Home Update Developments in Israeli missile defence/ Syria after the latest sarin attack

Developments in Israeli missile defence/ Syria after the latest sarin attack

Update from AIJAC

Update  04/17 #01

This Update features material about recent developments in Israel’s anti-missile defences – including both the implementation of “David’s Sling”, the third and final layer to Israel’s missile defence system, and the first operational use of the Arrow long-range defence system a couple of weeks ago. It also includes some material on the strategic implications of the deadly chemical weapons attacks in Syria’s Idlib province earlier this week.

We begin with a summary from the Jerusalem Post of what David’s Sling does and how it adds to Israel’s existing missile defences. However, the piece, by Anna Ahronheim, also makes it clear that while Israel’s three layer missile defence system – consisting of Iron Dome, David’s Sling, and Arrow systems – theoretically protects Israel from all forms of missile threats, it faces a serious challenge from the overwhelming numbers of missiles Hezbollah is likely to attempt to launch during the next conflict. The piece also discusses the dilemmas Israel will likely face in deciding what to defend with the sophisticated anti-missile systems it has, given that defending everything will probably be imposable. For this useful look at Israel’s current missile defence realities, CLICK HERE.

Next up is Dr. Uzi Rubin, who is regarded as the father of Israel’s missile defence systems, having overseen the project to build the first of Israel’s three systems to become operational, the Arrow long-range defence system. He looks at what happened on March 17, when for the first time, the Arrow was successfully used for an actual military operation, but one for which it was never designed – shooting down a Syrian SA-5 anti-aircraft missile which, after missing an Israeli plane it was fired at, was predicted to land in Israeli territory. Rubin discusses the history of the Arrow, what is known about the incident, and the debate in Israel over both the wisdom of the Arrow firing and the subsequent public statements by Israeli authorities explaining what had happened. For this complete discussion from Israel’s top expert on missile defence, CLICK HERE

Finally, Haaretz military and defence analyst Amos Harel looks at both the background of and some lessons from the chemical weapons attack in Idlib, the largest in the Syrian civil war for some time, and one that apparently involved use of the banned nerve agent sarin. He details the problematic policies of the Obama Administration on Syria, which contributed to both this attack and other daily carnage in Syria, while suggesting recent statements by the Trump Administration may also have emboldened the Assad regime, which helped precipitate this attack. Another major question he addresses is the role of Russia in this attack, given Moscow’s general backing for all the actions of the Assad regime. In summary, Harel suggests two lessons Israel can learn from recent events in Syria and to read his analysis in full, CLICK HERE. More on what this attack says about the Obama Administration’s 2013 deal with Moscow to remove chemical weapons from Syria comes from a new blog by AIJAC’s Shmuel Levin.

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Article 1

Analysis: Is Israel ready to face thousands of Hezbollah missiles?

By Anna Ahronheim
Jerusalem Post, April 4, 2017 00:18
 
The idea for Iron Dome came after the Second Lebanon War in 2006, when large Israeli cities were struck by missiles for the first time from its northern neighbor.

David’s Sling, the Israeli missile defence system that became operational earlier this week.
 

David’s Sling, the final piece of Israel’s protective aerial umbrella, became operational Monday afternoon, filling the last gap in Israel’s missile-defense system and sending a clear signal to the country’s enemies.

With Iron Dome, Arrow and David Sling batteries deployed throughout the country, Israel should be completely defended against aerial threats. Will the systems measure up if Israel is faced with a real rocket barrage upon its cities? The timing of the system’s initial operational capability (IOC) comes as tension has risen along both the northern and Gaza borders, and shortly after the first successful interception by an Arrow battery of a Syrian anti-aircraft missile that had been fired toward Israel
 

Speaking at the IOC ceremony at the Hatzor Air Force Base in central Israel, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said that the “cutting-edge technology” of David’s Sling will help protect Israel against her enemies, warning that “whoever seeks to hit us will be hit. Whoever threatens our existence places himself in existential danger.”

Netanyahu attends ceremony marking the operational integration of the “David’s Sling” defense system (credit: GPO)

According to Yiftach Shapir, head of the Middle East Military Balance Project at the Institute for National Security Studies, while David’s Sling is a “wonderful addition to Israel’s defense arsenal,” it will be hard to defend against a rocket barrage of thousands of missiles.

