Commentary Magazine


Topic: Iron Dome

Former PA Official: Firing Rockets at Israel ‘Restores Our Human Dignity’

To truly understand the current fighting in Gaza, it’s important to listen to Jamal Zakout. Zakout, a secular resident of Ramallah, is no fan of Hamas, as Amira Hass noted in her report in Haaretz last week (Hebrew only): He has held various positions in the Palestinian Authority, including spokesman for former Prime Minister Salam Fayyad, took part in the Geneva Initiative (a nongovernmental effort to draft an Israeli-Palestinian peace agreement), and opposed the “militarization” of the second intifada. Nevertheless, Hass writes, the fighting is bolstering Hamas’s status even among Palestinians like him, because “when Hamas manages, despite everything, to continue launching missiles at Israel and disrupting normal life there, Zakout says this restores their feeling of human dignity.”

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To truly understand the current fighting in Gaza, it’s important to listen to Jamal Zakout. Zakout, a secular resident of Ramallah, is no fan of Hamas, as Amira Hass noted in her report in Haaretz last week (Hebrew only): He has held various positions in the Palestinian Authority, including spokesman for former Prime Minister Salam Fayyad, took part in the Geneva Initiative (a nongovernmental effort to draft an Israeli-Palestinian peace agreement), and opposed the “militarization” of the second intifada. Nevertheless, Hass writes, the fighting is bolstering Hamas’s status even among Palestinians like him, because “when Hamas manages, despite everything, to continue launching missiles at Israel and disrupting normal life there, Zakout says this restores their feeling of human dignity.”

This, in a nutshell, is why the Palestinian-Israeli conflict remains unsolvable, and why it produces spasms of violence with monotonous regularity: For too many Palestinians, including “moderates” like Zakout, “human dignity” derives from hurting Israelis–even knowing full well that the resultant Israeli counterstrikes will cause far greater harm to Palestinians.

This is something you would simply never hear an Israeli say, because Israelis see human dignity as stemming from saving life, not taking it. This doesn’t mean they oppose using military force in self-defense. Indeed, they overwhelmingly support the current operation: After absorbing 13,000 rockets from Gaza over the last nine years, they want the rockets stopped; they want children in the south to be able to grow up normally, instead having 45 percent suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder due to constant rocket fire, and they want people all over Israel to be able to lead their lives without disruption. But they would never say that dropping bombs on Gaza enhances their “human dignity”; they view war as an unpleasant necessity which they would much rather not have to engage in.

This difference in Palestinian and Israeli attitudes is epitomized by two technological developments that have become the darlings of their respective peoples: the Iron Dome anti-missile system and the M-75 rocket.

The M-75 is a technological marvel–a homemade medium-range rocket capable of striking Tel Aviv, developed despite stringent Israeli import restrictions aimed at preventing Hamas from doing just that. It’s a purely offensive weapon with no defensive purpose, and Palestinians love it. An enterprising Gaza merchant even named a perfume after it two years ago, when it was first deployed, and Reuters reported that sales promptly soared.

Iron Dome is also a homegrown technological marvel. But it’s the M-75’s mirror image: a purely defensive weapon with no offensive purpose. And that’s precisely why Israelis love it: Its purpose is to save lives rather than take them.

It’s not that Israel lacks homegrown, technologically marvelous offensive weapons. But while killing people who seek to kill you is sometimes necessary for self-defense, and most Israelis have no qualms about employing offensive weapons for that purpose, they would never love them. They view taking life as an unpleasant necessity that they would much rather be spared.

Palestinians, to be fair, have no defensive weaponry to love; they don’t even have basic civil-defense measures such as shelters. But that, as Jonathan Tobin wrote last week, is because Hamas deliberately opted to invest all its efforts in offensive capabilities rather than measures to protect its own people. It prefers taking Israeli lives to saving Palestinian ones. And this preference has only bolstered Hamas’s popularity.

This seeming anomaly is explained by Zakout’s insight: To many Palestinians, human dignity comes not from bettering their own lives, but from worsening Israelis’ lives. Or as a Hamas parliamentarian succinctly put it, “We desire Death, as you desire Life.”

And as long as Palestinians derive their sense of human dignity from killing Israelis, peace will never be possible.

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The Shocking ‘Iron Dome Is Bad’ Argument

One of the more peculiar twists in “gee, let me try to find something interesting to say about the war with Hamas” punditry is the argument that suggests Israel’s use of anti-missile technology is bad for Israel, bad for Gaza, and bad for the world. This argument has two facets, both examples of the downside of the Internet: How it allows people with half-baked, half-considered ideas access to the court of world opinion to make a case any rational editor would have thrown out in the old days.

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One of the more peculiar twists in “gee, let me try to find something interesting to say about the war with Hamas” punditry is the argument that suggests Israel’s use of anti-missile technology is bad for Israel, bad for Gaza, and bad for the world. This argument has two facets, both examples of the downside of the Internet: How it allows people with half-baked, half-considered ideas access to the court of world opinion to make a case any rational editor would have thrown out in the old days.

Facet #1 is nominally pro-Israel. It suggests Israelis are somehow being inured to the dangers posed by Hamas by the fact that Iron Dome is successfully shooting down rockets. They’re still going to malls, to the beach, to work. As a result, they are being lulled into a false sense of security, for surely Iron Dome will fail at some point. And (this is the hawkish argument) perhaps the false sense of security is making it possible for Bibi Netanyahu to avoid making the tough but necessary decision to go in on the ground in Gaza and destroy Hamas’s rocket cache and that of Islamic Jihad as well.

Facet #2 is anti-Israel. It suggests that Iron Dome is bad precisely because it is saving Israeli lives—and if Hamas’s attacks on the populace were successful, that might force Israel to the bargaining table. In this reckoning, significant Israeli pain and suffering would be a good thing. By denying Hamas this victory, Israel is effectively rejecting the two-state solution.

Facet #2 is, quite simply, depraved—it effectively accepts the idea that every person in Israel is an appropriate military target, an idea that voids the very notion of the nation-state as it has been understood by the West since the treaty of Westphalia in 1648. No wonder, therefore, that it has been advanced by several of the columnists for Haaretz, the Israeli organ that is on the verge of permanently establishing itself as the Tokyo Rose of Israel.

But Facet #1 is also nuts, and—when voiced by people who live thousands of miles away from Israel—points out the dangers of writing about what life is like in a war zone when you’re not in a war zone. Israelis all over the country have spent a considerable amount of time in stairwells and bomb shelters over the past week, following screaming sirens that terrify children and have caused heart attacks in at least two American visitors. In addition, 40,000 Israelis have been called up in preparation of a possible ground attack. This means that literally every family in the country either has a member or a close friend in the call-up. That includes my family.

So people running for safety and sitting with a sword of Damocles hanging over their heads in the form of an invasion of Gaza are somehow being excused by technological magic overhead from reckoning with the war Hamas has launched against them? The idea is contemptible, and should shame those who are making it.

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Hamas’s Human Shield War

Hamas terrorists continued shooting rockets at Israel today as air raid sirens sounded all over the country including in Jerusalem. But the international media’s focus on the conflict continues to be the rising toll of Palestinian civilian casualties. Yet, as with previous conflicts, not much attention is being paid to the way Hamas uses Palestinians as human shields.

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Hamas terrorists continued shooting rockets at Israel today as air raid sirens sounded all over the country including in Jerusalem. But the international media’s focus on the conflict continues to be the rising toll of Palestinian civilian casualties. Yet, as with previous conflicts, not much attention is being paid to the way Hamas uses Palestinians as human shields.

