Israel: Too few Iron Domes, cities exposed

April 1, 2013 at 3:54 PM   |   0 comments

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TEL AVIV, Israel, April 1 (UPI) -- Israel's Home Front chief says cities will likely be unprotected by Iron Dome anti-missile systems if war erupts because military installations will get priority, a warning observers say is meant to pressure Washington not to cut military aid to the Jewish state.

At present, only five batteries of Iron Dome, developed by Rafael Advanced Defense Systems to shoot down short-range rockets, are operational. Israeli military planners say at least 13 are required to provide full-scale defense across the country.

Israel has had to cut defense spending in recent years and it is only hefty funding by the United States that has financed development and production of Iron Dome.

Each battery costs around $50 million and consists of 20 Tamir interceptors that cost around $50,000 each.

"I will recommend protecting the country's functional continuity and the ability to maintain an offensive effort over time, until the war is won," Maj. Gen. Eyal Eisenberg, who heads the Home Front Command, told the Israeli daily Haaretz.

"That means protecting power plants and the air force bases before the big cities.

"As of now ... we'll have to introduce an order of priorities in resources. We'll have to make a tough, trenchant and clear decision."

Eisenberg went on to say, "I'm preparing for a scenario in which more than 1,000 missiles and rockets a day are fired at the civilian rear."

He acknowledged that, in fact, civilians would find themselves "on a second front."

At present, Israel's military intelligence estimates that Hezbollah in Lebanon, the Jewish state's northern neighbor, has in excess of 45,000 missiles and rockets, including hundreds capable of hitting anywhere in Israel.

Hamas and other Palestinian militants in the Gaza Strip have thousands more, mostly of a smaller caliber and destructive power but enough it hit Tel Aviv, Israel's largest city, and Jerusalem.

Iran has an estimated 200-300 operational intermediate-range ballistic missiles, primarily the Shehab-3b, with the more advanced Sejjil-2 under development.

Syria reportedly has several hundred Soviet-era Scud-B and C ballistic missiles and shorter range weapons capable of blasting the Jewish state.

The Israelis have a highly effective lobby in the United States that's pressing for them to be exempted from any cuts in military aid because of their perennial security crisis.

Few U.S. politicians are prepared to take on the American Israel Public Affairs Committee if they want to secure re-election. In March, AIPAC launched a blitz on Capitol Hill to pressure Congress to exempt Israel from the cuts.

It's been common knowledge in Israel for months that the military would give priority to protecting key strategic installations with Iron Dome, while the civilian population took its chances but Eisenberg's interview, and his stress on the dangers Israel's defenseless civilians face, bore the hallmarks of AIPAC's hard-hitting strategy.

U.S. President Barack Obama has promised that military aid to Israel -- $3.1 billion a year, plus funding for missile-defense projects -- won't be affected by the drastic cuts in U.S. defense spending under the so-called "sequestration" program that began March 1.

Indeed, he personally pledged that during his recent visit to Israel in March. But he didn't explain how that would be done while large numbers of Americans endure major belt-tightening, and even losing their jobs.

Washington provided $205 million for Iron Dome in fiscal 2012, primarily so the government could buy more batteries and it's budgeting another $680 million to the end of 2015.

The Americans are also helping fund David's Sling, designed to intercept medium-range missiles, and Arrow-3, an anti-ballistic system that will destroy long-range missiles outside Earth's atmosphere.

David's Sling's a joint project between Rafael and the U.S. Raytheon Co., while Arrow-3 is being developed by state-owned Israel Aerospace Industries and the U.S. Boeing Co.

There are indications the Americans may be leaning on Israel to co-produce Iron Dome, the only anti-missile project in which they had no U.S. industrial involvement, possibly in return for uninterrupted U.S. aid.

Israel has repeatedly rejected calls by the U.S. Congress for access to Iron Dome technology but shortly before Obama's visit, it agreed the Americans should be allowed to co-produce Iron Dome so they can benefit from the funds they've provided.

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