“It will be able to defend against threats that the Iron Dome is not able to,” Shapir told The Jerusalem Post, “but nothing is ever 100%. Every kind of defense system is vulnerable.”

Designed to intercept medium- to-long-range rockets, as well as cruise missiles fired at ranges between 40 to 300km, David’s Sling complements the Iron Dome system, designed to shoot down short-range rockets, and the Arrow system, which intercepts ballistic missiles outside the Earth’s atmosphere.

Together the systems will provide Israel the ability to counter threats posed by both short and mid-range missiles used by terrorist groups in Gaza and Hezbollah, as well as the threat posed by more sophisticated long-range Iranian ballistic missiles.

The idea for Iron Dome came after the Second Lebanon War in 2006, when large Israeli cities were struck by missiles for the first time from its northern neighbor. It has since been used during two military operations against Hamas.

Iron Dome has proven itself since it went into service in April 2011, with a successful interception rate of 85% of projectiles fired toward Israeli civilian centers since its first deployment.

During the 2014 war with Hamas in Gaza, the system successfully intercepted nearly 800 rockets fired at Israeli cities.

A recent series of successful experiments for Iron Dome focused on the ability of its Tamir anti-missile rocket to intercept a number of targets fired simultaneously at different ranges.

But while Iron Dome has proven itself against Hamas rockets from Gaza, experts have long warned that Israel faces the threat of thousands of Hezbollah rockets pounding the home front in the next war on the northern border.

The Lebanese Shia terrorist group is believed to have more than 100,000 rockets and missiles aimed at Israel, including sophisticated long-range rockets.

This is a threat that despite all of the army’s advanced air-defense system, it remains ill-prepared to face.

Even if the air force manages to destroy a large amount of missiles, there will likely remain enough of them to risk the interceptor systems being inundated if either group decides to launch large-scale barrages with rockets from varying ranges simultaneously.

According to a senior officer in the Air Defense Command, while Israel “now has the ability to protect more territory, it is impossible to protect everything at all times.”

With one David’s Sling interceptor missile costing $1 million, $100,000 for one Iron Dome interceptor missile and $3 million for one Arrow interceptor missile, the economic cost of destroying the hundreds of thousands of rockets aimed at Israel is astronomical.

According to Shapir, Israeli government strategists will have to decide what is to be defended by David’s Sling and other missile defense systems.

“When the Iron Dome was first deployed, IDF Chief of Staff Lt.-Gen. Gadi Eisenkot said openly that it should be used to defend strategic assets, so that Israel can continue fighting. But within months, the government decided that defending civilian populations is more important and that was Hamas’s targets,” Shapir said.

With Hezbollah likely to target Israeli strategic installations as well as military bases, that is what we will have to defend, he added. “But if they decide to target both military installations as well civilian centers, the Israeli leadership will have to decide what they choose to defend. It will be a very tough decision no matter what way you look at it.

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Article 2

Arrow Intercepts a Syrian Missile

Technological, Operational, and Political Aspects

By Uzi Rubin

BESA Center Perspectives Paper No. 437, April 2, 2017

EXECUTIVE SUMMARY: Israel’s Arrow recently made its combat debut with the interception of a Syrian anti-aircraft missile. Remarkably, the 1991 vintage Arrow missile defense system managed to track, engage, and destroy a type of target never envisaged during its design. This sent a powerful message that Israel’s missile shield is reaching maturity. The political repercussions of the interception raised questions about its advisability, but the repercussions of a non-interception might have been even more severe.


Stages of missile interception by the Arrow system, via Wikipedia

On March 17, 2017, the Israeli public learned that the previous night, the Arrow missile defense system had successfully intercepted a Syrian antiaircraft missile that had been fired against Israel Air Force aircraft engaged in a deep penetration mission inside Syria. This was the operational debut of the Arrow weapon system.

The somewhat laconic announcement by the IDF left unanswered questions. How could Arrow – originally designed to down ballistic missiles – engage an antiaircraft missile? Was the Syrian missile in fact destroyed? Was this an intended interception? What exactly was intercepted? The absence of details was grist to the rumor mill. So was speculation by a leading defense publication that the intercepted weapon was a Syrian SCUD ballistic missile fired in retaliation against the Israeli air attack.