As I noted yesterday, even the New York Times found it necessary to report that the Israel Defense Forces are issuing warnings to Palestinians living in and around Hamas missile launchers and operations center in Gaza. But having decided to escalate another round of violence by launching hundreds of rockets into Israel, the Islamist group is still hoping to use the presence of Palestinian civilians around legitimate military targets as a weapon against the Jewish state.

In the past, this merely meant putting missile launchers next to schools, hospitals, and mosques as well among civilian homes in the densely populated strip. But as Israel has stepped up its efforts to try and spare civilians even as it seeks to silence the terrorist fire, Hamas has also increased its efforts to ensure that as many inhabitants of Gaza as possible are hurt in the fighting.

As Memri.org reports, speaking on Tuesday on Hamas’s Al Asqua-TV in Gaza, the group’s spokesperson Sami Abu Zuhri urged the population of the strip to refuse to heed warnings and to use their bodies to shield Hamas facilities:

This attests to the character of our noble, Jihad-fighting people, who defend their rights and their homes with their bare chests and their blood. The policy of people confronting the Israeli warplanes with their bare chests in order to protect their homes has proven effective against the occupation. Also, this policy reflects the character of our brave, courageous people. We in Hamas call upon our people to adopt this policy, in order to protect the Palestinian homes.

The talk of defending “Palestinian homes” with “bare chests” is an allusion to the fact that instead of evacuating buildings after IDF warnings, Palestinians have instead surged into them in an effort to either deter the attack or to incur the maximum casualties from the attack.

The cynicism of this tactic is transparent but even though Hamas is making no secret of its intentions, the news reports about the conflict remain centered on the “disproportionate” force used by Israel and the contrast between Palestinian and Israeli casualty figures.

It is true that Hamas’s weaponry is no match for the sophisticated Israeli missile defense system that has, with U.S. help, been created to shield civilians from rocket fire from Gaza. Since, as the media continue to remind us, Palestinians have no “Iron Dome” system to protect them against Israeli counter-attacks, it is assumed that the war between Israel and Hamas is not a fair fight. In this manner, Hamas, cheered on by the so-called “moderate” Palestinians like Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas who accused Israel of “genocide” in its attacks on Gaza, reinforces the idea that it is a “David” fighting the Jewish “Goliath.”

That Israel faces challenges in what is a classic case of asymmetrical warfare is a given in this conflict. The Palestinians have perpetuated this war by continually refusing to make peace and recognize the legitimacy of a Jewish state no matter where its borders are drawn. They are also attempting to manipulate Western opinion into believing their version of the conflict in which they falsely portray Israel as a “colonial” power occupying another people’s land rather than admitting that the dispute is part of an existential struggle aimed at wiping out the one Jewish state on the planet. The lopsided casualty figures bolster these specious talking points.

But it cannot be emphasized too much that Palestinian intent plays a much greater role in the casualties than technology. Hamas situates its weapons and fighters next to or among civilians not just because Gaza is crowded but because it is hoping that Israel will kill as many of their own people as possible. It indiscriminately fires rockets at Israeli population centers in part to kill as many Jews as possible though it has, to date, failed in that effort. But it is just as important to them to generate the Israeli counter-attacks that inevitably lead to Palestinian civilian deaths even if those numbers are inflated because many of those killed are actually Hamas terrorists.

In a war of perceptions, Hamas’s human shield tactics have given its leaders a winning strategy even if the result is tragedy for their own people. But the problem with those who draw superficial conclusions from the casualty figures is not just that they don’t understand what Hamas is doing to inflict as much pain on their own people as they can. It’s that these numbers obscure the basic point of the conflict. Hamas is not seeking to end the occupation of Gaza or the West Bank or to force Israel to draw its borders differently. Hamas’ purpose is to destroy Israel and kill its people. When they speak of “resistance” it is not an effort to push back against particular Israeli policies but a refusal to accept the permanence of the return of the Jews to their land. The misleading blood feud narrative adopted by the media in response to the carnage may seem even-handed. But there should be no mistake about the fact that the human shields of Gaza are merely a ploy aimed at diverting the world from the truth about Palestinian intentions.

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Morality and Self-Defense in Gaza

Today’s New York Times brings us a remarkable insight into the behavior of the Israel Defense Forces. As southern and central Israel were subjected to a relentless barrage of rockets from Hamas-run Gaza, the IDF sought to knock out the launchers and the bases from which they originated. But, as the Times reports, unlike Hamas and its other Palestinian allies, the Israelis are giving warnings to many of those they are trying to hit.

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Today’s New York Times brings us a remarkable insight into the behavior of the Israel Defense Forces. As southern and central Israel were subjected to a relentless barrage of rockets from Hamas-run Gaza, the IDF sought to knock out the launchers and the bases from which they originated. But, as the Times reports, unlike Hamas and its other Palestinian allies, the Israelis are giving warnings to many of those they are trying to hit.

The Israeli practice of calling up people whose homes have been used as Hamas bases or centers of missile production to tell them that a rocket or shell is about to hit them was used in the 2008-09 counter-offensive against Gazan terrorists. Its use is now being stepped up as Israel continues to try to silence the Hamas rockets. But the idea of a country defending its borders and population against terrorist assault by politely asking the people living in and around a legitimate military target to evacuate the place before it is demolished is virtually unprecedented in the history of warfare.

The Israelis are doing it for a number of reasons. One is that the IDF’s code of conduct has always promoted the concept of avoiding civilian casualties whenever possible. The other is that the Palestinians have deliberately sought to provoke Israeli counterattacks that would cause civilian deaths that could then be used to discredit the Jewish state.

But the problem with the practice is twofold.

One is that often the Palestinians don’t heed the warnings. In the case of one building in Khan Younis that Hamas had been using to fire rockets from or otherwise conduct operations, the warnings—a cell phone call and then a flare fired at the roof—came in time for everyone inside the place to flee. Those inside understood what was going on but rather than evacuate the target, local Palestinians decided to gather around the house to form a human shield for the Hamas operations with some even going to the roof of the doomed building. Seven people were killed despite the attempt by the Israelis to demolish the enemy hideout without taking any lives.

The other problem with this method is that if the goal of the tactic is to avoid international criticism, it doesn’t work. Hamas is deliberately firing missiles into heavily populated cities in the hope that some will get through Israel’s missile defenses and injure as many civilians as possible. In response, Israel tries to target Hamas fighters who hide among civilians. But no matter how hard the Israelis try to fight a “clean” war, they still wind up getting attacked by human-rights groups who hold them to a standard that would prohibit virtually any form of self-defense against the terrorists.

While morality and warfare are incompatible almost by definition, Israel has always tried to reconcile the two with mixed success. The only way to win wars is to kill the enemy and make it difficult if not impossible for them to continue fighting. That means removing the means of supply and production of weapons for the opponent. But in the asymmetrical warfare into which the Palestinians have forced Israel, an international community that has little sympathy for the Jewish state’s dilemma has branded the normal means of fighting a war as atrocities.

The standing rebuke to Israel is that its counter-attacks against Hamas targets in Gaza produce more casualties than the Palestinian barrage exacts from Israel. That is as true in the current fight as it was in the past as more than two dozen Palestinians have been killed in the recent exchanges while there have been no Israeli fatalities despite the hundreds of missiles whose purpose was to kill as many Jews as possible. Israeli counter-attacks are always called disproportionate though the last thing the Palestinians would want is for the IDF to respond in kind with attacks that, like those of Hamas, aim to kill civilians.

The notion that Israel needs to apologize for the inaccuracy of Hamas rockets or the success of the Iron dome anti-missile defense system is absurd. But not as absurd as the notion that Israel need apologize for the fact that its strikes on Hamas targets have sometimes exacted a lethal price on the terrorists and those, whether young or old, who were, as in the case with the Khan Younis building, foolish enough to stay in a place that was an obvious military target.

