Israel’s Missile Shield, the Iranian Threat, and the Palestinians
Saturday, September 26, 2009 4:51 PM
From: “Stephen Sniegoski”
Israel has developed, what an article in the “Washington Post” (Sept. 19) by Howard Schneider calls, “one of the world’s most advanced missile defense systems.” What does this mean in regard to the alleged existential nuclear threat to Israel from Iran? Schneider’s article continues: “Defense Minister Ehud Barak said this week that he did not consider Iran’s nuclear program an ‘existential issue’ because ‘Israel is strong.’ Part of that strength lies in its nuclear capabilities — never acknowledged but widely presumed to exist — and part in the assumption that the United States would stand behind Israel if it came under attack. But it also rests in the calculation that enough of the country’s air bases and other military facilities would survive a first strike to retaliate effectively.” This is a considerable understatement since Iran does not even have a nuclear weapon, while Israel is estimated to have an arsenal of 200 to 400 nuclear warheads. Even though Israel is a small country, it would likely take more than the few nukes that the Iran could develop in the near future to even knock out Israel’s land-based capacity to retaliate. But Israel also has nuclear-armed submarines that would be virtually impossible for Iran to destroy in any hypothetical first strike. In addition to Israel’s own missile shield, Obama has a new plan of a ship-based missile defense system in the Mediterranean, which is in lieu of the now abandoned plan to put missiles in Eastern Europe. This new positioning would greatly enhance the ability of American missiles to protect Israel.
While war propaganda wails that the Iranian leaders are so insane as to launch a suicide attack on Israel regardless of the consequences, there is not a shred of evidence of any reckless adventurism in Iran’s military activities; rather, the Islamic Republic has been quite cautious in this regard. It certainly aids militant groups in other countries, not unlike the policy of the United States, but, unlike the U. S., it has not engaged in direct military warfare (except when attacked by Iraq in 1980). While the American conventional wisdom would have it that the U.S. only supports freedom fighters while Iran only backs terrorists, it is instructive to remember the adage: “One man’s terrorist is another man’s freedom fighter.”
Even in its rhetoric, Iran has not said that it would attack Israel, despite Western media reports to the contrary. Ahmadinejad’s 2005 statement, as reported in the Western media, that “Israel must be wiped off the map,” has been trumpeted by critics of Iran as advocating the nuclear annihilation of Israel. In response to the world outcry, the Iranian government maintained that Ahmadinejad’s words did not mean genocide as the Western media implied. As a number of commentators pointed out, the Western media actually had mistranslated Ahmadinejad’s speech to make it seem that he sought to annihilate the Jewish people in Israel by using nuclear weapons or some other drastic means. Instead, Ahmadinejad was referring to the Zionist regime, not the Jewish people, and a better translation of his words would have been “vanish,” not “wiped off the map.” Ahmadinejad was speaking of a one-state non-Zionist solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict–presumably allowing for the return of Palestinian refugees and the creation of a Palestinian majority state. This could be interpreted as a call for a type of “regime change,” but certainly one that would be anathema to most Israeli Jews and the supporters of Israel in the United States. Since Iran supported the Palestinian resistance to Israel, especially Hamas, it would seem reasonable to conclude that Ahmadinejad believed that some degree of violence would be necessary to bring about the downfall of the Zionist regime (i.e., Israeli state apparatus), but it did not mean an all-out suicidal attack. It would seem that the Israeli government and its American supporters have distorted and hyped the Iranian danger for the purpose of propaganda. Obviously, far more Americans are willing to protect the Jewish population of Israel from a nuclear holocaust than they are to guarantee continued Jewish dominance over the Palestinians.
It is the Iranian support for the Palestinians that is the fundamental concern of Israeli leaders, not any offensive Iranian nuclear threat to Israel’s existence. The military disparity between Israel and Iran is far greater than ever was the case between the United States and the Soviet Union during the Cold War. The Palestinians, however, do pose such an existential threat. The Palestinians are a demographic threat to the Jewish exclusivist nature of the state of Israel—that is, a threat to Israel’s raison d’être. Obviously, in a one-state solution in the area west of the Jordan River, or in Israel proper if Palestinian refugees and their descendants were allowed to return, the Palestinians would be a very large minority or even a majority of the population, which would rule out the possibility of an exclusivist Jewish state.