The IDF’s disclosure was also an admission. For the first time since the onset of the Syrian civil war, Israel conceded that its Air Force had attacked targets deep within Syria. All previous reports of such attacks had come from international sources.

The admission raised questions about the wisdom of having intercepted the Syrian missile. Former Prime Minister and Minister of Defense Ehud Barak was quick to comment the next day that, “Upon reflection, perhaps it was not wise to launch an Arrow missile against an antiaircraft missile” because this “forced us to admit the (Israel Air Force) operation in Syria, due to the fall of the Arrow debris in Jordan.” At the same time, Barak said the event “demonstrated our awesome capability.”

The event had immediate political repercussions. Israel’s ambassador in Moscow was summoned by the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs to explain Israel’s action. Syria’s ambassador to the UN observed that the Israel’s freedom of action in Syria was no more, and many Israeli commentators agreed. At the same time, Prime Minister Netanyahu declared that all previous agreements with Russia where still in force.

Three days later, the IDF clarified some of Friday’s mysteries. At a press conference, General Zvi Haimovitz, commander of the Israel Air Defense Command, disclosed that Israel’s air and missile defense system had designated the Syrian missile – which he identified as a Syrian SA-5 antiaircraft missile – as a threat that was expected to hit Israel in the central Jordan valley district. “There was no question mark or hesitation” about the need to neutralize this threat, and the decision to intercept was taken “in seconds” by the local commander. Haimovitz’s statements confirmed that this was had not been an “accidental interception” but a deliberate act that neutralized an imminent danger.

The full-scale development of Arrow started in 1991, and the system achieved initial operational capability in late 2000. It is optimized against medium and long range (in Israeli terms) ballistic missiles. The system comprises early warning and fire control “Green Pine” radars, the “Golden Citron” battle management system, launchers, and two types of interceptor missiles: Arrow 2 for high atmosphere interceptions and Arrow 3 for space interceptions.

The system was extensively tested but did not feature in any of the last decade’s wars (the 2006 Lebanon War, Operation Cast Lead in 2009, Operation Pillar of Defense in 2012, and Operation Defensive Shield in 2014). The March 17 interception was thus its first-ever reported combat action.

A video clip recorded from a passing vehicle appears to show that only a single interceptor was launched from somewhere in central Israel. Images released in Jordan the next day showed an object resembling an Arrow missile rocket motor, much damaged by ground impact. From this evidence, it can be deduced that the Arrow system succeeded in destroying a long-range threat arriving from Syria by a single shot – an impressive feat.

But even more impressive is the fact that the destroyed threat was not a ballistic missile but an antiaircraft missile, which was not envisaged as a threat when the system was designed in the early 1990s.

Ballistic and antiaircraft missiles differ in this way: the former are designed to hit stationary targets on the ground, while the latter are designed to hit rapidly moving targets in the air. The disparate missions elicit disparate technical features, not least in their trajectories; hence the difference in the achievability of intercepting them.

While missile defense systems can now be found around the world, no missile defense system dedicated to the interception of antiaircraft missiles has yet been developed. That is because it is more feasible to neutralize them through “soft” defenses like electronic warfare and decoys. The March 17 firing of antiaircraft missiles against IAF planes was not the first such occasion: a previous incident took place in January 2017. In neither case was the Israeli plane hit, indicating that they carried sufficient “soft” defenses to thwart the Syrian missiles.

The air defense system that launched the Syrian missile is dubbed SA-5 by the West and S-200 Vega by Russia. The specific missile used against the IAF was probably the E (for Export) version, which carries a 217 kg warhead.

The S-200 system was developed in the 1960s and became operational in the USSR and among its allies and clients during the 1970s. The system is venerable and by no means ineffective. Its lethality was tragically demonstrated in October 2001 when a Ukrainian SA-5, launched during military exercises, destroyed a Russian airliner over the Black Sea, killing all 78 aboard.

Syria, Iran, and Libya were the Middle Eastern recipients of this weapon. Syria, which received it after the 1982 Lebanon War when its air defenses were largely destroyed by the IAF, was the first country outside the Soviet bloc to possess it. The USSR supplied three batteries that were deployed to permanent bases near Damascus and other priority targets in Syria.