But the discussion about morality in the conflict with Hamas is ultimately pointless. For those who wrongly characterize the fighting going on in the Middle East as merely part of a blood feud between two crazed antagonists, it’s easy to dismiss Israeli efforts to spare the lives of its foes as either inadequate or insignificant in the context of the conduct of an immoral war on the Palestinian people. But to adopt such facile moral relativism is to misunderstand the conflict.

The difference between Hamas and the IDF isn’t merely a matter of technology. It’s that Hamas’s goal is the destruction of the Jewish state and the annihilation of its people. Israel’s goal is to survive and to eventually force the Palestinians to make peace. For those who share the Palestinian belief that the Jewish presence in the country is the real cause of the war, IDF tactics, no matter how fastidious, are irrelevant. By the same token, they consider any form of Palestinian “resistance” to be legitimate even if that means tacit approval for terror such as the kidnapping and murder of three Israeli teenagers last month or the indiscriminate firing of missiles on cities.

One can only applaud the tactics employed by the Israelis to avoid needless deaths. Yet even those involved with this noble effort must understand that the most moral thing they can do is to end the terrorist threat to Israeli civilians. Destroying Hamas’s ability to wage another campaign of terrorist warfare is also the most moral thing to do from the perspective of saving Palestinian lives. The people of Gaza will only be safe once the Hamas tyrants who have ruthlessly exploited their suffering are removed from power and stripped of their ability to plunge the region into conflict. Until that is accomplished, any further effort devoted to the discussion about morality and the Gaza conflict is a waste of time.

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Aid Can’t Buy Israel’s Silence on Iran Deal

National Security Advisor Susan Rice was in Israel this week to brief Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu on the latest developments in the nuclear talks with Iran. In doing so Rice, who was accompanied by top U.S. negotiator Wendy Sherman, said all the right things about the U.S.-Israel relationship as well as the nuclear threat from Iran. Rice assured Netanyahu that the U.S. was committed to stopping Iran from getting nuclear weapons and also touted the value of the American aid flowing to Israel. As the Times of Israel reported:

Rice said that the new deal “will take our total investment in Iron Dome, which has saved countless of Israeli lives, to nearly $900 million, a sign of our continued commitment to Israel’s security.”

“Every American dollar spent on Israel’s security is an investment in protecting the many interests that our nations share. Whether that’s preventing rockets from terrorizing the Israeli people, defending against the growing ballistic missile threat in the region, or advancing our commitment to defend freedom and democracy,” she went on.

Rice is right about that, since the money spent on bolstering its ally’s defense capabilities enhances U.S. security interests. But as welcome as those words may be, they aren’t enough to allay Israeli concerns about the nuclear talks with Iran that resume next week. As Haaretz reported, Netanyahu emerged from a session with Rice repeating his concerns that the U.S. is being dragged into a “bad deal” with Iran. While the Western press discounts virtually anything the Israeli leader said on this topic, the plain fact remains that the impetus from both the Obama administration and its European allies that virtually all informed observers think will result in the deal they have been seeking will be one in which Iran is allowed to keep its centrifuges and go on enriching uranium. So long as that is true, Iran will remain weeks or, at best, months away from a nuclear weapon. Under these circumstances, Americans need to realize that the damage the negotiations with Iran are doing to Israel’s security cannot be erased by even the most generous grants from Washington.

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National Security Advisor Susan Rice was in Israel this week to brief Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu on the latest developments in the nuclear talks with Iran. In doing so Rice, who was accompanied by top U.S. negotiator Wendy Sherman, said all the right things about the U.S.-Israel relationship as well as the nuclear threat from Iran. Rice assured Netanyahu that the U.S. was committed to stopping Iran from getting nuclear weapons and also touted the value of the American aid flowing to Israel. As the Times of Israel reported:

Rice said that the new deal “will take our total investment in Iron Dome, which has saved countless of Israeli lives, to nearly $900 million, a sign of our continued commitment to Israel’s security.”

“Every American dollar spent on Israel’s security is an investment in protecting the many interests that our nations share. Whether that’s preventing rockets from terrorizing the Israeli people, defending against the growing ballistic missile threat in the region, or advancing our commitment to defend freedom and democracy,” she went on.

Rice is right about that, since the money spent on bolstering its ally’s defense capabilities enhances U.S. security interests. But as welcome as those words may be, they aren’t enough to allay Israeli concerns about the nuclear talks with Iran that resume next week. As Haaretz reported, Netanyahu emerged from a session with Rice repeating his concerns that the U.S. is being dragged into a “bad deal” with Iran. While the Western press discounts virtually anything the Israeli leader said on this topic, the plain fact remains that the impetus from both the Obama administration and its European allies that virtually all informed observers think will result in the deal they have been seeking will be one in which Iran is allowed to keep its centrifuges and go on enriching uranium. So long as that is true, Iran will remain weeks or, at best, months away from a nuclear weapon. Under these circumstances, Americans need to realize that the damage the negotiations with Iran are doing to Israel’s security cannot be erased by even the most generous grants from Washington.

The Rice visit encapsulated what has become a familiar Obama tactic to deal with the Israelis. The administration pressures Israel on the peace process with the Palestinians, sandbags them with selective and misleading leaks about those talks (as Martin Indyk did after the collapse of Secretary of State John Kerry’s peace initiative) and conducts negotiations with Iran that are clearly headed toward a deal that will leave Tehran’s nuclear infrastructure intact, a state of affairs that allows the Jewish state’s very existence to be subject to the ability of Washington to enforce an agreement with Iran that may be unenforceable. And after all that, the Israelis are supposed to cheer Obama and express gratitude because the administration has maintained the alliance and poured more money into vital projects like Iron Dome.

It should be understood that this weapons system is a key part of Israel’s defense strategy in dealing with the independent Palestinian state in all but name ruled by Hamas in Gaza. The strengthening of the security alliance with Israel merely maintains what other presidents began, but nevertheless Obama deserves credit for increasing the amounts spent on these projects.

When viewed in this context it is easy to understand why some Israelis are beginning to question the value of the massive aid that is given to them by the U.S. As Caroline Glick wrote in the Jerusalem Post last week when discussing the views of an isolationist like Senator Rand Paul who opposes all foreign aid including that given to Israel, while the help from the U.S. is important, it undercuts the country’s “strategic independence.”

Given the importance of weapons like Iron Dome that have only been made possible by American assistance, I’m not prepared to go as far as joining her in endorsing Paul’s anti-aid position. Israel still cannot afford to be cut off from U.S. military help if it is to maintain its qualitative edge over any combination of actual or potential foes. But neither should we accept Rice’s nice words about the U.S. “investment” as adequate compensation for the underhanded way in which Indyk has sandbagged Netanyahu, let alone the coming betrayal on Iran.

The administration seems to operate on the assumption that keeping the aid dollars flowing to Jerusalem covers a multitude of its sins even to the point of making up for an American push for détente with the vicious anti-Semitic and potentially genocidal regime in Tehran. But though he is wisely doing everything to not rise to Obama’s bait and to keep the daylight between Israel and the United States to a minimum, Netanyahu has to know that a tipping point may soon be coming in the balance between American aid and diplomatic treachery with Iran. It’s not clear what, if anything, Netanyahu will believe Israel is capable of doing in response to a “bad deal” with Iran up to and including a strike on the Islamist regime’s nuclear facilities before it is too late to stop their drive to a bomb. But whatever his decision might be, no one in Washington should labor under the illusion that Israeli acquiescence to an Iran deal can be bought with an anti-missile system even if some cash is thrown in on the side.

