MER Comment
"Israel has long refused to confirm or deny possession of nuclear weapons,
saying it would not introduce them into the Middle East. But Issam Mahoul, an
Arab member of the Israeli parliament, the Knesset, said last year that
Israel has up to 300 nuclear devices. Foreign arms monitoring groups and
think tanks have cited similar figures ranging from 250 to 400 devices.
...Yaalon, the Israeli chief of staff, told participants in the military
conference that war against Iraq "could accelerate into a regional war."
..."What we can do at sea . . . is totally different from what we have known
in the past." He added that the sea service is now "available and flexible
for a whole gamut of capabilities." ... "We can do anything, from nuclear to
nothing," said Reuven Pedatzur, a professor in Tel Aviv University's security studies program and one of Israel's most prominent military analysts."
------------------------


Israeli Defenses Much Improved Since Gulf War

'Painful' Response Vowed To Any New Iraqi Attack

By Molly Moore

Washington Post - January 5, 2003; Page A01


TEL AVIV -- When Iraqi Scud missiles landed in Israel during the 1991 Persian
Gulf War, Israeli officials and analysts recall, Israel depended on sluggish
American warnings, U.S. Patriot antimissile batteries failed to stop a single
incoming Scud and more Israelis died of heart attacks in the panic to pull on
gas masks and seek cover than were killed by the missiles.

Times have changed. On the eve of a widely expected new war against Iraq,
Israel is deploying one of the most sophisticated missile defense systems in
the world, has its own spy satellite and radar warning system and has created
a vast Home Front Command to prepare citizens and medical services for
potential attacks.

For the past month, Israeli military and civilian disaster preparedness teams
have conducted drills for conventional, chemical and biological missile
attacks in some of the country's biggest cities. Last week, U.S. and Israeli
military forces began joint land and sea exercises in preparation for what
might happen here in the event of a U.S. war against President Saddam
Hussein's government, which officials here believe could begin within a few
weeks.

"Our situation is much better today than it was 12 years ago," the Israeli
army chief of staff, Lt. Gen. Moshe Yaalon, said at a recent national
security conference here that focused on military readiness. "Israel is
perhaps the most protected country in the world against these kinds of
threats."

Even so, military officials acknowledge that the billions of dollars spent on
improving readiness in the past decade, including the showcase Arrow missile
defense system financed largely by the United States, falls far short of
fail-safe protection for the cities and citizens considered most vulnerable
to an Iraqi attack.

"One should not be mistaken," a senior Israeli military official said. "[The
Arrow] has never been tested in a live war. There is a huge difference if you
are taking Iraqi incoming missiles. Even if only one gets through all these
layers here in Tel Aviv, the damage would be very great."

As a result, Israel has also improved its ability to strike back at Iraq and
other potential enemies. In addition to nuclear-capable surface-to-surface
missiles, air-to-surface missiles and bombs, Israel is arming three
diesel-powered submarines with cruise missiles capable of carrying nuclear
warheads, according to former Pentagon and State Department officials and a
book published this summer by the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.

Israel has long refused to confirm or deny possession of nuclear weapons,
saying it would not introduce them into the Middle East. But Issam Mahoul, an
Arab member of the Israeli parliament, the Knesset, said last year that
Israel has up to 300 nuclear devices. Foreign arms monitoring groups and
think tanks have cited similar figures ranging from 250 to 400 devices.

Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and his top military leaders say that, in
contrast to 1991, they have given the United States no assurances that Israel
will not retaliate if attacked by Iraq. Officials have said the level of a
counterattack would depend on the type of weapon used and the number of
casualties inflicted.

"It is not our war, and during my visit to the United States [last month] I
made clear that we will not take the initiative and intervene," Defense
Minister Shaul Mofaz said in an interview Friday in the newspaper Maariv.
"But if we are attacked during the operation, we will have every right in the
world to protect Israeli citizens."

He added, "If, God forbid, they use chemical or biological weapons against
us, I believe we will have to respond. The decision on how we will respond
must be kept secret . . . [but] it will be a very tough and painful action."

If the United States refuses -- as it did in the Gulf War -- to provide the
"identification of friend or foe" codes, known as IFFs, that would allow
Israeli aircraft to fly through U.S.-patrolled airspace to conduct strikes
against Iraq, Israel now has land- and sea-based missiles that could be used,
according to military analysts. "We can do anything, from nuclear to
nothing," said Reuven Pedatzur, a professor in Tel Aviv University's security
studies program and one of Israel's most prominent military analysts.