Following the outbreak of the Syrian Civil War in 2011, the SA-5 sites were either abandoned or overrun by insurgents. With the Russian intervention in late 2015, however, a renovation of the Syrian SA-5 batteries was initiated (as conceded by the Russian Minister of Defense in October 2016). The SA-5 battery east of Homs became operational in July 2016, while the SA-5 site in Ghouta, east of Damascus, was retaken from the insurgents three months ago. This explains why no SA-5 missiles were fired at IAF incursions into Syria prior to January 2017.

The SA-5 interceptor is a rather hefty missile. It is initially accelerated by four large, solid rocket boosters, which are discarded three to five seconds after takeoff. Once the boosters are thrown away, the remaining core missile is dimensionally very similar to a SCUD. This core missile is powered by a large liquid propellant rocket motor that accelerates it to 2.5 km per second (nearly eight times the speed of sound).

Western antiaircraft missiles self-destruct automatically if they miss their targets to prevent the falling of live warheads into friendly territory. It is not clear whether the SA-5 has a self-destruct function, and if so, whether it is automatic or is activated by manual command from the ground.

If no self-destruct is activated after a miss, the SA-5 interceptor may well continue its flight in a stable, ballistic trajectory. It will hit the ground at a distance that is determined by its speed and inclination at the moment of rocket motor burnout. At a speed of 2.5 km per second, this distance could be more than 500 km. It stands to reason, though, that the actual range would be shorter, due to the peculiar trajectory and inclination of an antiaircraft missile. Even at a shorter range, the spent missile will be seen by missile defense radars as a ballistic threat.

It appears that what happened in the early hours of Friday, March 17, 2017 was this. An antiaircraft missile fired in a southwesterly direction from one of the renovated Syrian SA-5 sites missed its target, did not self-destruct, and continued to fly in a stable ballistic trajectory towards Israel. It was picked up at a distance by the “Green Pine” radars, its predicted impact point was seen to be within Israeli territory, and it was classified as an imminent threat. The decision to engage it was taken by the local commander as per his orders and the rules of engagement.

The Arrow system functioned properly and engaged the target by a single interceptor that shed its own rocket motor once its fuel was spent, as it was designed to do. The detached motor continued in its own trajectory and hit the ground near the Jordanian city of Irbid. The Arrow then continued its flight and neutralized the threat.

In brief: the Arrow weapons system detected, locked onto, and neutralized a threatening missile of a type never envisaged during its original design. This was a remarkable performance that verified Ehud Barak’s “awesome capability” assessment, and broadcast the powerful message that Israel’s missile shield has reached maturity.

The interception caused a political stir, which prompted Barak to question its wisdom. It must be recalled that the timeframe for decisions by the local commander whether or not to engage is measured in the tens of seconds. This leaves no time for dialogue with superior officers about the engagement’s advisability. The local commander must make a snap decision based on standing orders and established rules of engagement.

Thus, the question of the wisdom of the March 17 decision to engage is irrelevant. Even if, somehow, time had allowed for a more protracted decision-making process, it is not clear that any other decision would have been taken. The impact of a Syrian-fired, heavy SA-5 warhead might have caused damage and casualties in Israel, with consequences no less significant than – and possibly worse than – those actually incurred.

Once the decision to engage had been made, it became impossible to maintain official silence due to the high visibility of the interception and its capture by the video recording devices of civilians, both here and in Jordan. Still, one wonders why it was necessary to include the IAF attack in Syria in Israel’s admission.

Uzi Rubin was founding Director of the Israel Missile Defense Organization, which managed the Arrow program. He is now a senior research associate at the Begin-Sadat Center for Strategic Studies.

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Article 3

Assad’s chemical attack in Syria: Two failures and two lessons to consider

Assad’s chemical attack also demonstrates the long-term danger facing Israel, even with Putin playing mediator in Syria

By Amos Harel

Haaretz, Apr. 4, 2017 |

Only a few days have passed between the American announcement of its change in policy concerning the fate of the Assad regime in Syria: “Our priority is no longer to sit there and focus on getting Assad out,” as U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley said last week; and the use by the Syrian regime made of chemical weapons on Tuesday morning in a bloody attack that killed dozens in the city of Idlib in northwest Syria.


