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Israel Anti-Missile Defense Playing Russian Roulette With Israeli Lives

In the past, I’ve featured the skeptical reporting of Reuven Pedatzur and research of Prof. Ted Postol about the efficacy of Israel’s Iron Dome missile defense.  Pedatzur reported on Postol’s findings that the anti-missile  succeeded in hitting less than 10% of its targets during the last major Gaza offensive, instead of the 85% success rate offered by the IDF.  Postol published his findings in collaboration with two other Israeli rocket engineers.

Now, Yossi Melman offers an even more widely critical (Hebrew) appraisal of Israel’s entire missile defense strategy from another Israeli aeronautical engineer, Dr. Nathan Farber, who taught at the Technion and is a former chief scientist in the Israeli defense industry.  Farber finds that the likelihood that Israel could experience a coordinated attack from several enemies firing up to 1,000 rockets in a single day, would lead to a disastrous failure of the missile defense system. The Israeli scientist estimates that up to a third would be destroyed by the IDF, a third would fail either to launch or due to mechanical failure, and a third will successfully approach their target.  These are the ones the missile-defense system would need to shoot down.  Due to the precision of the tactical missiles that would be launched, most of them would strike their targets in Israel unless intercepted.  Farber also confirms that these are figures accepted by the IDF and Israeli intelligence.  Farber has written an extended presentation of his views here (Hebrew).

arrow missile test

Joint U.S.-Israeli Arrow missile test, September 2013

In the course of an extended military engagement, Iron Dome might have to deal with up to 30,000 rockets.  He further notes that in order to shoot down 400 ballistic missiles that would be fired at Israel, it would need at least 800 interceptors.  Each Arrow missile costs upward of $3-million.  The total cost of such weaponry might run up to $3-billion.  Similarly, to intercept all the tactical missiles targeted at Israel would cost around $1-2 billion.  To defend against short-range missiles would require up to 60,000 Iron Dome projectiles, each one of which costs about $100,000, for a total of $6-billion.  None of this includes the cost of manufacturing the missile batteries that would fire them.

So Israel’s missile defense strategy is faulty from two perspectives: economic and operational.  The cost would be upward of $10-billion.  Immediately after hostilities ended, Israel would be forced to expend a similar sum to replenish its missile inventory.  Such a process would take years.

Operationally, Farber says that Israel simply has, to date, no satisfactory defense against Iran’s ballistic missiles.  He adds that Iran has approximately 800 of such weapons.  Even if we assume that a large number will fail in flight or be destroyed in some other fashion, that leaves a ton of them that will get through.  In other words, Israel simply has no guaranteed defense against them, regardless of the affirmations offered by Israeli leaders and generals that the homeland is safe from attack should Israel go to war against Iran.  It simply isn’t.  Which makes Bibi’s martial threats an exercise either in lunacy or national suicide.

As an official admitted when questioned on the subject in this Haaretz report:

The Israeli official…was circumspect on how Israel’s three-tier shield would function in a major missile exchange…

“You need to pass this test – of a few dozen of them landing, in real time – to be able to speak about it with more certainty,” the official said.

Sure makes Israeli civilians seem like guinea pigs to me with their military rocketeers playing Russian roulette with their lives.

On a related matter, in its wisdom the U.S. undertook development of the Arrow anti-missile system with Israel.  Originally, it was projected to cost $1.6-billion.  As of 2007, that figure had already reached $2.4-billion.  We are now developing the third generation of Arrows (Arrow 3s) and there is no end in sight.  It’s estimated that the U.S. is footing up to 80% of the cost.

You remember that one Congressional wag compared approving a bill to making sausage.  Well funding Arrow involved a whole lot of sausage.  And a lot of political suasion.  But that wasn’t difficult because Aipac is Israel’s political lobby and members of Congress dutifully carry water for the 51st state (Israel).  One of the greatest of all the water-carriers was Sen. Daniel Inouye, from the unlikely (for an Israeli ally) state of Hawaii.  Inouye was a key figure in military appropriations and was instrumental in greasing any funding request involving weapons for Israel.

