'Jerusalem now target for Arab missiles'

Jan. 5, 2012 at 1:17 PM
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TEL AVIV, Israel, Jan. 5 (UPI) -- The Israeli military has warned that up to 15,000 missiles and rockets could hit Israeli cities and towns if a new war erupts and for the first time declared that Jerusalem, long considered safe from attack because of its Muslim shrines and Arab population, could be targeted.

The dire predictions came amid a bitter political battle between the Defense Ministry and the Finance Ministry over major cutbacks in the military budget for 2012 to boost social programs.

There have been widespread allegations that Israel's generals, and indeed Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, are scare-mongering to ensure the defense budget is not only left intact, with future increases, but that the Defense Ministry's long-held financial autonomy isn't undermined.

But the warnings, which The Jerusalem Posts say emanated from unidentified "senior officers," are the latest in a series of publicly disclosed military assessments over recent months that Israel's home front faces unprecedented dangers.

These studies underline a deep-seated concern that for the first time Israel's population of some 7 million faces a serious and credible threat of a sustained and potentially destructive missile assault.

Analysts say it could last up to two months, with 200-300 missiles, including Iranian ballistic Shebab-3 and Sejjil-2 weapons and Syrian Scud-C systems, exploding every day.

The threats stem largely from tens of thousands of missiles reportedly in the hands of the Jewish state's foes, which include Lebanon's Hezbollah and Palestinian radicals funded and armed by Tehran and Damascus.

"The threat scenarios … are compiled by the Home Front Command and are based on intelligence collected regarding the enemy's intentions as well as its capabilities," Post military correspondent Yaakov Katz observed.

The long-held assumption that Jerusalem, which holds the al-Aqsa Mosque, the third holiest shrine in Islam, and 264,000 Arabs, one-third of the city's population, would be immune is no longer considered applicable.

"That's no longer the case," a senior officer told the Post. "We now believe that in a future war, there's a possibility that Jerusalem will also come under missile fire, even from the Gaza Strip."

Israelis got their first taste of sustained missile attack in the 34-day war with Hezbollah in July-August 2006. Guerrillas fired nearly 4,000 missiles and rockets, with most landing in the northern Galilee.

The port of Haifa, Israel's third largest city, was repeatedly hit. Jerusalem and Tel Aviv, Israel's financial center with an urban conurbation of more than 2 million people, weren't. Fifty-two Israelis were killed.

The only other time the Israeli home front was bombarded in wartime was during the 1991 Gulf War. Iraqi tyrant Saddam Hussein unleashed 42 Scud ballistic missiles against Tel Aviv, causing damage but few casualties.

Israel has developed missile defenses that remain largely untested and is without funds to produce enough batteries to provide maximum cover.

One, David's Sling, designed to counter medium-range and cruise missiles, remains under development. It's not expected to be deployed until 2013.

The only system that's seen action is Iron Dome, developed post-2006 and designed to counter short-range rockets like the so-called Katyushas used by Hezbollah and Hamas in Gaza.

It became operational a year ago. The two batteries in action have scored a 75 percent interception rate against limited Palestinian barrages that pale into insignificance to the massive bombardments expected.

Another problem is funding. The military says it needs 20 batteries to cover the country to a reasonable degree. A third battery has been acquired but only U.S. funding will produce the others.

Israel is counting, too, on U.S. missile defenses, mainly naval, helping counter large-scale strikes.

Last week, Lt. Gen. Frank Gorenc, commander of the U.S. 3rd Air Force based in Germany, visited Israel to finalize plans for the biggest joint missile defense exercises by the two allies for an attack on a scale neither have ever encountered.

The maneuvers, scheduled for the spring, will include deployment of the U.S. land-based Terminal High Altitude Area Defense system and ship-borne Aegis ballistic missile defense systems for simulated interceptions.

These will be linked to an integrated command system that includes a U.S. long-range X-band radar unit stationed in the Negev Desert three years ago.

Israel's Iron Dome, long-range Arrow-2 interceptors and the U.S.-built Patriot missiles, used against medium-range projectiles, will also be involved.

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