Syrian activists say dozens have been killed in a chemical weapons attack in Idlib province.

The attack itself may have been a bit unusual in its characteristics, but not in its results. Almost every week the Assad regime butchers hundreds of people using supposedly “legitimate” means, such as artillery bombardments and incendiary barrel bombs dropped from planes and helicopters.

Haley’s statements, combined with previous signals from the Trump administration, certainly contributed to the Assad regime’s self-confidence, which in any case has been gaining momentum since the completion of the conquest of Aleppo at the end of December. But the massacre in Idlib stills points to a failure of the Obama administration. In July 2013, after Assad killed over 1,000 civilians in a poison gas attack on a suburb of Damascus under rebel control, Obama announced Assad had crossed a red line and promised a punishing attack against the regime.

Soon after Obama changed his mind, did his U-turn and reached an agreement with Russia on dismantling Assad’s chemical weapons stores, in which about 1,000 tons of chemical weapons were destroyed. It was not just an about-face, but a full retreat because with this move the United States signaled that it had no intention of taking a risk in Syria, and in doing so paved the way for even larger involvement of other forces, with Russia at their head.

Tuesday morning’s attack, in which it seems Sarin nerve gas was used, shows that the agreement to remove the chemical weapons was not carried out in full.  Western intelligence organizations, including the Israeli intelligence community, have estimated in the past that between 95 percent to 99 percent of Syria’s chemical weapons stocks were removed from the country and neutralized.  But the use of chemical weapons continues to be rather common: Every once in a while the regime uses “standard” chemical weapons, but more often it uses materials that are not banned explicitly by international accords, such as chlorine, while at the same time reports have been appearing on similar chemical attacks carried out by the rebels.

In the summer of 2014, with the drop in the threat of a chemical weapons attack on Israel, the cabinet decided to stop the distribution of gas masks for civilians. This was taking a calculated risk, which was the result of budgetary constraints and a desire to transfer the resources used for the annual refurbishment of the gas masks and protection kits (hundreds of millions of shekels every year) for other purposes. But the latest attack on Idlib could put these questions concerning Israel’s policy for protection against chemical weapons back on the agenda.   


Assad and Putin: Questions should be asked about Russia’s role in this attack given Moscow’s backing of all Assad’s action to date.

Other major questions concern Russia’s part in reaching decisions related to the chemical weapons attack. Moscow has provided full backing to Assad for all his actions, and has led the murderous aerial attacks that tilted the balance in the Syrian campaign in favor of the regime, and led to the defeat of the rebels in Aleppo and other cities. Were the Russians in on the secret of Assad’s thinking when he decided once again to use chemical weapons?

In 2013, Moscow proposed the arrangements for the dismantling of Syria’s chemical weapons in order to save Assad from Washington’s fury, and the compromise reached did take the American punishment attacks off the table. But the Russians have continued since then to take a lenient line as to all of their vassal’s bloody acts, including the use of chemical weapons.

In the past, when Islamic terrorists took control of a theater in Moscow and held hundreds of hostages in 2002, the Russian commando forces used an unknown gas during their attempt to free the hostages, during which dozens of the hostages were killed, it seems mostly from the gas the rescuers filled the hall with.

In recent months, the interest of the international community in Syria has fallen a bit, because of the political drama in the United States and a partial stabilization of Assad’s government.  But in practice, the fighting and massacres have continued, even if at a slower pace than in the past. As far as Israel is concerned, this provides two lessons: The first, that even international agreements guaranteeing the dismantlement of weapons of mass destruction must be taken with a grain of salt, and cannot be relied on completely. The second, that the improving relations with Russian President Vladimir Putin and the day-to-day channel for coordination with Moscow do not grant Israel immunity from the implications of the events in Syria.

In the long run, the military and diplomatic support Moscow has been providing for the Assad regime includes potential harm for Israel because behind the back of the Syrian dictator hide Iran and Hezbollah. His continued success, with Russian aid, could lead to further problematic steps from Israel’s point of view, and most important, the presence of Hezbollah forces and Iranian Revolutionary Guards along the Israeli border with Syria on the Golan Heights.

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