In fact, he was such a trusty ally that former Aipac chair, Robert Ascher persuaded Bibi Netanyahu to name Israel’s new Arrow base in Inouye’s memory.  Israeli announced a new joint Israel-U.S. test of the Arrow 3 today.  Though the Jerusalem Post described the base’s location as “secret,” it isn’t any longer.  According to my Israeli source it is at Sdot Micha, also the site of Israel’s Jericho ballistic missile fleet.  The U.S. observes the polite fiction that Israel has no nuclear weapons, so it cannot by law participate in the Jericho project.  But as the Washington Post reported, the U.S. has bid out hundreds of millions in construction contracts for the Arrow facility at Sdot Micha.  I’ve blogged about this here.

The Post, of course, wrote about the memorial to Inouye as if it was deeply touching, as indeed it would be to Aipac or Israel or Inouye’s family.  But let me play the contrarian: why should a U.S. senator be immortalized at a military base of a foreign country?  Put his name on a battleship at Pearl Harbor, by all means.  But on an Israeli missile base?  Who was he working for?  His constituents or Israel?  And don’t anyone dare say there’s no difference.  No doubt the people of Hawaii didn’t expect him to have Israel’s best interests at heart.

{ 26 comments… add one }
  • fnlevit January 4, 2014, 7:36 AM

    Strange logic – why developing missile defense which (according to some) is far from perfect is “playing Russian Roulette”? As if not developing would not be.

    Also why US was so much interested in (and supported) in the Arrow – I happened to be (very marginally) involved in the tests of the early versions. I heard from US military officers (coming from the White Plains – the US army weapon testing ground) who were present during the Arrow tests how amazed they were at the fact that Arrow performed well test after test while at the same time the US developed system “THAAD” failed at a similar rate. US just wanted to have a working anti-missile system early and Israel was delivering.

    • Richard Silverstein January 4, 2014, 2:38 PM

      @ fnlevit: There is one way & one way alone to ensure Israel’s security–and that is to negotiate an end to its hostilities with most of the Arab & Muslim world including Iran (which poses the worst missile threat. No anti missile defense, no matter how good, will ensure security. In fact, having a system & believing–after being lied to by politicians & generals assuring almost total security–is almost as bad as having no system at all.

      So go ahead–produce Arrow, David’s Sling, Magic Wand, Jericho–know yourself out. None of it’s going to work in the long run. Peace will work. Compromise will work. Realism will work. Nothing else will.

      • Pip January 4, 2014, 9:11 PM

        Not all of Israel’s enemies have reasons to negotiate.

        Israel’s greatest enemy, Iran, has no real grievance with Israel. No borders or land claim issues.
        Iran uses the I/P conflict as a cats paw. For the mulllahs, Israel is a trumped up, Orwellian bogey man, that enables the mullahs to cow their own people and distract and divide Iran’s true enemies, the Sunni Arabs.

        • Richard Silverstein January 5, 2014, 12:14 AM

          Not all of Israel’s enemies have reasons to negotiate.

          Actually, it is Israel’s leaders who believe they have no real reason to negotiate with any enemy. They put on a show for their ally/allies who would exert enormous pressure on them if they expressed their true feelings on the subject & gave the world, especially the Arab world, the finger.

          As for Iran having “no real grievance” with Israel, I’ll believe that when you can find me a single Iranian living in Iran saying Iran has no real grievance with Iran. Their main grievance is the threats and regime change policy advocated by Israel for more than a decade. The assassinations, bombs, not to mention the fact that Israel threatens virtually every ally they have in the region. That’s plenty of reason for Iran to feel a grievance against Israel. But the problem isn’t Iran, the problem is Israel. Israel is the real threat both to Iran and the region.

          I find your propaganda totally vapid. If you continue in this vein I won’t even approve this inanity.

          • Pip January 5, 2014, 3:05 AM


            You are on an unconscious revenge mission against that long dead rabbi who humiliated you in your yeshiva summer camp mess hall.

            You probably also have O.C.D.

            It’s time you banned me again.

            I’ll blog Mondoweiss for a week and change my ID and IP address with my VPN. See you in about a week.
            It’s not like I’ll be missing anything.

          • Richard Silverstein January 5, 2014, 1:39 PM

            @ Pip: You go right ahead asshole. I publish this comment because I want people to see the strategems that the hasbara brigade uses to circumvent the procedures I have in place to protect my blog comment threads. Thanks to the information you provided I’m going to change my comment rules and notify anyone I catch using proxies or VPNs, if I catch them, that they will immediately be banned. Unfortunately for others who may use such protocols for legitimate reasons, assholes like this one have spoiled things.

