Second Thoughts About Defensive Means

Editor’s note (TR): This is a guest post by Ron Tira. Ron is a lieutenant colonel, former fighter pilot in the IAF, and author of the book The Nature of War. He is currently a businessman and a reservist at the Israeli Air Force’s Campaign Planning Department. He sends the following reflection with a picture of an incoming missile, taken in front of his house this morning.

The Israel Defence Forces have it in their DNA that wars are won based on offensive means. Defence seems like a waste of time and a waste of resources.

This is why I was never very keen on anti-missile defence systems. They are of course a “nice to have” thing, or so I thought, but as in the real world resources are always insufficient and you can’t have it all, hence offensive means should always take priority. Israel’s anti-missile defence system seemed to be not much more than a multi-billion dollar pacifier for infants, metaphorically speaking. (In the case of critical national infrastructure, such as power stations, and critical military hubs, like airfields, C3I etc, the defensive calculus would of course be different. These targets should be defended to enable the offense.)

The problems with situations like the current one is that the enemy choses to fire from amongst its own civilians at our civilians, without showing up for major battles that can be won.

Lets look at the figures of the current engagement — so far.

Hamas so far fired  500+ rockets. Iron Dome is a selective system, defending only populated areas. It will not defend open fields, orchards, or the sea. Even in populated areas it is selective: it will not defend city parks, and will defends schools and shopping centers at midday but not at midnight, etc. So far, the manufacturer provided the IAF with only four Iron Dome batteries. The fifth will be supplied tomorrow night. Iron Dome’s footprint is therefore still limited, and it cannot yet defend the entire threatened area. For this reason, the batteries are being moved around and their location kept secret, in an attempt not to hint where the cracks in the defence are.

Iron Dome could and chose to engage about 150 incoming threats. The kill rate amongst those is close to 100%. Only 26 incoming rockets actually fell in populated areas. Most of them in cracks between the Iron Dome batteries. Almost no rocket fell on a populated area which is within the current footprint of Iron Dome. The impact on Israel so far is driven by only 26 rockets that actually fell on populated areas. Had the other 150 fell on populated areas, the picture might have been very different.

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5 thoughts on “Second Thoughts About Defensive Means

  1. Pingback: The Iron Dome, Press Bias, and Israel's Lack of Strategic Thinking

  2. Hi Ron,

    I have stated many times here that Israel not only has the right to provide security for her citizens, but also that it is the imperative of the Israeli government to do so. That said, (and this is an observation), Israel tends to wait too long – Israel soaks up too many rockets – before responding and the response is therefore always perceived as heavy-handed by the branch-clingers. The key lies in balance: a balance of means that will afford Israel more options in relation to Hamas. As you have pointed out – active defence in the form of Iron Dome is a step in that direction. The rockets should be stopped, and intercepting them mid-air is one way of doing so.

    Of course, we all know the script by now – at some point the Israeli government feels that these rockets should be stopped before even being launched: either by removing the rocket or removing the fundamentalist who is prepared to fire the rocket, or by removing the fundamentalist who ordered the firing of the rocket. In dealing with this political need, Israel has its conventional forces, and this is now when the F-16’s take off, the tanks amass on the frontier and the international media goes all blood-crazy on Israel. A lot of grass-root perceptions are being shaped right now and this does not have a fairy-tale outcome for Israel.

    Yet Israel has to respond – they just cannot respond once every n rockets. The answer lies in balance. My suggestion is to slave an MRLS battery to every Iron Dome battery. The moment that Iron Dome detects a launch, use the means of Iron Dome to calculate the coordinates of the launch point and immediately fire an MRLS rocket at those coordinates – down the throat, as the submarine commanders do. The MRLS rocket should arrive there as Iron Dome intercepts. As a next step – Israel should develop a simple guidance package for the MRLS rocket in the form of a cheap GPS and some control vanes – turn the MRLS into a MGMLS. Precision to the boot.

    And since this will be a limited response – in kind so to speak in relation to the Hamas action, nobody will be able to criticise. Of course – they will still find something, but that is a problem for next week.

  3. Pingback: The Iron Dome, Press Bias, and Israel’s Lack of Strategic Thinking « IDIOTS SANS FRONTIERES

  4. Chirality says:

    MLRS, Really?

    Doesn’t that somewhat ignore Israel’s geopolitical situation (and Iran’s) in what is largely a proxy conflict?

    Whilst acknowledging Israeli domestic demands, a very measured response would surely play to international opinion and keep the pressure on an embattled Iran? To do otherwise would gain no favours internationally and damage support for any near term options in dealing with Iranian issues.

    • Quintin says:

      Hi Chirality,

      From that perspective, the problem is that no response that Israel may choose to pursue in relation to Hamas and the daily rocket bombardment will place any pressure on Iran. Until we can prove the Iranian hand behind this (and it is doubtful that we ever will in such a conclusive manner that will afford us to link), we have to focus on the domestic and the rockets. The rockets have to be stopped.

      My observation is (and this can be corroborated by turning to any news channel right now), people (with the exception of Israeli’s) only remember the ‘last rocket’ and measure Israel’s response in relation to that. So when Israel responds only on every n thousand rockets, the response is evaluated as harsh and disproportionate (it is ironic that the media in particular have no idea how callous the calculation of proportion is – they’d be less inclined to draw on this argument if they did).

      Yet Israel has to respond – this has to be a direct response, directed at the perpetrators. It has to be an immediate (perhaps even automatic) response. And it has to be a response in kind. You fired one rocket – I fire one back immediately at that very launch spot.

      I have no doubt that Hamas will soon learn and adjust their operations accordingly – but for the time being, the problem is the rockets.

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