But even a fair accommodation to the Palestinians in an actual two-state solution (in which Palestine would be a viable state) would make the continuation of a exclusivist Jewish state tenuous. So far, Israel has offered the Palestinians something far short of a viable state in its “peace” process; instead, Israel has essentially offered the Palestinians only an unarmed entity (defenseless against potential Israeli military incursions such as the attack in Gaza) consisting of a congeries of non-contiguous Bantustans interspersed with Jewish settlements and Israeli roads and with an Israeli security zone along the Jordan River border. Of great significance, but rarely mentioned in the Western press, is the fact that Israel has never said it would allow the Palestinians to control the West Bank aquifers, which Israel now depends on for its water supply. Israel uses far more water per capita than the Palestinians, which not only provides for intensive agriculture but also for the amenities of a Western lifestyle – regular bathing, swimming pools, green lawns. Although the Israeli people could physically exist without those water resources, they would not be able to live the type of Western lifestyle to which they are accustomed–which would make it difficult for Israel to attract and retain a Westernized Jewish population. A slowly diminishing Jewish population in Israel itself could mean the end of a Jewish dominated and exclusivist state.
With the Palestinian population being an existential threat to the Jewish nature of the Israeli state, many Israelis, especially the Israeli Right, view the elimination of that population, or its significant diminution, as essential. Since outright expulsion is politically impossible except in the fog of war, the goal would seem to be to get the Palestinians to leave voluntarily by making their existence miserable and hopeless. This condition could be realized if the Palestinians would ever accept the type of non-viable state that Israel has been willing to offer. So far, the Palestinians have rejected that offer but their resistance has been receiving outside support, both moral and material. Without outside support, the isolated Palestinians, seeing their liberation as impossible, would be likely to accede to the “peace” solution that the Israelis offered as the best deal possible. In such a non-viable state, with poor economic and physical conditions, and with the hope of a viable future Palestinian state eliminated, many Palestinians would be apt to give up hope for their homeland and simply think in terms of individual survival. Many, especially the young, would emigrate in the search of economic betterment and a decent life. Thus, the Palestinian demographic threat to the Jewish state would be greatly diminished or eliminated. This scenario appears quite realistic, but even if it is not, it does reflect the thinking of many Israelis, particularly of the Israeli Right. For example, Baruch Kimmerling writes in his book “Politicide: Ariel Sharon’s War Against the Palestinians” that Sharon’s fundamental policy was “designed to lower Palestinian expectations, crush their resistance, isolate them, make them submit to any arrangement suggested by the Israelis, and eventually cause their ‘voluntary’ mass emigration from the land.” (p. 211)
Thus, in the eyes of Israeli leaders, Iran, instead of being a direct military threat to Israel, is, nonetheless, a grave threat because it enables the Palestinians, the real existential threat, to maintain their resistance. Thus, the Israeli goal is to have an Iran that is completely defenseless against a potential Israeli attack. Not only must Iran be without a deterrent force, but it must not have any type of defensive system that would enable it to withstand an Israeli attack. As Jason Ditz wrote recently on Antiwar.com: “Israeli officials seem much more concerned with Iran acquiring defensive systems to thwart their ability to attack than with the largely illusory specter of Iran using its very limited collection of missiles to launch an attack which would certainly provoke a devastating retaliation.”
In short, a defenseless Iran could be intimidated into abandoning support for the Palestinian resistance. Even better, an Iran whose infrastructure was destroyed by a United States attack and/or fragmented into warring ethnic and sectarian statelets would be unable to provide significant support to the Palestinians. With the elimination of Iranian support to the Palestinians, along with the elimination of all other outside support, the Palestinians would be more apt to cave in to the Israeli “peace” offers, which are predicated on maintaining the security and exclusivist Jewish nature of the state of Israel.