          • DavidL January 6, 2014, 1:43 AM

            RS- you’re going to laugh at this comment by me, but I have to agree with you. As much as we see the I/P political world differently and are at odds. The type of behavior by this PIP guy is showing as he commented above leaves me with a bad taste in my mouth.

            I don’t care if he’s (she?) Left or Right, this attitude towards your (any?) blog site is as if it’s his own personal message space reflects pretty poorly on him and certainly weakens any message he brings (whether one agrees with it or not), let alone his credibility. I also don’t see any blog spot so important that somebody has to go changing ID’s like a spy.

            I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again… whether we like or not like the rules you set, we gotta play by ’em (IF we decide we want to comment here)- it’s your site. And as Judaism (among other religions/philosophies) teaches, we need to respect the Ba’al Habyit when we visit their home.

            I don’t know that much about the blogger world, but I guess he’s what you’d call a troll???

            (also- I don’t expect to be removed from Moderation, by this message, but I felt compelled to comment because that type of attitude really bothers me whether it comes from ANYBODY).

          • Richard Silverstein January 6, 2014, 1:57 AM

            @ DavidL: I’m really very pleasantly surprised by both your & Major Scoop’s comments. They’re impressive really. Thank you.

          • Oui January 5, 2014, 2:41 PM

            Harassment is just sickening and destructs whatever cause you try to attain. It’s you who are making a fool of yourself and no one will bother to reply to your posts. Get a life.

          • Major Scoop January 5, 2014, 6:46 PM

            @ Pip
            I will say what i have to say as someone who was moderated by Richard for what he saw as provocation on my part. This Blog is an extension of Richard’s living room, he’s the one who has complete authority over who he invites and what type of dialog he wants to allow. His place, his rules -period. You should respect that. I do, even though he moderated me.
            Yes you can probably use different technical gateways and post in his using another ID, but why would you even bother ? By doing so you disrespect yourself.
            I think you are frustrated over what you may see as harm being done by Richard to whatever your cause may be. But if you’ll think about it, Richard is just another person who states his mind, you don’t like his opinion ? you don’t have to read it. nothing Richard writes or says gives you the right to act like a shmock. When you do act like one you disrespect yourself and all the others who may think like you on different subjects.

          • Richard Silverstein January 5, 2014, 7:59 PM

            @ Major Scoop: That was precisely my point. If you have a poltical perspective that is pro-Israel and you act like an asshole you harm all who come here who share your views. Because like it or not, many here will lump idiots like Pip in with anyone else who expresses similar views & say they all act the same. But frankly, I don’t think Pip is a Big Thinker. He doesn’t give a crap what impact he has on others, even if he agrees with them.

  • pabelmont January 4, 2014, 9:39 AM

    RS: ” Which makes Bibi’s martial threats an exercise either in lunacy or national suicide.”

    Well, there is another possibility, too, and more likely IMO. That is that N’Yahu “martial threats” towards Iran are (like most political statements) directed to the audience at home, not Iran (maybe USA however). He wishes to persuade Israelis that he is “crazy” enough to strike at Iran — as he has been telling the world. After all, the “Iran will get the bomb in 3 years” has been an elections-winner for many, many years. The electorate wishes to be fooled (as to Iran) and also wishes to believe (as to Israeli macho, threats, promises, puffery).

    N’Yahu also probably wishes to put Obama in a hard place where Israeli command-and-control over the USA will be improved by wrecking Obama if he does not (as he says he will not) go along with an Israeli attack — the attack you say here that Israel knows would be suicidal (or, I should say, a bit self destructive, since Iran’s missiles would carry merely high-explosives, not nukes). (Israel doesn’t like being hit by other people’s missiles, but it was more than willing to provoke missiles from Gaza when they mostly failed to reach important targets. RS’s “suicidal” seems to me to be a huge exaggeration.)