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John Kerry and Israel’s Security Priorities

In recent days a series of disturbing reports have emerged regarding the acquisition by Hezbollah of powerful long-range and radar-guided missiles via Syria. Given that the source of these reports, first revealed by the Wall Street Journal January 2, come from U.S. military intelligence officials it would seem prudent to take them seriously. If accurate, this brings Hezbollah’s military capabilities into a new league with the potential to significantly shift the calculus of risk for Israel and its population. That these events come amidst a delay in the deployment of Iron Dome air defense systems along Israel’s northern border, on account of budgetary difficulties, only adds to any assessment of just how troubling Israel’s security situation is regarding the Iranian proxies in Lebanon.

Yet, with Secretary of State John Kerry’s efforts to negotiate peace between Israel and the Palestinians now in full swing, it seems that many of Israel’s far more critical security concerns risk being crowded out. The great irony here being that Kerry is expending huge amounts of energy, and indeed Israel’s time, on a peace process that cannot possibly hope to bring Israel peace or security in the places where it arguably needs them most.

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In recent days a series of disturbing reports have emerged regarding the acquisition by Hezbollah of powerful long-range and radar-guided missiles via Syria. Given that the source of these reports, first revealed by the Wall Street Journal January 2, come from U.S. military intelligence officials it would seem prudent to take them seriously. If accurate, this brings Hezbollah’s military capabilities into a new league with the potential to significantly shift the calculus of risk for Israel and its population. That these events come amidst a delay in the deployment of Iron Dome air defense systems along Israel’s northern border, on account of budgetary difficulties, only adds to any assessment of just how troubling Israel’s security situation is regarding the Iranian proxies in Lebanon.

Yet, with Secretary of State John Kerry’s efforts to negotiate peace between Israel and the Palestinians now in full swing, it seems that many of Israel’s far more critical security concerns risk being crowded out. The great irony here being that Kerry is expending huge amounts of energy, and indeed Israel’s time, on a peace process that cannot possibly hope to bring Israel peace or security in the places where it arguably needs them most.

Speaking from Jerusalem about the progress of negotiations last week, Kerry told reporters: “These are complicated issues that involve the survival and the future of peoples. And this is a conflict that has gone on for too long.” Few could disagree with that, least of all Israelis, who have long lived with the disorienting awareness of just how precarious the survival of their nation really is. Yet Kerry went on to say more. Of the focus of the negotiations he added, “Now is not the time to get trapped in the sort of up and down of the day-to-day challenges … We don’t have the luxury of dwelling on the obstacles that we all know could distract us from our goal. What we need to do is lift our sights and look ahead and keep in mind the vision of what can come, and if we can move forward.”

Touching as visions of the future may well be and true as it is that both sides should seek to avoid becoming bogged down in a petty exchange of accusations, we must also wonder about precisely what it is that Israel should and shouldn’t allow itself to be “distracted” by right now. For if Kerry is as committed to the survival of peoples and the ending of conflicts as his above statements would suggest, then there are serious questions that Israelis need to be asking about where the Obama administration has been trying to direct their attention in recent years. What really counts as a luxury and a distraction?

Given that Kerry has undertaken no less than ten visits to Israel since assuming his office less than a year ago, it can hardly be in doubt just how much of a priority overseeing a final agreement between Israel and the Palestinians is for him. The only trouble is that getting an agreement signed between Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian Authority head Mahmoud Abbas and bringing about peace almost certainly isn’t the same thing. Israel cannot truly make a deal based on land for peace with Abbas, because even if Abbas genuinely wished to do so, neither peace nor security are things that he is able to give Israelis. This is not simply the case because Mahmoud Abbas is almost nine years into his four-year-long presidential term and represents few of the people he claims to speak for or have authority over. Rather, negotiations with Abbas can’t possibly hope to bring Israel peace and security because the Palestinians in the West Bank are not remotely close to being Israel’s primary security concern.

The greatest threat to Israel’s security and continued survival is not even the other group of Palestinians in the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip, who almost certainly would not hold by any agreement Kerry might be able to somehow conjure up. The single greatest threat to Israel comes from the Islamic regime in Iran and its proxies. Most ominously of all it comes from the Iranian nuclear program. Something which the Obama administration has so far completely failed to bring under control, perhaps unsurprising given how preoccupied Secretary Kerry has been with the matter of trying to get Mahmoud Abbas to agree to accept a state from Israel in exchange for little more than his simple recognition of the Jewish state in return.  

From what has been leaked from the negotiations between Israel and the Palestinian Authority so far, it would seem that there has been a great deal of focus on whether or not Israel would maintain a security force in the Jordan Valley. This security matter is clearly of great importance, but right now it pales in comparison to the mounting threat from Iran’s primary proxy Hezbollah in southern Lebanon. And if Abbas can do next to nothing to assure Israel’s security from Hamas rockets in Gaza, how much less can he do about the critical danger to Israel coming from north of its border?

In addition to having stockpiles of an estimated 100,000 rockets and a growing ground force of Iranian-trained troops, it now appears that Hezbollah is acquiring new devastating weaponry via Syria. In recent days there have been statements from U.S. intelligence officials expressing their belief that Russian-made Yakhon anti-ship cruise missiles are now being brought into Lebanon. Despite attempts by the Israeli Air Force to strike weapons stores in Syria in an effort to prevent their transfer to Hezbollah, U.S. officials believe components of advanced radar-guided missiles have already entered southern Lebanon. Although primarily designed for use against ships, these missiles have a range that reach almost the full length of Israel’s territory and are equipped with armor-piecing highly explosive warheads. Additionally, some of the weaponry Hezbollah has been acquiring from Syria would give it the capabilities to attack Israeli planes and stave off the kind of air strikes used to stop the stream of rockets fired into Israeli civilian areas during Hezbollah’s 2006 war against Israel. 

Concurrent with this has come news that Israel’s military will have to delay the deployment of its defensive Iron Dome batteries in the north of the country due to budget cuts. The air defense batteries which were supposed to be positioned to protect Israel’s north reportedly cannot be placed for the moment due to a shortage of manpower related to recent budgetary cuts from Israel’s Ministry of Defense, something which representatives of the military have warned will have serious consequences. As it is, these air defense systems place a huge financial strain on Israel’s ability to defend itself, with each Tamir interception rocket fired costing Israel $50,000. In a war of attrition by Iranian proxies this means of defense could quickly become unsustainable. As one senior military representative stated, “In recent years the enemy has understood that the cheapest and most effective way to harm Israel is by missiles, and therefore the defense establishment is forced to equip itself with the appropriate defense systems, which have a monumental cost.”

These matters are then Israel’s real and primary concern, or at least they should be. Yet, at the moment Israel risks being distracted by the relentless circus of Kerry’s sideshow diplomacy. When it comes to ending conflicts, securing peace and securing the survival of peoples, the most pressing matters do not center on the Palestinians but Iran and its proxy armies. Yet, the Obama administration’s softly-softly approach on Iran, currently materializing in the form of its efforts to ease sanctions on the mullahs, mean that the really serious threats to Israel are now becoming critical. Kerry is quite right when he counsels from Jerusalem on Israel not being able to afford the luxury of dwelling on distractions. Right now, however, Kerry’s shoot-for-the-stars negotiations with Abbas are serving as the most dangerous distraction of all. 

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Remembering Daniel Inouye

When the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor in December 1941, Daniel Inouye, the son and grandson of Japanese immigrants, was 17. “I was filled with grief as I came to the realization that the pilots who had dropped the bombs were people who looked like me,” he later wrote, as recounted in the Washington Post. He rushed to the scene to help the injured. Two years later, when Japanese-Americans were permitted to serve in the army, Inouye dropped his studies and enlisted with the 442nd Regimental Combat Team, with whom he would deploy to Italy and earn the Distinguished Service Cross, the Bronze Star Medal, the Purple Heart, and later the Medal of Honor.

