Technology and the Gaza War/ Taking Iran at their word

Jan 4, 2013

Technology and the Gaza War/ Taking Iran at their word

Update from AIJAC

January 4, 2013
Number 01/12 #01

This Update includes two pieces analysing some of the innovations in military technology and tactics which affected the Gaza conflict/Operation “Pillar of Defence”, which occurred in November.

First up is an evaluation by Dr. Uzi Rubin, the father of Israel’s missile defence program, discussing both Israel’s Iron Dome missile and rocket defence system, and the innovations in rocket design and use on the Hamas side of the Gaza conflict. On Iron Dome, he notes that it proved to be “effective, efficient, and affordable”, and its development possibly a watershed in Israel’s military history. On the Palestinian side he notes both a traditional pattern for similar conflicts – intense fire, a slackening, and a final intensification so as to be able to claim victory – and significant technical improvements, including the use of electronically-operated underground launchers, often in civilian areas, for firing Grad rockets. For Rubin’s strategic analysis in full, CLICK HERE. In addition, Barry Rubin (no relation to Uzi) takes on a bizarre claim some are making that Iron Dome amounts to a disincentive to Israeli-Palestinian peace.

Next up, Fox News gets a unique interview with the head of Israel’s IAV (drone) aircraft school about Israel’s use of these vehicles as targetting aids and to avoid civilian casualties in Gaza. “Major G”, the commander in question, reveals how the ability of Israel’s advanced drones to stay in the air for 40 hours or more can allow Israel to wait to hit a target until the area is clear of civilians, discusses Israel’s system known as Time Critical Targets (TCT) to allow very quick action when a target does present itself, and also details the various techniques Israel uses to warn civilians to evacuate prior to an airstrike on a military target which otherwise might cause collateral damage. The pieces also notes that Human Rights Watch has confirmed the point, made by Rubin above, that Hamas used underground rocket launcher in civilian areas, making Israel’s efforts to avoid civilian casualties much harder. For this unique look into Israel’s deployment of advanced drones in Gaza, CLICK HERE. Meanwhile, a large collection of post-war analysis by numerous academic experts has been put together by the Institute for National Security Studies at Tel Aviv University.

Finally, American commentator Ben Cohen takes to task the many commentators who insist on refusing to take seriously Iranian promotion of antisemitic conspiracy theories and other violent expressions and aspirations. He asks how Iran’s response to last month’s Sandy Hook Elementary School massacre, where a local man murdered 26 people including 20 children in Connecticut – namely promoting the conspiracy theory that Israeli “death squads” were actually responsible for the murders – is to be reconcilied with the widespread insistence that Iran is a rational agent which can be deterred and negotiated with in good faith. He goes on to make the case that the widespread assumption that extremist Iranian rhetoric is something that is meaningless and can be ignored, essentially amount to treating the Iranians like children or even perhaps a subtle form of racism. For the rest of his argument, CLICK HERE. The Washington Post also had an excellent editorial on the state of negotiations on Iran’s nuclear program, and why they need to end, one or another, soon.

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Uzi Rubin

December 21, 2012

On December 18, 2012, Uzi Rubin addressed a Policy Forum at The Washington Institute. Mr. Rubin is president of the defense consulting firm Rubincon Ltd. and formerly served as founding director of the Israel Missile Defense Organization. The following is a rapporteur’s summary of his remarks.

November’s Gaza war was a watershed event for both Israel and the Palestinians. Militants in Gaza exhibited improved, though still unguided, rocket technology and a more robust command-and-control structure, while Israel employed active missile defenses on a widespread basis for the first time.

Palestinian operations featured larger numbers of more advanced rockets capable of striking population centers and economic hubs at greater ranges than before, including a few that reached as far as the outskirts of Tel Aviv and Jerusalem. Short-range rockets included the homemade Qassam, which the Palestinians have used since the early 2000s, and the more lethal and accurate Iranian 107-millimeter rocket, a portable weapon with a range of about ten kilometers.

Extended-range Grad rockets, acquired around 2009, have a range of over forty kilometers and are fired from underground launchers, which are electronically raised and lowered like those used by Hizballah in the 2006 Lebanon war. These launchers are often located in residential areas in order to use civilians as human shields.