  • messing dayan January 4, 2014, 12:18 PM

    So how refreshing extolling Hezbollah’s ingenuity and on the other hand discrediting every IsraelI’s army attempt at building any possible defense against such heartwarming Hezbollah’s majestic feats.
    How am I supposed to feel after reaxing back to back such items
    It’s ok to dismiss any pompous army propaganda but I would also try to emphasize OUR MORAL ye of us who live or try to in this death valley

    • Richard Silverstein January 4, 2014, 2:43 PM

      @ messing dayan: You misunderstand my role here. It’s not my job to “discredit” Israel’s anti-missile system as if there was some sort of personal vendetta involved. What’s I’m “discrediting” is the lying PR campaign to lull Israelis into the sense that they are secure from threat, when they aren’t. Also, the deficiencies in the anti missile shield are real, objective, and glaring and affirmed by multiple Israel & American experts. Don’t blame me as the messenger, nor blame me as someone tearing down Israel. That’s not what I’m doing.

      • Nessim Dayan January 5, 2014, 2:42 AM

        Leaving aside the items that discredit pompous arrogant nothing but free loaders eating at the country’s trough
        the balance positively comes across as such – and this after following this for over 7 years.

  • fnlevit January 4, 2014, 1:25 PM

    Is my previous comment still under “moderation” or it’s been deleted. If later why?

    • Richard Silverstein January 4, 2014, 2:46 PM

      The comment box has a message directing first time commenters to read the comment rules. You clearly didn’t. If you had, you’d have understood the process and not wasted your own time writing this or my time in having to respond.

  • fnlevit January 4, 2014, 8:14 PM

    The facts, the facts are all wrong –
    1. There is no “PR campaign to lull Israelis into the sense that they are secure from threat”. In fact it is just the opposite – we hear almost every week about the mortal threat from the Hezbollah 70-80K missiles. The missile defense system is not mentioned as countering this threat – only deterrence.

    2. “…the deficiencies in the anti missile shield are real, objective, and glaring and affirmed by multiple Israel & American experts”. Noting is glaring and objective in such matters. This is not exact science. It is a different (possible, surprising, but far from certain) interpretation of the data which everyone (relevant everyone) has.

    3. The opinions concerning “… the deficiencies in the anti missile shield” as well as economic problems (high cost of every missile even when successful) were expressed (as I know) ONLY as far as the Iron Dome goes. NOT the Arrow.

    Concerning “Don’t blame me as the messenger, nor blame me as someone tearing down Israel. That’s not what I’m doing.” – but that is exactly the impression your back to back reports on Hezbollah and Arrow are producing.

    • Richard Silverstein January 4, 2014, 8:34 PM

      @fnlevit: The problem with hasbarists like you is that you pay attention to whatever suits your ideological bias and ignore the rest. So you ignore the repeated false boasts by the IDF that its kill rate for Qassems is 85%, when it isn’t. You ignore the fake boasts by Ehud Barak while defense minister that at most a handful of Israelis would be killed in an Iranian counter-attack. That IS a “PR campaign to lull Israelis into the sense that they are secure.”

      As for your claim about Hezbollah rockets, yes that is the flip side. Both the warmonger politicians and generals need to gin up hysteria to justify the next war against Hezbollah. And they need to gin up support for the rise in the military budget. So they throw a scare into the populace about 100,000 Hezbollah rockets.

      As for the Arrow system, it hasn’t been criticized yet because Arrow 3 is in testing phase. But the question isn’t accuracy or kill rate, it’s sheer numbers. There can’t possibly be enough missiles produced to cover the number of missiles that will be thrown at Israel. And even if they could produce 200,000 missiles to counter Hezbollah’s 100,000, who’s going to pay the $10-billion cost followed by the cost of replenishing the depleted inventory after the next war? Maybe the U.S. if you’re lucky, but that will quickly exhaust all the “good will” Aipac has paid for in Congress and the American body politic.

      Prof. Ted Postol and two Israeli rocket scientists reported to Reuben Pedatzur that the actual kill rate was 5-10%. Dr. Farber now expands on this critique by pointing out that hundreds of missiles are likely to strike targets in Israel. These are real objective glarming & confirmed deficiencies. They are hardly ever addressed by Israeli generals or government experts. When they do try to rebut, the defenders are scientists with career/financial investment in the status quo. Israel can find no truly independent expert who will defend its missile strategy. Critics have a number of independent experts on their side.

      As for how YOU perceive my critique…that doesn’t concern me in the least nor do I attach much credit to it. I know & understand MY motivations far better than you. You have your own ideological blinders which only allow you to interpret the world through your own pro-Israel lenses. So you associate some personal animus to my views which doesn’t exist.