So when he warned at the 1968 Democratic National Convention of a “retreat from the responsibilities of citizenship,” he had all the authority in the world to do so. In the interim, he had been elected to represent Hawaii in Congress beginning the day Hawaii became a state, and then was elected to the Senate a few years later. Inouye died yesterday at the age of 88. Perhaps this week as much as any, as the country recovers from the tragedy in Newtown, it’s worth remembering that the nation also produces men like Daniel Inouye–men of uncommon courage and devotion, who exemplify national service. Here is the summary of his war heroics from his Medal of Honor citation:

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When the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor in December 1941, Daniel Inouye, the son and grandson of Japanese immigrants, was 17. “I was filled with grief as I came to the realization that the pilots who had dropped the bombs were people who looked like me,” he later wrote, as recounted in the Washington Post. He rushed to the scene to help the injured. Two years later, when Japanese-Americans were permitted to serve in the army, Inouye dropped his studies and enlisted with the 442nd Regimental Combat Team, with whom he would deploy to Italy and earn the Distinguished Service Cross, the Bronze Star Medal, the Purple Heart, and later the Medal of Honor.

So when he warned at the 1968 Democratic National Convention of a “retreat from the responsibilities of citizenship,” he had all the authority in the world to do so. In the interim, he had been elected to represent Hawaii in Congress beginning the day Hawaii became a state, and then was elected to the Senate a few years later. Inouye died yesterday at the age of 88. Perhaps this week as much as any, as the country recovers from the tragedy in Newtown, it’s worth remembering that the nation also produces men like Daniel Inouye–men of uncommon courage and devotion, who exemplify national service. Here is the summary of his war heroics from his Medal of Honor citation:

While attacking a defended ridge guarding an important road junction, Second Lieutenant Inouye skillfully directed his platoon through a hail of automatic weapon and small arms fire, in a swift enveloping movement that resulted in the capture of an artillery and mortar post and brought his men to within 40 yards of the hostile force. Emplaced in bunkers and rock formations, the enemy halted the advance with crossfire from three machine guns. With complete disregard for his personal safety, Second Lieutenant Inouye crawled up the treacherous slope to within five yards of the nearest machine gun and hurled two grenades, destroying the emplacement. Before the enemy could retaliate, he stood up and neutralized a second machine gun nest. Although wounded by a sniper’s bullet, he continued to engage other hostile positions at close range until an exploding grenade shattered his right arm. Despite the intense pain, he refused evacuation and continued to direct his platoon until enemy resistance was broken and his men were again deployed in defensive positions. In the attack, 25 enemy soldiers were killed and eight others captured. By his gallant, aggressive tactics and by his indomitable leadership, Second Lieutenant Inouye enabled his platoon to advance through formidable resistance, and was instrumental in the capture of the ridge.

The full details are even more impressive, and a bit more gruesome. When Inouye died, he was the Senate president pro tempore, putting him third in line for the presidency. A Democrat with a reputation for bipartisanship who was happy to stay out of the limelight–though he did serve on the inquiry committees of Watergate and Iran-contra–Inouye was the second-oldest serving senator and the ranking Democrat on the appropriations committee, where he was never shy about requesting, and getting, earmarks for his state.

Though Inouye is surprisingly anonymous for someone who served in Congress for as long as he did, he was a sort of political founding father for his state the way his colleagues in Alaska, like Ted Stevens, were for theirs.

Inouye was also a reliable pro-Israel voice in the Senate. “Our people owe him an immense historic debt,” Israeli Ambassador Michael Oren said in a statement. “The Iron Dome system that recently intercepted hundreds of terrorist rockets aimed at our homes stands as enduring proof of his commitment to the defense of the Jewish State.”

As the Jerusalem Post reported in January, on a recent trip to Israel Inouye told an audience that he was the first in his state to buy an Israel bond, which he kept framed in his office. He also told the group that when he was recuperating from his war wounds in 1945, in the hospital bed next to him was a soldier who had liberated a prison camp, and spoke of the horrors he witnessed. Inouye said he asked the soldier if it was a camp for criminals:

“‘No,’ he said, ‘they were Jews.’ I asked what crime they committed, and his answer changed my life. He said, ‘Well you know, Dan, people don’t like Jews.’” Inouye said this left a lasting impression on him, and that a few years later, when the honor society at his law school, George Washington University, refused to accept two students because they were Jewish, he said he told the group that if the Jews were blackballed, “then kick me out, too.”

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Media Still Asking the Wrong People the Wrong Questions on the Mideast

It is to be expected that whenever something alters the dynamic of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the world wonders aloud how this change will affect the peace process. And so it is with Israel’s Iron Dome, the missile defense system that kept so many Israelis safe during the recent rocket blizzard from the terrorist enclave of Gaza. But I wrote at the time that it was wishful thinking to assume that Iron Dome would fundamentally change the course of the conflict.

“It isn’t perfect, it’s expensive, and living under constant threat of rocket fire would still be hellish—it cannot be easy to get used to bombs exploding over your head all day long. The best solution, without a doubt, would be for the Palestinians to eschew terrorism and give up their mission to destroy Israel,” I wrote. Over the weekend, the Washington Post tackled this question at greater length, but still misses the point. The paper asks whether the relative safety brought about by systems like Iron Dome will make Israel more likely to agree to territorial compromise or more likely instead to ignore the conflict and the cause of peace and negotiations altogether. The answer, of course, is neither.

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It is to be expected that whenever something alters the dynamic of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the world wonders aloud how this change will affect the peace process. And so it is with Israel’s Iron Dome, the missile defense system that kept so many Israelis safe during the recent rocket blizzard from the terrorist enclave of Gaza. But I wrote at the time that it was wishful thinking to assume that Iron Dome would fundamentally change the course of the conflict.

“It isn’t perfect, it’s expensive, and living under constant threat of rocket fire would still be hellish—it cannot be easy to get used to bombs exploding over your head all day long. The best solution, without a doubt, would be for the Palestinians to eschew terrorism and give up their mission to destroy Israel,” I wrote. Over the weekend, the Washington Post tackled this question at greater length, but still misses the point. The paper asks whether the relative safety brought about by systems like Iron Dome will make Israel more likely to agree to territorial compromise or more likely instead to ignore the conflict and the cause of peace and negotiations altogether. The answer, of course, is neither.

Both of these choices rely on mistaken assumptions either about Israel or Iron Dome. For the reasons I mentioned above, Iron Dome will not make Israelis more confident in territorial withdrawals. But for the same reason, it will not allow Israelis to forget about the conflict: even if the missiles are intercepted, the sirens and explosions would surely keep Israelis’ attention.

But on a more fundamental level, the point is that real peace, brought about through a process that includes Palestinians giving up their drive to exterminate the Jewish state and its inhabitants, is still the only thing that could end the conflict.

The more important point, and one the media keeps missing, is this: nothing is keeping Israel away from the negotiating table. For all the criticism of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s presumed reluctance to make peace, Netanyahu has been for years now offering to resume negotiations without preconditions. It is Mahmoud Abbas who piles on precondition after precondition in an attempt to avoid negotiations. Netanyahu has even hinted at possibly accepting some of those preconditions, which he shouldn’t have to do and which the West shouldn’t encourage him to do, lest they send exactly the wrong message to the Palestinians. But each time he does, Abbas simply adds another precondition anyway.