Banking on the Arrow

In November, Brig. Gen. Yair Dori, commander of Israel's air defense forces,
gathered a group of reporters around the weapon that has come to symbolize
Israel's effort to thwart a repeat of the 39 Iraqi Scud missiles that
terrorized this nation for weeks during the Gulf War.

"Since 1991 we have built a huge, active defense system that will give Israel
the ability to survive and make civilians feel safe in the next conflict,"
Dori declared, standing before an Arrow-2 antiballistic missile battery at
the Palmachim Air Force Base on the Mediterranean coast near Tel Aviv. "In
1991, we had almost nothing. Now we have a very active, robust defense."

Of all Israel's efforts to improve defenses, no single program has consumed
more money, evoked a greater image of high-technology advances or created a
grander aura of a military safety net than the Arrow missile defense system.

Thus far, it has cost just over $2 billion to develop and build. The United
States has financed about $1 billion of that, according to data provided to
several congressional subcommittees that have monitored the system. Military
analysts estimate it will cost another billion dollars to complete.

Two Arrow batteries have been deployed, Israeli officials say, one at the
Palmachim base to provide cover for Tel Aviv and another near the northern
city of Hadera. A third battery is under development.

Israeli officials describe the Arrow-2 as the world's first antiballistic
missile system designed to destroy or intercept medium- or short-range
missiles in the stratosphere. It is supposed to detect and track missiles as
far away as 300 miles, launch a missile at nine times the speed of sound and
intercept an incoming missile up to 55 miles away, according to military
analysts.

The Arrow missile is designed to disable an incoming warhead by exploding
within 40 to 50 yards of its target, and the battery has a command and
control system created to intercept as many as 14 incoming warheads,
according to military specialists. However, military officials acknowledge
that all previous tests have involved a single target. The first simulated
test of the Arrow against multiple incoming missiles is scheduled for today,
according to the Defense Ministry.

"The Arrow test program has been far too limited, narrow in coverage and
rushed to make a convincing war-fighting case for the system," Anthony H.
Cordesman of the Washington-based Center for Strategic and International
Studies warned the Senate Foreign Relations Committee five months ago.

Israel also has a limited stockpile of Arrow missiles, according to U.S. and
Israeli military officials. In the most recent U.S. defense budget, Congress
approved an extra $70 million to help increase production from two per month
to six per month, according to congressional testimony. The additional
missiles will be built by Boeing Co. in the United States.

To back up the Arrow defense system, the United States is providing at least
two additional Patriot missile batteries to supplement three Patriot
batteries already in Israel. The Patriot missiles, which have undergone
improvements since the 1991 war, are designed to intercept missiles at lower
altitude and shorter ranges than the Arrow, essentially targeting missiles
that the Arrow misses.

About 1,000 U.S. troops and officers just began a two-week training exercise
that Israeli and U.S. officials said is the first test of interoperability
among the Patriot and Arrow missile systems, and the radar and warning
systems, aboard a U.S. Aegis-equipped cruiser stationed off Israel.

The Patriot missile, designed to intercept aircraft and later modified to
target missiles, performed dismally here against Iraqi Scuds during the
Persian Gulf War, military analyses determined after the war. "The findings
and analysis carried out in Israel during and after the war produced no
authenticated proof that al-Hussein [Scud] warheads were hit or destroyed by
Patriot missiles," Tel Aviv University's Pedatzur told the U.S. House of
Representatives Committee on Government Operations.

Studies by Pedatzur and others of videos and Patriot data found that the
Patriot often missed incoming warheads by hundreds of yards and often could
not distinguish between a Scud's warhead and missile fragments when the
weapon began breaking up as it plunged earthward. When Patriot missiles
exploded near an incoming Scud, they frequently just knocked the Scud off
course and sent it smashing into nearby neighborhoods.

Some U.S. military officials dispute those findings. Since the United States
rushed seven Patriot batteries to Israel during the 1991 war, the U.S.
military has invested heavily in improving the Patriot system. But
congressional testimony this summer revealed continuing operational problems
with the missiles and development of a new version that has not yet been
deployed.

When questioned about the Patriot's accuracy by the Senate Armed Services
Committee 18 months ago, Deputy Defense Secretary Paul D. Wolfowitz
testified, "Today our capacity to shoot down a Scud missile is not much
improved from 1991."

An Earlier Warning

The danger of an Iraqi attack is only part of the equation guiding Israel's
military investments over the past decade, according to senior officers.
Yaalon, the Israeli chief of staff, told participants in the military
conference that war against Iraq "could accelerate into a regional war."

