[Marxism] The sobering effect of long-range missiles: WP report

Marvin Gandall marvgandall at videotron.ca
Thu Jul 20 04:40:24 MDT 2006

The "ballistic intifada" on Israel's borders might be temporarily set back
by air power and land forces which carve out buffer zones, but advances in
missile technology have given Hebollah and the Palestinian popular militias
a new means of redressing the military balance. This may force the Israelis
to negotiate rather than attempt to unilaterally define the terms of their
previous and planned withdrawals from the Palestinian territories and South

The former Israeli foreign minister Amos Ben-Ami recently urged the Israeli
government to recognize and deal with Hamas rather than trying to destroy
it. Now, according to the Washington Post, other Israelis also appear to be
coming to the conclusion that "a negotiated pullback from the West Bank" is
the only way to "ease tensions with the Palestinians and perhaps lead to a

As in Northern Ireland, a negotiated settlement proposes concessions to the
political leadership of a resistance movement in exchange for its agreement
to restrain or dismantle its military wing. It requires prior understanding
on both sides that a military stalemate exists and a political solution is
the only means of resolving the conflict. The US has reached this point in
Iraq, and the Hezbollah missile barrages may be driving this point home to
the Israelis in a far more emphatic way than the multiple diplomatic "road
maps" it has so far contemptuously ignored.
Missile War Is a New Challenge To Israel's Long Rule of the Sky
By Scott Wilson
Washington Post Foreign Service
Wednesday, July 19, 2006; A01

JERUSALEM, July 18 -- Israel and the radical Islamic groups Hamas and
Hezbollah are waging war for the first time largely in the skies, exchanging
rocket fire, artillery rounds and airstrikes in battles that military
officials and analysts here say could redefine the regional conflict for
years to come.

Both militias are now drawing on longer-range arsenals to send missiles
deeper into Israel. The launch sites are hard to detect, and the short-range
rockets reach targets in seconds, making interception nearly impossible.
Israel dominated air power in earlier years but now faces a fresh challenge
from the crude rockets that Hezbollah and Hamas are using to strike Israeli
cities. The war of the missiles could also render less relevant the
large-scale ground operations that the Israeli military relied on in the

Israel's withdrawal from Gaza last year and south Lebanon in 2000 has
deprived Hamas and Hezbollah of targets they once hit regularly: army posts,
settlers and soldiers.

"Israel has long ruled the skies," said Michael Oren, a senior fellow at the
Shalem Center, an academic research organization here, and the author of
"Six Days of War: June 1967 and the Making of the Modern Middle East," a
chronicle of the 1967 Middle East war. "Since they can't shoot down the
airplanes, these groups have developed a way to try to rule the skies
themselves with missiles. And our ability to stop missiles is very limited."

In his wartime address to the nation this week, Prime Minister Ehud Olmert
warned that "Israel will not agree to live in the shadow of missiles or
rockets against its residents." Olmert's plan to leave parts of the West
Bank, reducing what some Israelis have called its strategic depth near the
country's narrow middle, could also make more of Israel vulnerable to rocket
strikes, as did its withdrawal from south Lebanon and Gaza.

The separation barrier that Olmert said will roughly mark Israel's eastern
border after the partial West Bank withdrawal is designed to keep out
Palestinians, not rockets. Israeli military officials have warned that the
next Palestinian uprising could be "a ballistic intifada," but others say a
negotiated pullback from the West Bank would ease tensions with the
Palestinians and perhaps lead to a state.

The Lebanon bombing campaign, overseen by Lt. Gen. Dan Halutz, the first air
force officer to lead Israel's military, has destroyed a number of key
transportation routes from Syria, collapsed bridges and shut down Beirut's
international airport. In its broadest terms, it is an attempt to seal off
the country in order to cut Hezbollah's weapons supply lines, which Israeli
officials believe run from Iran and Syria. But Israel has been unable to
stop Hezbollah from firing roughly 720 rockets into the Galilee region of
northern Israel over the past week.

The conflict began last Wednesday after Hezbollah gunmen captured two
Israeli soldiers and killed eight others in a cross-border raid and
subsequent fighting. At the same time, Palestinian gunmen in Gaza have
launched scores of rockets into southern Israel since the June 25 capture of
another Israeli soldier from a post outside the strip, a raid that included
Hamas's military wing.

So far, 13 Israeli civilians have been killed, including one Tuesday in the
northern city of Nahariya, by Hezbollah rocket fire. More than 230 Lebanese
have died in the Israeli bombing and shelling, the majority of them
civilians, Lebanese officials have said. Israeli military officials say
Hezbollah has used civilian neighborhoods to launch rockets.