No, Iron Dome won’t allow Israelis to live in a serene virtual reality. And no, Iron Dome won’t make Israelis less likely to negotiate for peace. The Washington Post can save the hand wringing and the gut checking for Netanyahu’s supposed interlocutor, who seems to have come up with many reasons not to participate in the peace process. Israeli reluctance to come to the table, however, isn’t one of them.

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WaPo Ombud: Hamas Rockets Are “Like Bee Stings”

Last week, I wrote about the Washington Post’s decision to publish a large photo of a Palestinian toddler killed during Israel’s Gaza operation on the front page. The picture captures the most tragic aspect of war, the death of innocent civilians and the pain of the families they leave behind. But by not balancing this photo with an image of Hamas attacks on Israel, it also gave the impression that Israelis were fighting a war of aggression, rather than self-defense. 

The Washington Post’s ombudsman, Patrick Pexton, responded to criticism on Friday:

Many readers asked why The Post didn’t balance the photo of the grieving father with one of Israelis who had lost a loved one from the Gaza rocket fire. That’s a valid question.

The answer is that The Post cannot publish photographs that don’t exist. No Israeli civilian had been killed by Gaza rocket fire since Oct. 29, 2011, more than a year earlier. The first Israeli civilian deaths from Gaza rocket fire in 2012 did not take place until Nov. 15, when Hamas, the group that controls Gaza, began firing more accurate and deadly missiles in response to the Israeli offensive that had begun the day before. There were no recent photos of Israeli casualties to be had on the night of Nov. 14.

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Last week, I wrote about the Washington Post’s decision to publish a large photo of a Palestinian toddler killed during Israel’s Gaza operation on the front page. The picture captures the most tragic aspect of war, the death of innocent civilians and the pain of the families they leave behind. But by not balancing this photo with an image of Hamas attacks on Israel, it also gave the impression that Israelis were fighting a war of aggression, rather than self-defense. 

The Washington Post’s ombudsman, Patrick Pexton, responded to criticism on Friday:

Many readers asked why The Post didn’t balance the photo of the grieving father with one of Israelis who had lost a loved one from the Gaza rocket fire. That’s a valid question.

The answer is that The Post cannot publish photographs that don’t exist. No Israeli civilian had been killed by Gaza rocket fire since Oct. 29, 2011, more than a year earlier. The first Israeli civilian deaths from Gaza rocket fire in 2012 did not take place until Nov. 15, when Hamas, the group that controls Gaza, began firing more accurate and deadly missiles in response to the Israeli offensive that had begun the day before. There were no recent photos of Israeli casualties to be had on the night of Nov. 14.

Perhaps the Washington Post didn’t have photos of recent Israeli civilian casualties on Nov. 14, but that’s not because these casualties didn’t exist. On Nov. 11, southern Israel was pounded with over 100 Hamas rockets, injuring at least three. Perhaps WaPo didn’t think these casualties were worth documenting, or maybe it didn’t have a photographer nearby at the time. But they certainly existed, and it’s puzzling that Paxton doesn’t even mention them in his column.

Beyond that, three Israelis died in Hamas rocket attacks the night the WaPo front page in question was printed, yet the paper didn’t follow up with a front page photo of these casualties. In fact, it hasn’t printed any pictures of any Israeli casualties whatsoever on its front page since the start of Operation Pillar of Defense. So the argument that “balanced” photos would have been published prominently had they existed doesn’t hold up.

Pexton continues:

I think we can all agree that the Gaza rocket fire is reprehensible and is aimed at terrorizing Israeli civilians. It’s disruptive and traumatic. But let’s be clear: The overwhelming majority of rockets fired from Gaza are like bee stings on the Israeli bear’s behind.

These rockets are unguided and erratic, and they carry very small explosive payloads; they generally fall in open areas, causing little damage and fewer injuries.

“Bee stings on a bear’s behind”? Maybe Pexton can explain that to the children of Sderot, many of whom suffer traumatic stress disorders after being dragged out of bed night after night by the sound of air raid sirens. Or to the families of the Israelis killed by what Pexton refers to as “unguided and erratic” Hamas rocket attacks last week. Or to over a million Israelis forced to put their lives on hold to hide in bomb shelters, because, as effective as Iron Dome is, it can’t block every missile — and it just takes one.

The truth is, Hamas’s rockets don’t cause as many casualties as they otherwise would because Israel goes to great lengths to protect its people. It spends fortunes on bomb shelters and missile defense systems. In contrast, Israel’s military responses cause more Palestinian casualties than they otherwise would because Hamas goes to great lengths to endanger its people. It shoots missiles out of hospitals and schools, uses children as human shields, and tells Gaza civilians to ignore Israeli warning pamphlets that advise them to leave targeted neighborhoods.

Washington Post stories that give prominent coverage to Palestinian casualties and downplay Israeli ones — and columns like Pexton’s that compare Hamas missiles to bee stings and Israel to a bear — play into Hamas’s strategy of endangering its own people, and ensure that it will continue in the future.

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Iron Dome Creator Joins the Ranks of Military Innovators

The Wall Street Journal had a fascinating story yesterday about the genesis of Iron Dome, Israel’s now-celebrated rocket-defense system that shot down 84 percent of the Hamas projectiles it shot at during the recent Gaza war. Many are now eager to claim credit for its success, but the Journal makes a convincing case that the real genius behind it is a now-retired general named Daniel Gold.

With a Ph.D. in mathematics, he was a natural choice to become director of the Ministry of Defense’s Research and Development department. But what he really showed a genius for was in cutting through the bureaucracy: He set the Iron Dome program into motion without the sign off of his superiors, a step for which he was criticized by the state comptroller. But he bulled ahead anyway, despite the risks involved, and in the face of almost universal skepticism from the rest of the military about the possibility of intercepting short-range rockets in flight–something that had to be done within seconds of launch.

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The Wall Street Journal had a fascinating story yesterday about the genesis of Iron Dome, Israel’s now-celebrated rocket-defense system that shot down 84 percent of the Hamas projectiles it shot at during the recent Gaza war. Many are now eager to claim credit for its success, but the Journal makes a convincing case that the real genius behind it is a now-retired general named Daniel Gold.

With a Ph.D. in mathematics, he was a natural choice to become director of the Ministry of Defense’s Research and Development department. But what he really showed a genius for was in cutting through the bureaucracy: He set the Iron Dome program into motion without the sign off of his superiors, a step for which he was criticized by the state comptroller. But he bulled ahead anyway, despite the risks involved, and in the face of almost universal skepticism from the rest of the military about the possibility of intercepting short-range rockets in flight–something that had to be done within seconds of launch.

His experience echoes that of other great military innovators such as Britain’s Admiral Jackie Fisher (a key supporter of dreadnoughts and submarines), U.S. Admiral William Moffett (father of naval aviation), U.S. General Curtis LeMay (the driving force behind long-range bombing), and U.S. Admiral Hyman Rickover (father of the nuclear navy). All were mavericks who risked disdain and ruin to promote their vision–and won spectacular vindication.

We need more such men and women who are as good as Gold or else we risk having vital innovations stifled in miles of red tape–but such mold-breakers are hard to develop by definition. Therein lies a challenge that will be of great importance to the future of our armed forces.

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Why Everyone Should Root for Iron Dome

In the last couple of days, Max has ably fended off criticism of missile defense–a commonsense and effective tool in homeland security. He closes his second post on the subject with a question: “Why do so many critics have such an investment in trying to prove that missile defense doesn’t work? Isn’t a good defense the best way to keep the peace?”