Medium-range rockets acquired by the Palestinians in 2011 include the Iranian-made Fajr-5, which has a range of 75 kilometers, and the M-75, which is likely an Iranian design that is at least in part locally made. One M-75 is believed to have struck a vacant area south of Jerusalem, but the impact crater was too small to be the result of the 80-kilogram warhead claimed for that weapon.

The Palestinian rocket offensive was characterized by high-tempo, concentrated fire and the ability to shift aim points and engage targets of opportunity. Over eight days, more than 1,500 rockets were fired at Israel. Of those, 152 did not reach Israel and 875 struck empty areas; most of the remaining 479, or about 32 percent of total rockets fired, would have struck residential areas had they not been intercepted.

The attacks exhibited a trend seen in previous rocket campaigns: a high rate of fire at the outset of hostilities, followed by a decline over time, and then a spike at the very end to create an image of victory. This last-minute flurry of launches showed the Palestinians’ ability to preserve their command-and-control capabilities even in the face of intense Israeli offensive operations. The conflict was also marked by the unprecedented targeting of Jerusalem, despite the risk of damaging Muslim and Christian holy places. In addition, the Palestinians took aim at Israeli troop concentrations, showing that they could fire at targets of opportunity.

The Israeli response involved airstrikes, effective passive defenses, and, for the first time, active defenses in the form of the Iron Dome system. Offensive operations consisted of preemptive strikes against medium-range rocket storage and launch sites, harassment of rocket launching teams and command centers, and counter fire against exposed launchers. The preemptive strikes were the most effective, as shown by the relatively limited use of medium-range rockets afterward. Attacks on launch sites were somewhat less effective, possibly due to Israel’s desire to minimize civilian casualties and collateral damage in the residential areas where many launchers are located.

Israeli passive defenses included an early warning system that was extremely effective in giving civilians enough time to find shelter. In fact, it is doubtful that a single rocket landed in Israel without prior warning. Even so, several problems emerged that will need to be addressed prior to the next war, such as controlling the crowds of spectators at impact areas and near Iron Dome batteries. Such high-risk behavior could result in casualties during future attacks.

One of the defining features of the conflict was the widespread use of Iron Dome, which was developed in record time after the 2006 Lebanon war — in just four years. The first operational battery was fielded in April 2011; the costs of developing and producing the first two batteries were paid by Israel, but the United States financed subsequent production.

Iron Dome proved an effective, efficient, and affordable option for defending Israel from rocket attacks. Four batteries were operational before the fighting, with a fifth added during the conflict to defend Tel Aviv. These five batteries destroyed 421 rockets (or 84 percent of engaged threats) using only 500 interceptors, for a very efficient 1.2 interceptors per rocket (compared to 2.2 during engagements in March 2012). In addition, according to the Israel Missile Defense Organization, all Palestinian counter tactics — including depressed trajectories, concentrated fire, and rapidly recurring salvos — were ineffective. Iron Dome was able to take out entire salvos simultaneously, one of the key reasons that it was selected over other systems that could engage only one rocket at a time.

In the 2006 Lebanon war, Israel experienced one fatality for every 75 rockets fired. During the Gaza conflict, however, Iron Dome helped lower that figure to one fatality per 300 rockets fired. Moreover, the 500 expended interceptors cost $25 million and were able to adequately defend against 1,500 rockets, proving that active rocket defense is extremely cost effective.

In strategic terms, the conflict was largely a “push-button war,” allowing Israel to defend its territory from rockets and fulfill its stated objectives of minimizing casualties and damage, while also providing the breathing room needed to avoid ground operations. All three aspects of the Israeli response — offense, active defense, and passive defense — were crucial to protecting the homeland. Indeed, the outcome established active defense as a central pillar of Israel’s ability to prevail in future conflicts.

The Gaza fighting may also be a harbinger of wars to come. Hamas military doctrine, with its focus on rockets and missiles, is a reflection of Iran’s military doctrine, so any future war in the Gulf will likely unfold along similar lines. The United States should therefore invest in its own active defenses to protect population centers, national infrastructure, and military installations around the world.