  • fnlevit January 5, 2014, 6:47 AM

    Calling me names like (actually quite flattering) “hasbarist” is not going replace logic. I repeat – critics arguments are about “Iron Dome” while your “article” is about “Arrow”. Totally different missiles and numbers.

    Actually have you read what you quote i.e. have you read Dr. Nathan Farber report? Have you? He is not against anti missile defense at all. He is against the particular missile defense – the Iron Dome system. He is actually FOR another one – based on chemical lasers. And as I continue reading Farber’s report I understand how irrelevant is yours.

    These are just old arguments pro and con these two concepts and have nothing to do with what you are trying to present. Actually I should stop here as I feel embarrassed now to even start arguing on such a low level. Pfui, a real insult to intelligence.

    • Richard Silverstein January 5, 2014, 1:36 PM

      @ fnlevit: Trust me, “hasbarist” is not a flattering name. If you find it so you either don’t understand the meaning or you are the knee jerk pro Israel advocate it’s meant to deride.

      And again, you are wrong. Farber’s attack is against the notion that Arrow (or any missile system as currently configured) can protect Israel. The other claim is that Iron Dome simply doesn’t work, which is related as you say.

      Yes, Farber is in favor of another entirely different anti-missile system. One that is entirely different than the current ones into which israel & the U.S. have sunk billions. So no, my critique remains extremely relevant.

      Since you don’t want to waste your intelligence arguing here I’ll do you the favor of moderating you. If your comments are more civil and on a “higher level” than the last one, they’ll be published. If not, they won’t.

      • fnlevit January 5, 2014, 10:54 PM

        Suits me – I am changing my name to hasbarist.

        • Richard Silverstein January 6, 2014, 2:23 PM

          @ fnlevit: No, you’re not. Once you choose a nickname, you retain it. Do not switch nicknames. Scores of people have tried that before in order to create multiple false identities. As a result, no one knows who is talking. I do not allow this. Once you’ve chosen, do not change it. There is already a commenter using the term “hasbarist” (“hasbarist settler”). Go back to your original nickname.

  • free man January 5, 2014, 6:48 AM

    There are many reasons for developing this security against missiles.
    The assumption every missile attack will be countered by an anti missile is wrong.
    First and foremost only missiles that will hit something will be countered.
    Then, if there are many attacks, like you pictured here, only the critical places which allow Israel co respond and are critical for its function will be protected. For example, air fields, major military complexes, communication buildings and such.

    Another reason is deterring anyone from attacking Israel with a nuclear/Chemical/Biological missile.
    Anyone who wants to attempt such a deed, knowing Israel might know what missile it is, and will be able to shoot it down, no matter how many missiles it has to send to intercept it, will not send that missile.
    This is indeed very important. If Israel is able to stop them from attacking with non conventional weapons, the Arrow system has already done it’s job, without shooting a single one.

    • Richard Silverstein January 5, 2014, 1:31 PM

      @ Free Man: But this is precisely the opposite of the publicly stated goal of Israel’s anti-missile strategy. It so far has been deployed to protect civilian population centers. At least this is true of Iron Dome. Further, there has been a clearly stated intent, even assurance, that Israel’s system WILL prevent successful attacks on Israeli civilians. So this part of your claim in dead-wrong.

      As for deterring a nuclear attack. There is no nation that can currently do that unless you believe the U.S., Russia, China, Pakistan or N. Korea might do so. Iran not only doesn’t have one but has a stated promise that it will not develop one. So precisely who is Israel anticipating will attack it right now that it needs such systems? Not to mention that if it resolved its differences with Iran it would never have to worry about a future Iranian attack, making such costly missile programs extraneous. But why would Israel resolve its differences with its neighbors when it can maintain its current garrison state status which has served it so well for the past 6 decades or so??

  • RD Sultan January 5, 2014, 1:58 PM

    I agree Richard. Iron Dome is just some fancy science toys with no real world experience.

    The IDF has confirmed that over 80K rockets are aimed at Israel. Basic physics (and common sense) says that at least 80% will hit population centers.

    Besides, will Iron Dome be of use when, as it is inevitable, a third intifada breaks out?

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