Yes, it is, and it makes opposition to missile defense from the left quite strange for another reason. Those who want Israel to continue making territorial concessions to the Palestinians–after every single previous such concession brought terrorism and rockets–have much riding on the success of Israel’s missile defense systems, such as Iron Dome. It is absurd to believe that after what keeps happening in Gaza, Israel will allow the same to happen in the West Bank–where missiles can be launched a couple of miles from Judaism’s holiest sites in Jerusalem and would also have a better shot at hitting Ben Gurion airport near Tel Aviv. The former would be a physical assault on Israel’s capital as well as a conceptual assault on Judaism and Jewish history only the world’s basest anti-Semites could stomach, and the latter would bring Israel’s economy to a standstill.

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In the last couple of days, Max has ably fended off criticism of missile defense–a commonsense and effective tool in homeland security. He closes his second post on the subject with a question: “Why do so many critics have such an investment in trying to prove that missile defense doesn’t work? Isn’t a good defense the best way to keep the peace?”

Yes, it is, and it makes opposition to missile defense from the left quite strange for another reason. Those who want Israel to continue making territorial concessions to the Palestinians–after every single previous such concession brought terrorism and rockets–have much riding on the success of Israel’s missile defense systems, such as Iron Dome. It is absurd to believe that after what keeps happening in Gaza, Israel will allow the same to happen in the West Bank–where missiles can be launched a couple of miles from Judaism’s holiest sites in Jerusalem and would also have a better shot at hitting Ben Gurion airport near Tel Aviv. The former would be a physical assault on Israel’s capital as well as a conceptual assault on Judaism and Jewish history only the world’s basest anti-Semites could stomach, and the latter would bring Israel’s economy to a standstill.

Under such circumstances, Israel can only be expected cede territory if its citizens feel secure in doing so. A similar discussion has taken place around the chain-link fence Israel has been constructing to keep terrorists out–a step made necessary by the Arafatization of the Palestinian polity and the Palestinian strategy of instigating suicide bombing campaigns.

Yes, some dispute the “path” of the fence, arguing its placement. But isn’t the chain-link fence, which is meant to keep terrorists out, an incredibly peaceful and humane solution to the problem? Of course it is. But even if many on the left are unconcerned with Israel’s security, shouldn’t they support such nonviolent security measures as a tactical matter to encourage Israel to withdraw from territory the Palestinians want for a possible future state? After all, arguments that Israel cannot take even purely defensive measures to safeguard its people should not be taken seriously.

None of this is to say that missile defense will solve the conflict. It isn’t perfect, it’s expensive, and living under constant threat of rocket fire would still be hellish—it cannot be easy to get used to bombs exploding over your head all day long. The best solution, without a doubt, would be for the Palestinians to eschew terrorism and give up their mission to destroy Israel. The end of terrorism would bring peace. Until then, Israeli security is paramount. The lesson from Gaza is that complete withdrawal did not bring security for Israel. If the Palestinians really want a two-state solution, they should prove the same wouldn’t be true in the West Bank.

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Missile Defense Stands Up to Scrutiny

It is amazing the controversy that missile defense continues to arouse nearly 30 years after Ronald Reagan gave his famous “Star Wars” speech. Yesterday I posted an item saying that Reagan’s vision of intercepting missiles had been vindicated by the success that Israel’s Iron Dome system is having in knocking down Hamas rockets–some 300 so far. This sparked much indignation on Twitter and the blogosphere, with a graduate student named Matt Fay writing an entire blog item in reply arguing “Iron Dome Does Not Vindicate SDI,” and political scientist/blogger Robert Farley posting numerous tweets in a similar vein. They attack me for one alleged factual error and for a larger conceptual error of equating defense against Russian ICBMs, which have a range of thousands of miles, with defense against short-range Hamas rockets which can travel no more than 50 miles and often less. Let me explain in brief why I stand by my original point.

First, the supposed factual error is more an omission than a mistake. I wrote that “the U.S. West Coast is actually protected by a limited ballistic-missile defense system based primarily around satellites, sea-based Aegis and X-band radars, and Standard Missile-3 interceptors.” Fay points out I neglected to mention the ground-based interceptors located in Alaska and California. Fair enough; I should have mentioned them. But the first line of defense against missiles aimed at the U.S. remains warships equipped with Aegis radar and Standard Missile 3′s–as a quick glance at the website of the US Missile Defense Agency will confirm. In the future a new generation of SM-3′s will also be based ashore in the U.S. If North Korea were to launch a missile our way, an Aegis-equipped Navy ship would be more likely to shoot it down than one of the ground-based interceptors in the continental U.S. But they are all part of a larger system with redundancy built in to increase the chances of a successful interception.

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It is amazing the controversy that missile defense continues to arouse nearly 30 years after Ronald Reagan gave his famous “Star Wars” speech. Yesterday I posted an item saying that Reagan’s vision of intercepting missiles had been vindicated by the success that Israel’s Iron Dome system is having in knocking down Hamas rockets–some 300 so far. This sparked much indignation on Twitter and the blogosphere, with a graduate student named Matt Fay writing an entire blog item in reply arguing “Iron Dome Does Not Vindicate SDI,” and political scientist/blogger Robert Farley posting numerous tweets in a similar vein. They attack me for one alleged factual error and for a larger conceptual error of equating defense against Russian ICBMs, which have a range of thousands of miles, with defense against short-range Hamas rockets which can travel no more than 50 miles and often less. Let me explain in brief why I stand by my original point.

First, the supposed factual error is more an omission than a mistake. I wrote that “the U.S. West Coast is actually protected by a limited ballistic-missile defense system based primarily around satellites, sea-based Aegis and X-band radars, and Standard Missile-3 interceptors.” Fay points out I neglected to mention the ground-based interceptors located in Alaska and California. Fair enough; I should have mentioned them. But the first line of defense against missiles aimed at the U.S. remains warships equipped with Aegis radar and Standard Missile 3′s–as a quick glance at the website of the US Missile Defense Agency will confirm. In the future a new generation of SM-3′s will also be based ashore in the U.S. If North Korea were to launch a missile our way, an Aegis-equipped Navy ship would be more likely to shoot it down than one of the ground-based interceptors in the continental U.S. But they are all part of a larger system with redundancy built in to increase the chances of a successful interception.

What about my supposed error in equating rocket defense with missile defense? Granted there are major differences between the two–missiles travel farther and faster and they can have multiple warheads and various defenses against interception. But the fact that missiles take time to prepare for launch, that they have to come from launching platforms easily observable from the air, and that they are often in flight for many minutes–roughly half an hour to get from Russia to the U.S.–actually improves the chances of interception. By contrast Qassam rockets can be set up with no notice and detonate 30 seconds after launch. The fact that the Iron Dome system has been 90 percent successful, if initial reports are to be believed, is actually quite impressive and does vindicate Reagan’s much-mocked vision of using one projectile to intercept another.

Some critics point out that even a 90-percent success rate for national missile defense wouldn’t do much good, because letting even one nuclear-tipped missile through could be devastating. True enough, but, Reagan’s sometimes grandiose rhetoric aside about “eliminating the threat posed by strategic nuclear missiles,” even markedly reducing that threat would be of great benefit. In the days of the Cold War, the Soviets plotted to launch a devastating first strike on the U.S. But if a defense system had knocked down many of their attacking missiles, that would have preserved America’s ability to launch an even more devastating counter-strike. Thus if missile defense had been in place in those days it could have improved deterrence and reduced the risk of a nuclear attack. Today missile defense can achieve more limited, but just as valuable, objectives by preventing North Korea, Iran and other rogue states from threatening their neighbors and their neighbors’ ally, the United States.

I remain puzzled by the emotional response generated by any advocacy of missile defense. Why do so many critics have such an investment in trying to prove that missile defense doesn’t work? Isn’t a good defense the best way to keep the peace?