Finally, despite being a relatively bloodless engagement, the Gaza conflict could well prove to be a watershed event in Israel’s military history. Fierce dedication and creativity within the country’s defense community, even in the face of stubborn opposition by decisionmakers, provided a timely and effective response to the asymmetric threat of rocket fire from Gaza. While Israel had the financial resources for full production of Iron Dome batteries, it lacked the time to debate such allocations, so U.S. financial support was invaluable in ensuring that it was prepared to counter the threat. Israelis are in debt to President Obama and Congress for their resolute and generous support of rocket defenses that saved the lives of many innocent civilians.


This rapporteur’s summary was prepared by Rebecca Edelston.

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Exclusive: How Israel’s drones help minimize civilian casualties

By Paul Alster

FoxNews.com,December 29, 2012

HAIFA, Israel –  A single Syrian missile strike on a bakery near Hama killed more than 60 innocent civilians last week, so how did Israel manage to fire more than 1,500 high powered missiles into densely-populated Gaza in November, with the total loss of 161 lives, of which 90 have been acknowledged by Hamas itself as active combatants?

The numbers speak for themselves, but very little credit has so far been given by foreign governments, NGOs, and the international media for the care taken by the Israeli military to avoid collateral damage during its recent vicious engagement with Hamas and Islamic Jihad fighters.

‘Major G,’ the chief instructing officer of the Israeli UAV (Drone) School, spoke exclusively to Foxnews.com on condition of anonymity about Israel’s hi-tech drone capabilities, his military’s terms of engaging the enemy, and aspects of his direct role in the recent Gaza conflict in which Israel strongly contends most non-combatant deaths were as a result of Palestinian civilians being routinely used as human shields by Hamas.

“Drones (UAVs – Unmanned Aerial Vehicles), play a very important and essential role in the protection of the State of Israel,” ‘Major G’ explained. “The great advantage of the drone is the ability to stay in the air for up to 40 hours at a time above the relevant area to perform ISR missions – Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance.”

Once a drone identifies a target, its operator is then responsible for setting in motion a sometimes dizzyingly fast chain of events that may result in a missile strike taking place.

“Using commercial apertures and video cameras, we have the ability to work with both daytime and night time infrared images. My Heron1 drone does only ISR, but I have the ability to designate a target to another aircraft. This capability is very important because I am able to stay above and investigate the target for a long time, clear it of uninvolved civilians, and only when there is a clear path of fire do I call for the F16 or Apache helicopter,” said ‘Major G.’

Critics of Israel’s actions invariably suggest a lack of concern about collateral damage when air strikes are used, but ‘Major G’ revealed  in detail how a drone operator sitting somewhere in Israel can clear a target on the ground in Gaza of innocent civilians.

“In a lot of cases we have regular houses where in the basement there is a lot of ammunition, bombs and missiles. The house is populated sometimes with the families having willingly cooperated with the Hamas, and in other cases they don’t have any choice; Hamas forces this on them. In cases where there are people inside a house or building we never strike the target without prior warning. We make phone calls, send leaflet flier warnings, and sometimes use a technique called ‘Knock On the Roof,’ where we fire very, very small, very precise tiny bombs onto the edge of the roof and then they (the family) know that the attack is about to begin and everybody can go outside.”

But even the best intelligence and prior warnings cannot always prevent civilian casualties caught up in the fog of war, as happened in the widely reported case of the Dalou family in Gaza, nine of whom were killed by a single Israeli missile strike.

FoxNews.com asked the Israel Defense Force for an official explanation on the loss of life at the Dalou house and received the following statement:

“The IDF targets only terror related sites based on carefully collected intelligence. All possible precautions were taken as the civilians in Gaza were not targets in this operation. The Dalou residence was known to the IDF intelligence as a hideout of a senior militant operative in Hamas’ rocket launching infrastructure. While the IDF regrets the loss of life on both sides, the responsibility ultimately lies with terror operatives who use the civil population as human shields when using civilian buildings as hideouts, or to store weaponry.”

The latter part of the IDF statement has been backed up by Human Rights Watch, which also slammed the Palestinians for randomly attacking densely populated civilian areas in Israel.

“Unlike during previous fighting, armed groups seem to have fired many rockets from underground tunnels, opening a hatch to launch the munition,” HRW stated in its Dec. 24 report. “Under the laws of war, parties to an armed conflict are required to take all feasible precautions to protect civilians under their control from the effects of attacks and not to place military targets in or near densely populated areas. Human Rights Watch has not been able to identify any instances in November in which a Palestinian armed group warned civilians to evacuate an area before a rocket launch.”