(Israel and the Israel lobby’s current position on Iran fits the neocon Middle East war agenda, which I describe in my book—“The Transparent Cabal: The Neoconservative Agenda, War in the Middle East, and the National Interest of Israel”
My recent article “Afghanistan: Back Door to War on Iran” has been edited and posted at: http://www.thornwalker.com/ditch/sniegoski_back_door.htm )
Israel Finds Strength in Its Missile Defenses
Advanced System Could Alter Strategic Decisions in Region
By Howard Schneider
Washington Post Foreign Service
Saturday, September 19, 2009
ASHKELON, Israel — As it pushes for international action against Iran’s nuclear program, Israel is steadily assembling one of the world’s most advanced missile defense systems, a multi-layered collection of weapons meant to guard against a variety of threats, including the shorter-range Grads used to strike Israeli towns like this one and intercontinental rockets.
The effort, partly financed by the United States and incorporating advanced American radar and other technology, has been progressing quietly for two decades. But Israeli defense and other analysts say it has now reached a level of maturity that could begin changing the nature of strategic decisions in the region. Centered on the Arrow 2 antimissile system, which has been deployed, the project is being extended to include a longer-range Arrow 3, the David’s Sling interceptor designed to hit lower- and slower-flying cruise missiles, and the Iron Dome system intended to destroy Grads, Katyushas, Qassams and other shorter-range projectiles fired from the Gaza Strip and southern Lebanon.
With the Arrow system in operation and the Iron Dome due for deployment next year, Israel “has something to stabilize the situation: the knowledge that an attack will fail,” said Uzi Rubin, a private defense consultant who ran Israel’s missile shield program in the 1990s. Iran, he said, now cannot be assured of a successful first strike against Israel, while groups such as Hamas in Gaza and Hezbollah in Lebanon may find one of their favored tactics undermined.
Advances in Iran’s rocket technology, coupled with its nuclear program, are chief concerns of the United States and Europe, as well as of Israel and other Middle Eastern countries. Alongside diplomatic efforts to persuade Iran to curb its nuclear research, missile defense programs have been designed with that country in mind.
The Obama administration decided this week to scrap a Bush-era plan to deploy a longer-range-missile defense system in the Czech Republic and Poland, and said it would move toward a more intermediate system that better matches its assessment of Iran’s capabilities.
In Israel, the issue is considered a top foreign policy priority. There have been varying Israeli assessments about Iran’s progress toward a nuclear weapon: The head of the Mossad intelligence agency told a parliament committee over the summer that Iran may be five years away from acquiring an atom bomb, but the head of military intelligence has said it could happen by the end of this year.
Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, meanwhile, sees Iran’s program as an imminent danger. It “is something that threatens Israel and threatens the region and threatens the peace of the world,” he said during a recent visit to Germany. “There is not much time.”
A recent unannounced trip by Netanyahu to Russia was thought by some Israeli analysts to be linked to the broad set of issues regarding Iran, including Russia’s possible sale of advanced antiaircraft missiles to Tehran and the likelihood that Israel will strike Iran’s nuclear facilities if the United States and Europe cannot find another solution.
But the steady growth of Israel’s missile defenses sheds a different light on the country’s military doctrine and sense of vulnerability.
Defense Minister Ehud Barak said this week that he did not consider Iran’s nuclear program an “existential issue” because “Israel is strong.” Part of that strength lies in its nuclear capabilities — never acknowledged but widely presumed to exist — and part in the assumption that the United States would stand behind Israel if it came under attack. But it also rests in the calculation that enough of the country’s air bases and other military facilities would survive a first strike to retaliate effectively.
The sort of deterrence — guaranteed retaliation — that the United States and then-Soviet Union once achieved by deploying nuclear warheads in submarines and keeping bombers aloft is what Israel is striving for through its antimissile systems.
Iran “is radical, but radical does not mean irrational,” Rubin, the defense consultant, said. “They want to change the world, not commit suicide.”