"When we look at the big picture, what you have is a completely different
kind of war," said Brig. Gen. Ido Nehushtan, a member of Israel's general
staff. Nehushtan said Israel's success in the contest between one of the
world's most sophisticated armies and a stateless militia, which often uses
the cover of civilian areas, would send a message to other groups at war
with the Jewish state.

But he acknowledged that Israel faces many difficulties, including how to
track primitive rockets, the high cost of using precision bombs against
Hezbollah missiles that sometimes cost only hundreds of dollars, and
limiting civilian casualties in a war being fought in residential
neighborhoods. "This is asymmetric war in its purest form. And the outcome
of the conflict will project a lot about terror activity not only throughout
the Middle East but the rest of the world."

Israel's air force, equipped with U.S.-made fighters and attack helicopters,
has been key to many wartime victories. During the 1982 Lebanon war, the
Israeli air force shot down 100 Syrian jets without losing any of its own.

But those successes also included decisive contributions from the armored
corps and infantry. The limits of air power became clear during the first
Palestinian uprising in the late 1980s. Facing a restive population using
mostly rocks and civil resistance, airstrikes made little tactical sense.
That changed during the second Palestinian uprising, when Israeli aircraft
were deployed to bomb government buildings in the West Bank and Gaza and to
shoot missiles at suspected militants.

"Even if the military operation may temporarily stop the rockets from
Lebanon and Gaza, Israel must be ready to pay a certain price, namely to
negotiate in order to stop it forever," said Gabriel Sheffer, a political
science professor at Hebrew University in Jerusalem. "There will be no end
to the rockets until there is a political and cultural solution to the
broader conflict."

Israel began developing anti-missile systems after the 1991 Persian Gulf
War, when the Jewish state was hit by Scud missiles from Iraq, despite the
U.S.-deployed Patriot anti-missile system and thousands of U.S. Air Force
sorties over Iraq's western desert searching for launchers. The Israeli
military has since deployed the Arrow-2 anti-missile system, designed to
knock down ballistic missiles such as the Scuds possessed by Syria but not
the shorter-range Katyushas or Qassams.

In partnership with the U.S. Army, Israel had begun developing the Nautilus,
a laser-based system for use against short-range missiles. One of the
virtues of the Nautilus was that, for the first time, it was designed to
provide a cost-effective way to knock down Katyushas. But despite a
successful test a few years ago, the U.S. Army backed out of the program.

In Gaza, Israel has relied largely on airstrikes and artillery fire to go to
the source of the Qassams. The rockets range from 2 1/2 to 6 1/2 feet in
length and are usually made from metal tubing, sometimes from sawed-up
lampposts uprooted from Gaza's streets.

They are fired from collapsible metal stands, often from dunes, orchards or
narrow streets, and the farthest one has traveled roughly nine miles. In
attempting to stop rockets, the Israeli military has fired more than 11,000
artillery shells into Gaza and carried out scores of assassinations from the
air since withdrawing its last soldier from the strip in September.

"The shorter the range, the more difficult it is to do something against
it," said Isaac Ben-Israel, a retired major general who headed the research
and development directorate of Israel's Defense Ministry. "The time between
preparing the rockets and hitting the targets is seconds. There's nothing
you can really do to intercept them."

In Lebanon, Israel's threat has primarily been the Katyushas, commonly 120mm
factory-made rockets that carry a roughly 40-pound warhead. In recent days,
however, Hezbollah has fired rockets more than 25 miles with payloads twice
the size of the traditional Katyusha.

But Ben-Israel, who now runs the security studies department at Tel Aviv
University, said the longer-range rockets actually present easier targets
for Israel's air force because they require sophisticated launchers that are
easier to track. Israeli military officials say they have had some success
in recent days knocking out the known Hezbollah launch sites and rocket fire
has declined, though it is unclear whether that is a result of the military
operation or Hezbollah's strategy.

The longer-range rockets are also far more expensive than Katyushas, meaning
Hezbollah likely has fewer of them.

By relying on airstrikes and limited incursions, Olmert has avoided long and
bloody ground operations that could lead to an unpopular occupation. A small
number of Israeli special forces have been operating just inside the
Lebanese border against Hezbollah posts, Israeli military officials said,
although there are no signs that an invasion force is being assembled. All
but a few specialized army reservists remain at home.

Oren, who was with one of the first Israeli army units to enter Beirut in
the 1982 Lebanon invasion, said Hezbollah's longer-range arsenal signals
that "the whole notion of territorial depth is losing meaning. Clearly the
issue here is a political and diplomatic solution. There is no military

"In order to get rid of rockets, you have to occupy the territory," said
Zeev Schiff, the longtime military affairs correspondent for the Israeli
daily Haaretz who co-wrote the definitive account of the Lebanon war. "If
you took south Lebanon, you might solve the short-range rockets. Then,
people will tell you, Hezbollah will just find longer-range missiles. So do
you occupy northern Lebanon? So it goes."

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