TEL AVIV, Israel, Dec. 19 (UPI) -- Israeli generals are preparing for a decisive -- and probably brief -- war against Hezbollah, one of Israel's most implacable foes, with plans to smash the Iranian-backed Lebanese movement's military power, a study says.
The Israelis' primary objective will be to eradicate Hezbollah's reputedly massive arsenal of missiles and rockets "for years to come," the report by the Begin-Sadat Center for Strategic Studies in Tel Aviv said.
Israeli military intelligence estimates Hezbollah has 80,000 missiles and rockets of all calibers, ranging from ballistic missiles with warheads packing 700 pounds of high explosives, to short-range rockets, many of them aimed at cities including Tel Aviv. Some estimates go as high as 100,000.
The weapons that give Israelis nightmares are the long-range missiles with which Hezbollah can pound the Jewish state's population centers and strategic installations without let-up for at least a month.
Israel's military, which failed to crush Hezbollah in a 34-day war in 2006, "has prepared for a combined air and large-scale ground operation, driven by new intelligence and precision-firepower capabilities, to deliver a knockout blow and eliminate Hezbollah as a fighting force for years to come," observed the report's author, Yaakov Lappin, the Jerusalem Post's military analyst.
Knocking out Hezbollah's missile storage bunkers and launch sites will be the air force's main mission, as it was in 2006, when Hezbollah only had about 20,000 missiles, 4,000 of which hit northern Israel.
Lappin said Israel will use "unprecedented capabilities" and a combat fleet that could destroy hundreds of targets a day.
In the last year, Israelis have been bombarded with government warnings to brace themselves for weeks of unprecedented missile bombardment if war comes -- although the media have sought to reassure the public the armed forces will protect them with new weapons, tactics and all manner of electronic wizardry.
A key protection system will be the much-vaunted, four-tier missile defense shield known as Homa, The Wall in Hebrew. This includes the long-range Arrow 3 system, designed to destroy Iranian ballistic missiles outside Earth's atmosphere, down to the Iron Dome, which has by official count shot down 84.6 percent of the short-range Palestinian rockets it has engaged in the last two years.
Even so, whatever the dimensions and capabilities of the generals' plan, another report poured cold water on Israeli expectations of survival in the next war, which will -- for the first time since the state was founded in 1948, a half dozen wars ago -- target the home front.
Nathan Faber of the Faculty of Aerospace Engineering at the Technion, Israel's Institute of Technology, warned in an article on the website of the Magen Laoref, or Homefront Shield, foundation, that the Homa could crumble due to technological, operational and financial reasons in a multifront war with Hezbollah, Iran and others.
Faber, formerly chief scientist in the military's missile division, said at least one-third of all missiles fired at Israel will in all probability get through.
He calculates Israel could be threatened by 800 Iranian Shehab-3b and more advanced Sejjil-2 ballistic missiles, and 400 Soviet-era Scud ballistic missiles held by Syria, some of which may be used in its 33-month-old civil war.
There will also be 500-1,000 medium-range tactical missiles -- like Iran's Fajr or Fateh weapons, which Hezbollah already has -- and more than 100,000 short-range rockets held by Syria, Hezbollah and the Palestinian Hamas group in Gaza.
Faber reckons about one-third of the missiles fired at Israel will be intercepted by the air force, another third will malfunction and one third will get through defensive screens, including about 400 of the 1,200 ballistic systems.
Regarding tactical missiles, Faber noted that "since these are very precise missiles the great majority of them will hit their target" after evading the anti-missile defenses.
He calculates Iron Dome -- which he assesses has a kill rate of only 66 percent -- will have to deal with 30,000 rockets.
The cost will be awesome -- and possibly prohibitive.
By Faber's tally, Iron Dome operations will cost $6 billion, countering 400 ballistic missiles another $3 billion, while mid-range interceptions will total as much as $2 billion.