Surrounded by neighbors it considers hostile -- Iraq, Iran, Syria and Libya
-- Israel has funded military improvements with a range of potential enemies
in mind. Israeli military officials also have said they fear Hezbollah forces
in Lebanon could take advantage of a U.S.-Iraq war to launch missiles across
Israel's northern border.

In May, the military launched a new spy satellite, the Ofek-5, which circles
the globe 230 miles above the earth's surface and reportedly can photograph
objects as small as a yard long. Israeli media reports have quoted anonymous
military officials as saying the satellite has concentrated its cameras
primarily on Israel's neighbors, particularly Iraq.

The Arrow missile's Green Pine radar system is supposed to give military
officials a five-to-seven-minute warning of a missile launch, a jump over the
three minutes or less that Israel received during the first Scud attacks in
1991, when launch information was fed from U.S. satellites back to the United
States and then bounced to Israeli officials.

Even so, U.S. military experts said Israel would lean heavily on improved
U.S. satellite and early warning systems in any conflict with Iraq.

In recent years, the Israeli navy has purchased three Dolphin-class
submarines from German contractors at a cost of about $1 billion. The
Carnegie Endowment published a report this summer saying that with
modifications to its submarine-based missiles, Israel had completed the last
leg of its nuclear triad. The sea-based nuclear capability would dramatically
enhance Israel's ability to retaliate if an attack incapacitated its land or
air defenses.

Although the Israeli military has refused to comment on the reports, the navy
commander, Yedidya Yaari, said at the military conference, "What we can do at
sea . . . is totally different from what we have known in the past." He added
that the sea service is now "available and flexible for a whole gamut of
capabilities."

'Are We Well Prepared?'

Minutes after the sun set on an overcast winter day two weeks ago, military
commanders and civil authorities received an alert saying a Scud missile had
smashed into a densely populated working-class suburb of Tel Aviv.

Over the next 25 minutes, as police, fire and military vehicles converged on
the neighborhood, two more explosions sounded nearby. Startled neighbors
peered out windows or dashed to the scene. Some said they expected to find
yet another suicide bombing or other terrorist attack.

Instead, they came upon one of the numerous drills Israel's Home Front
Command has been staging in recent weeks in preparation for a possible attack
from Iraq.

For Col. Gili Shenhar, who has been chief of development for the Home Front
Command, the debate over whether the Arrow and Patriot missile systems can
stop an incoming missile is all but irrelevant.

"We don't deal with asking whether [a missile attack] will or won't happen,"
Shenhar said. "We ask, 'Are we well prepared?' Nuclear, chemical or
biological missiles can hit one of our cities. Our goal is to prepare our
country for that."

During the 1991 war, 74 Israelis died during missile attacks, but only two
were killed by Scuds. Four suffocated from improper use of their gas masks,
and 68 died from heart failure or heart attacks blamed on war-related stress,
according to the National Insurance Institute.

Created in the aftermath of that conflict, the Home Front Command has become
a major component of the Israeli military. During peacetime, the command
drills and trains for crises. During a domestic disaster or war, it has the
authority to take control over local police, civil authorities and emergency
medical services to organize the response.

"What happened in Israel after the Gulf War is the same that happened in the
U.S. after September 11," said Shenhar, noting that before the Gulf War,
Israeli urban areas were generally spared. "This was a new situation for us,
that we could be hit by surface-to-surface missiles, airplanes, terrorists.
We understand we have to be better prepared."

In recent weeks, as the command has increased the tempo of its emergency
drills, it has also revved up notices to the public to prepare emergency
shelters, trade in old masks for new ones and brace for a possible attack.

As a result, the command has been pelted with almost daily newspaper
headlines criticizing its orders and questioning its capabilities. This week,
gas masks were the target, with local newspapers reporting that one-third of
the masks distributed by the Home Front Command were ineffective.

"We've found our gas mask is one of the best gas masks in the world," said
Shenhar. "We're always trying to improve them. We're in the middle of
research and development of new masks."

During the recent drill in suburban Tel Aviv, members of a medical team
fumbled with the straps of a stretcher carrying a female soldier playing the
victim of a chemical missile attack just a few dozen yards from the simulated
blast site. The tag on her wrist said she suffered from blisters all over her
body.

One soldier took off his rubber gloves to better grasp the straps, another
struggled to put on his gas mask, and a third had a wide gap between one leg
of his protective suit and his boots.

"I'm dying," moaned the patient on the stretcher.

"Why aren't you working faster?" asked an observer watching the drill.

"This close to the blast, we'd all be dead anyway," replied one of the
soldiers.



2003 The Washington Post Company