Israel’s program had its origins in the 1980s and grew out of concern about Syria’s suspected acquisition of chemical weapons. It took on added urgency in the 1991 Persian Gulf War, when nearly 40 Iraqi Scud missiles hit the Tel Aviv area.
The Arrow was deployed in 2000, and Israel and the United States have since conducted a joint, biennial missile defense exercise, called Juniper Cobra, to work on integrating the weapons, radars and other systems of the two countries. Israel, for example, has the advanced U.S. X-Band radar stationed in the Negev desert. Israeli defense industry officials say the country also has almost real-time access to some U.S. satellite data, an important part of its early-warning system.
The next joint exercise is scheduled for October.
As concern shifted to the threat of long-range missiles from Iran — the countries are about 700 miles apart at the closest point, well within the known range of Iranian missiles — it also focused on the shorter-range weapons that Hezbollah and Hamas have turned on Israel in the past few years.
The rockets fired by Hezbollah at northern Israel during the 2006 Israel-Lebanon war led Israeli officials to accelerate work on a short-range-missile defense system, as did recent Grad strikes against Ashkelon, a Mediterranean city of about 120,000 people and the site of major electricity, desalinization and other facilities.
As it stands, “we have no defenses, no shelters, no public buildings being protected,” said Alan Marcus, the city’s director of strategic planning and architect of a plan developed to cope with the about 80 missile strikes since 2006.
“What do we do? Close the beach and tell people there might be a missile attack?” Marcus said.
Beginning next year, Israeli officials say, the Iron Dome system should provide some relief. The mobile launchers initially will be placed around towns and facilities near the Gaza Strip, but they ultimately may be deployed in locations nationwide.
The system has sparked some controversy. It has not, for example, proved effective against mortar shells and could leave the towns closest to the border areas vulnerable, including chief targets such as Sderot. Critics have pushed for other systems, including a chemical-laser one that Israel was jointly developing with the United States, or the rapid-fire Phalanx guns that can be used to protect key facilities such as power plants.
There is also concern that militant groups could try to overwhelm the system by firing large barrages of comparatively cheap, homemade Qassams — perhaps not expecting to do damage so much as forcing Israel to spend tens of thousands of dollars a shot to knock them down.
But Israeli officials say systems such as Iron Dome are crucial to the country’s military planning — in terms of preventing damage and diminishing the need to retaliate.
Although many of the rockets fired by Hamas and Hezbollah land on empty land, “one of these times one of the Qassams will hit a bus, and then the government will have to make a decision” about how to react, said Shlomo Dror, a spokesman for the Israel Defense Forces. “There is a bigger issue here than how much it costs. It is going to give us some answers.”
Obama Aims to Squeeze Iran, Placate Israel
Posted By Jason Ditz On September 18, 2009 @ 4:47 pm
The most obvious result of President Obama’s announcement yesterday to scrap the Bush Administration’s missile defense system in favor of one of his own design was to dramatically improve the tone of dialogue with Russia, which has been either praised or condemned depending on the analyst’s stance on starting a new Cold War with the nation.
But at least as important is the effect officials are hoping the move will have on Israel’s plans to attack Iran. With the new plan putting anti-missile missiles on ships in the Mediterranean instead of in Eastern Europe along the Russian border, their ability to be used on Israel’s behalf is significantly and conspicuously increased.
Officials now say they hope that this will “ease Israel’s sense of urgency” over its long threatened attack on Iran at a time when the Obama Administration is raising alarms over Iran’s missile capabilities.
Ironically, the impetus behind Iran’s development of such missiles is as a retaliatory hedge against an Israeli first strike, and Israeli officials seem much more concerned with Iran acquiring defensive systems to thwart their ability to attack than with the largely illusory specter of Iran using its very limited collection of missiles to launch an attack which would certainly provoke a devastating retaliation.
Far from easing Israel’s “sense of urgency” the deployment of defensive missiles in the theater of operations may actually make an Israeli first strike seem more desirable to officials, as it will add to the nation’s defense against Iranian retaliation.
Obama: Iran Is on Notice, Won’t Rule Out Military Action