to protect the country from barrages of rockets. Not just rockets but long and short range missiles, mortars and artillery. Iron Dome is the most famous one but there are others, already operational as well as in development. The increasing range and sophistication of these projectiles has seen Israeli counter measures also grow in sophistication and effectiveness.
The problem is that missile defense as a strategy doesn’t work.
Though Israel has managed to develop weapons that are successful on a technical level, on a strategic level they are a failure. A Qassam rocket costs about $1,000. Each Tamir interceptor fired by Iron Dome costs £62,000. The Iron Dome system itself costs $50 million. The cost of a Qassam rocket launcher? Are you kidding me? A kid could find some iron bars in the trash and build one in 20 minutes.
Add to that the new David’s Sling, Arrow missiles, upgraded Patriot batteries and you have a really expensive counter missile system which will work at any time except during a mass barrage fired against Israel. During one of those mass barrages the systems will attempt to track every projectile and counter only those likely to hit population centers. This is in order to be economical with the interceptors. In a war situation, particularly with Hezbollah who will find it very easy indeed to target Israeli population centers this missile defense system is likely to be overwhelmed.
Worse still, the offensive capability of the IDF has been weakened in order to fund missile defense. Training exercises have been cancelled across the board. Meaning that in the next conflict the IDF will field a force even less capable than in the last one. By sucking up so much money, the de facto strategy of the IDF has turned from deterrence to missile defense.
At a time when the Defense Minister is using words like “crisis” to describe the fiscal situation of the Defense Ministry there’s not a word about reducing the financing of one of the most ludicrously expensive and least cost-effective weapons programs in history. Moshe Ya’alon would do better to rethink his strategy before blaming the finance ministry for all his problems.