Of the Palestinian attacks on Israel, HRW noted, “The absence of Israeli military forces in the areas where rockets hit, as well as statements by leaders of Palestinian armed groups that population centers were being targeted, indicate that the armed groups deliberately attacked Israeli civilians and civilian objects. Anyone who commits serious laws-of-war violations intentionally or recklessly is responsible for war crimes.”

But the killing of two Al-Aqsa TV journalists in an Israeli missile strike on a media center during the Gaza conflict was also criticized by Human Rights Watch, even though Israel insists the building had been used for launching missiles.

“Just because Israel says a journalist was a fighter or a TV station was a command center does not make it so,” said Sarah Leah Watson, HRW’s Middle East director. “Journalists who praise Hamas and TV stations that applaud attacks on Israel may be propagandists, but that does not make them legitimate targets under the laws of war.”

One of the first points stressed by ‘Major G’ is that the background to many missiles strikes is extensive surveillance and monitoring by various branches of the military and intelligence services for weeks, months, or even years prior to the moment of the strike. Although he didn’t discuss the specific case of Ahmed Jabari, this was evident in the strike that killed the high ranking Hamas terrorist mastermind, the spark that finally ignited November’s hostilities.

According to British newspaper The Daily Telegraph, “Jabari took security so seriously that few ordinary Palestinians in Gaza had ever seen him on their crowded streets, although everybody knew his name. He had stayed one step ahead of his Israeli enemies for years, moving house constantly and hardly ever showing himself in public.”

Jabari, the brains behind the kidnapping of Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit in 2006 and a host of bombings and attacks against Israel, had been well aware that he was a target and used a fleet of ten cars to confuse drone operators and Israeli intelligence operatives on the ground in Gaza. Israel’s Channel 10 TV reported that on the day in question solid information reached the IDF that Jabari was in a particular car and that the opportunity had at last arisen to eliminate him. That opportunity, when it came, was seized within moments by Israel.

“Since the Second Lebanon War, we have developed a new technique called TCT; Time Critical Targets, targets that have a very short lifespan, ‘Major G’ said. “We (drones) find them, gather enough intelligence to confirm that this is actually a terrorist, then call for another aircraft to perform the attack.”

The Jabari case was one example of the TCT policy, and ‘Major G’ gave a very rare insight into another. “As another example from the latest Pillar of Defense operation in Gaza, we had intelligence that told us that Hamas terrorists were about to launch missiles. We scanned the area and then saw two people running away right after the launch. A basement (trap) door had closed behind them and nothing was left to be seen (of the missile launch site). This was very complicated because I didn’t know if the people running away actually performed the launch, so we turned immediately to other people who were able to check this out with verified intelligence to confirm that these were indeed the suspects. We called the helicopter and he performed the attack. All this process took less than a minute.”

Looking back on the Gaza conflict, ‘Major G’ summed up his view of how his drone unit and the IDF as a whole had performed.

“We managed to achieve all of our objectives,” he said.  Nevertheless, there are always things that we can learn…and do better the next time. Our former Chief-of-Staff, Gabi Askenazi, said, “The military can be for two things; either preparing for a war, or being at war. We are prepared for every kind of scenario.”

Paul Alster is an Israel-based journalist who blogs at www.paulalster.com.

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Iran: A plea for respect

Ben Cohen

Monday, December 24, 2012 at 3:08AM

 It often seems like there are two Irans.

There’s the Iran deemed by western political leaders and diplomats to be a rational agent with whom it’s possible to negotiate over that country’s nuclear ambitions. It’s a common position on both sides of the Atlantic. In America, former Nebraska senator Chuck Hagel, currently the object of much speculation over his prospects for being appointed the Obama Administration’s next Secretary of Defense, has been an ardent advocate of talks with the Iranian regime. An opponent of tougher sanctions on Tehran, Hagel urged President George W. Bush, back in 2007, to engage in direct negotiations with the mullahs.

And in Europe, the EU’s foreign policy chief, Catherine Ashton, has gone out of her way to praise Iran’s “constructive and useful” approach to negotiations, advocating at the same time for more talks.

But there’s also another Iran: a country whose leadership is possessed by an apocalyptic messianism, which loudly incites genocide against Israel, and which is additionally regarded by some conservative Arab states as an existential threat.

