TEL AVIV, Israel, May 18 (UPI) -- Former Defense Minister Moshe Arens has warned that Israel's civilian population is a sitting duck in the face of the growing threat of massive missile attacks by Hezbollah, a menace he says "will have to be removed."
He charged that this missile crisis "has been repeatedly ignored by Israel's leaders" but, with Hezbollah currently deploying an estimated 50,000 missiles and rockets -- by Israeli count -- in Lebanon, "this intolerable situation must be faced.
"It's a threat that will have to be removed," Arens, a right-wing hawk, declared in a commentary published Tuesday by the liberal daily Haaretz.
In what appeared to be a call for pre-emptive strikes against Hezbollah's missiles, which he said "can reach every corner of Israel and threaten its entire civilian population, Arens said, "If these rockets are launched they could cause incalculable damage."
His allegation that recent governments had failed to take action echoed charges made by military analysts and commentators in recent months as it became clear the Jewish state remains highly vulnerable to missile attack despite a five-year drive to develop effective defensive systems.
The military has sought to calm these growing fears of an unprecedented and probably sustained bombardment of the Israeli home front if the Jewish state goes to war against Hezbollah once more following an inconclusive conflict in 2006.
The air force has allowed the media for the first time into the command center for its Arrow-2 long-range, high-altitude missile interceptor designed to shoot down Iran's ballistic Shehab-3b weapons to show off its capabilities.
But the danger Israel faces from Hezbollah comes from short-range systems and here Israel remains seriously exposed despite the recent deployment of the first Iron Dome batteries designed to counter such weapons.
Much was made of Iron Dome downing eight out of nine Grad-type rockets fired by Palestinian militants from the Gaza Strip in March. But the military admits that it may not be able to cope effectively with mass salvoes of rockets.
On top of that, the Home Front Command admitted April 26 that because of a lack of state funding it has only been able to supply gas masks to 31 percent of the population of 7 million.
It was the 34-day war between Israel and Hezbollah in the summer of 2006 that gave Israelis an idea of what is now confronting them. Hezbollah unleashed nearly 4,000 missiles and rockets -- around 120 a day -- into northern Israel. It was the worst bombardment Israel has suffered since the state was proclaimed in 1948.
Arens, three times defense minister between 1983 and 1999, likened Israel's current situation with the 1962 Cuban missile crisis that faced President John F. Kennedy.
"This constant threat hanging over Israel's civil population decisively affects Israel's strategic position," Arens wrote.
"For many years, a fundamental element of Israel's defense doctrine was that the civilian population's safety would be assured in time of war. With the deployment of these rockets in Lebanon, this has ceased to be the case."
Arens didn't specify how Israel should eliminate these weapons, which analysts say could allow Hezbollah to hammer the country for up to two months firing more than 200 a day.
But Israel has threatened to launch pre-emptive air strikes against Iran, which arms and funds Hezbollah, to knock out key installations in its nuclear program.
Airstrikes of the magnitude required to hit so many Hezbollah launch sites and depots with precision-guided weapons would be immeasurably easier than complex, long-range operations against Iran.
But the danger of hitting Hezbollah in such a manner is that the Shiite guerrillas would respond by firing their missiles, no doubt inflicting heavy casualties, and that could ultimately involve the Iranians as well.
Arens indicated that Lebanon, which has no state control over Hezbollah, would suffer heavily if Israel took pre-emptive action.
"This situation should also be of concern to the Lebanese people," he said.
"Israeli military action to destroy Hezbollah's missiles -- something that seems bound to happen sooner or later – would bring considerable destruction to Lebanon.
"In other words, as long as these rockets are in Hezbollah's hands, all Lebanon is sitting on a powder keg. Hezbollah, while posing as Lebanon's defender, is actually creating a grave danger for that country and its people."