That second Iran was displayed in all its hideous glory in the aftermath of the massacre at the Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., during which gunman Adam Lanza slaughtered 20 young children and six staff members. Except that, according to the Iranian regime’s English-language mouthpiece, Press TV, Lanza was a “fall guy” for the real authors of the massacre: Israeli “death squads” angered by the recent UN vote granting “Palestine” non-member status at the international body.

The originator of this repulsive conspiracy theory, Mike Harris of the anti-Semitic “Veterans Today” website, was encouraged by Press TV’s presenter as he laid the blame on “Zionists” not just for the Newtown horror, but for the shootings of Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords and 18 others in Tucson, Ariz., in January 2011 as well. Harris also ranted about the “filth” put out by “Zionist-controlled” Hollywood, and, in a nod to Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, stated that he wants “Israel off the face of the earth.” The U.S. Congress, he asserted, is “bought and paid for by the Israeli Lobby in the U.S.” (That same phrase, incidentally, has also been used by New York Times columnist Tom Friedman.)

Here’s the point: by giving Harris an unchallenged platform just hours after the funeral of 6-year-old Noah Pozner, a Jewish victim of Lanza’s, the Iranian regime, wearing its Press TV hat, was deliberately and sadistically rejoicing in America’s national trauma. Remember the scenes of celebration in the Muslim world after the 9/11 atrocities? This episode was disturbingly similar.

I, for one, may have been disgusted by what I saw, but I wasn’t surprised. Anti-Americanism and anti-Semitism have always been bedfellows, never more so than in the imagination of the Iranian regime.

Yet the question remains: how does one reconcile an apparently rational Iran, concerned with its national interests, with the Iran motivated by loathing of western cultures, values and peoples?

Foreign policy realists—those who think that a state’s actions, not its words, are what really counts—would counsel us to ignore such inflammatory statements. It’s just the Iranians, they would say, letting off steam, or playing to the anti-American gallery. It doesn’t really mean anything, and it certainly won’t impact their “constructive and useful” approach to the nuclear negotiations.

Actually, if I was an Iranian leader, I’d feel weirdly insulted by that approach. I would counter that, as an adult, my views should be respected as genuinely held, however outlandish or shocking these might be.

In some ways, the villains of this particular piece are not the Iranians, who are completely candid about their opinions, but those western voices who think that we can nonetheless negotiate with them in good faith. True, the Iranians have lied to us for almost a decade when it comes to their nuclear program, but why would they do anything else? The idea that Iran is basically an intelligent child given to the occasional tantrum is, in this context, a far more troubling deceit.

Now consider that, on Jan. 16, negotiators from the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) are scheduled to visit Tehran for a new round of discussions. Yukiya Amano, the shrewd diplomat in charge of the IAEA, has already pointed out a number of major stumbling blocks that are likely to arise. These include Iran’s demand that once IAEA questions on a particular issue have been addressed, the matter should be considered closed. Tehran is also insisting on access to western intelligence files on the military uses of its ostensibly civilian nuclear program. Finally, there’s the established Iranian strategy of playing for time—as one western diplomat told Reuters, “We really want to avoid a structured approach that is simply a gateway to further process.”

Continued “process,” however, suits the Iranians, because they have no intention of reaching a compromise that would prevent the weaponization of their nuclear program. Why? Well, it’s simple. They hate us and everything we stand for, and they know that possessing a nuclear weapon is the best way of defying us. If the Tehran regime were a good faith negotiating partner, it would not authorize its media outlets to crow over the Newtown murders.

Finally, there’s an additional question which advocates of negotiations should ask themselves: Why do we not take Iran’s insults seriously? Is it because we have low expectations of Muslims to begin with? That while we can never presume that they’ll say what’s right, they can probably be persuaded to act in their own interests?

I suspect that is the case. And that, plainly, is a form of racism that, ironically, enables the Iranians to promote their anti-Semitism and anti-Americanism with impunity! 

I don’t, therefore, assume that anything positive will come from further negotiations. But I would request that western negotiators do the Iranians the honor of taking their words— all of their words—at face value.

Ben Cohen is the Shillman Analyst for JNS.org. His writings on Jewish affairs and Middle Eastern politics have been published in Commentary, the New York Post, Ha’aretz, Jewish Ideas Daily and many other publications.

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