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Reagan Vindicated: Missile Defense Works

The latest Gaza war is only a few days old, but already one conclusion can be drawn: missile defense works. This is only the latest vindication for the vision of Ronald Reagan who is emerging as a consensus pick for one of the all-time great U.S. presidents.

For it was Ronald Reagan who made missile defense a major priority for the U.S. and our allies. His 1983 speech on the subject was widely derided as “Star Wars” because he envisioned that some missile would be intercepted in space. For years critics claimed that it was impossible to intercept missiles in flight, or that at the very least it would be prohibitively expensive to do so. But now the U.S. West Coast is actually protected by a limited ballistic-missile defense system based primarily around satellites, sea-based Aegis and X-band radars, and Standard Missile-3 interceptors. We don’t know how the system would work in combat but it has been vindicated in testing.

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The latest Gaza war is only a few days old, but already one conclusion can be drawn: missile defense works. This is only the latest vindication for the vision of Ronald Reagan who is emerging as a consensus pick for one of the all-time great U.S. presidents.

For it was Ronald Reagan who made missile defense a major priority for the U.S. and our allies. His 1983 speech on the subject was widely derided as “Star Wars” because he envisioned that some missile would be intercepted in space. For years critics claimed that it was impossible to intercept missiles in flight, or that at the very least it would be prohibitively expensive to do so. But now the U.S. West Coast is actually protected by a limited ballistic-missile defense system based primarily around satellites, sea-based Aegis and X-band radars, and Standard Missile-3 interceptors. We don’t know how the system would work in combat but it has been vindicated in testing.

The U.S. has also cooperated with numerous allies to develop more tactical missiles defenses designed to stop rockets, not in their boost phase, but just before they hit. One of those projects is the Iron Dome system that Israel launched after the 2006 war in Lebanon, during which Hezbollah bombarded northern Israel with thousands of rockets. Today Iron Dome, which is still officially listed as experimental, is operational–and it is blunting Hamas’s missile-offensive against Israel.

According to the Israeli Embassy in Washington: “In the last 4 days: 544 rockets fired from Gaza hit Israel + 302 Iron Dome interceptions = 846 rockets fired at us.” The fact that only 302 of 846 rockets were intercepted (36 percent) might indicate that Iron Dome is ineffective. But in fact it is expressly designed to ignore rockets headed for uninhabited areas. Israeli officials say that 90 percent of the attempted interceptions have worked, thus providing critical protection for civilian areas including Tel Aviv, where an Iron Dome battery has just been moved.

Somewhere, wherever he is now, the Gipper must be smiling.

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Azeris Strengthen Israel’s Hand on Iran

The potential for an Israeli attack on Iran’s nuclear facilities may be a lot greater than skeptics may have thought. That’s the upshot of a story published yesterday in Foreign Policy that alleges Azerbaijan has granted the Israelis access to airbases in that country. If true, Israel’s ability to launch a strike from bases on Iran’s northern border would make the Jewish state’s military challenge in seeking to knock out Iran’s nuclear plants a lot simpler. The assistance of the Azeris would enable the Israelis to make repeated attacks and would eliminate the need to refuel their planes in midair in order to make the long flight from Israel to Iran.

Yet at the same time, a report in Ha’aretz insists that Tuesday’s announcement by the U.S. Defense Department that it would ask Congress for more money for Israel’s Iron Dome missile defense system ensures there will be no attack on Iran before the presidential election this year. While that assumption may be unfounded, along with similar speculation that followed Prime Minister Netanyahu’s meeting with President Obama earlier this month, it leaves open the possibility that Israel is heeding U.S. requests to hold off an attack. The question for Iran is, which of these stories do you believe?

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The potential for an Israeli attack on Iran’s nuclear facilities may be a lot greater than skeptics may have thought. That’s the upshot of a story published yesterday in Foreign Policy that alleges Azerbaijan has granted the Israelis access to airbases in that country. If true, Israel’s ability to launch a strike from bases on Iran’s northern border would make the Jewish state’s military challenge in seeking to knock out Iran’s nuclear plants a lot simpler. The assistance of the Azeris would enable the Israelis to make repeated attacks and would eliminate the need to refuel their planes in midair in order to make the long flight from Israel to Iran.

Yet at the same time, a report in Ha’aretz insists that Tuesday’s announcement by the U.S. Defense Department that it would ask Congress for more money for Israel’s Iron Dome missile defense system ensures there will be no attack on Iran before the presidential election this year. While that assumption may be unfounded, along with similar speculation that followed Prime Minister Netanyahu’s meeting with President Obama earlier this month, it leaves open the possibility that Israel is heeding U.S. requests to hold off an attack. The question for Iran is, which of these stories do you believe?

On that score, there’s no question that Iran must regard the decision of the Azeris to assist an Israeli strike as being a mortal threat to their ability to defend themselves. Prior to this, all discussion of a possible Israeli strike had been tempered by the knowledge that their ability to attack Iran was severely limited by the vast distance between the two countries. When compared to the ability of the United States to project airpower from carriers stationed in the Persian Gulf as well as other bases in the Middle East, it made an Israeli attack on Iran look like a poor substitute for U.S. action. But bases in Azerbaijan completely transform the military equation between Israel and Iran. They remove the need for the Israeli Air Force to refuel planes in midair in order to secure their safe return. Support staff stationed along Iran’s northern border would also make it easier for IAF to execute repeated sorties on nuclear targets and facilitate the rescue of downed planes and pilots. The bases would vastly increase the likelihood that an Israeli air campaign against Iran would achieve a high degree of success and lower the potential for losses.

From Iran’s point of view, this is a total disaster. While they have always known they stood no chance of mounting an effective defense against a massive U.S. air campaign on their nuclear plants, an Israeli attack from 2,200 miles away did not seem as formidable a challenge. The Azeri factor does not quite put the Israeli military on a par with that of the United States but it does act as a multiplying factor with regard to Israel’s ability to launch repeated strikes.

Though the Haaretz report that spoke of Israel’s plans to attack Iran as being put on hold until next spring may encourage Tehran, the fact that the sources for the Azeri story in Foreign Policy appear to be senior U.S. military and diplomatic figures shows the Obama administration is by no means certain Netanyahu can be counted on to hold his fire until after the president is safely re-elected. The American motive for leaking the story is clear. By making public the fact that the Azeris have more or less been bribed by Israel to give them access to bases that will enable them to easily attack Iran, the United States may be hoping to accomplish two things.

One is to scare the Iranians into finally waving the white flag on its nuclear project. The story ought to make it clear to the ayatollahs there is no way they can protect themselves from either Israel or the United States if push comes to shove. The odds of the Iranians coming to their senses in this manner are slim, but the administration is determined to do whatever it can to keep the window for diplomacy on the nuclear question open for as long as it can.

The second motive is to forestall any Israeli attack. Making public the Azeri role in the military plan might force the Jewish state’s Asian ally to back away from any involvement in the project.

Whether the revelation will actually deter Israel from acting should Netanyahu and Defense Minister Ehud Barak determine it is in their country’s interest to strike prior to November is still to be determined. The belief that the extra money for Iron Dome guarantees Israel won’t attack Iran this year is based on the assumption that Obama and Netanyahu came to some agreement on the issue when they met in early March. The Iranians must certainly hope this is the case. But the one thing we know today that we didn’t a few weeks ago is that Israel’s hand in this game of nuclear poker is far stronger than most people thought.

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Iron Dome’s Crucial Gaza Test

Earlier this month, Palestinian militants fired approximately 300 rockets and mortar shells into Israel’s southern population centers. The ensuing escalation left more than 20 Palestinian militants dead, and about the same number of Israelis wounded. The barrage ensued after Israel killed Zuhir al-Qaisi, head of the Popular Resistance Committees in Gaza, who had been planning an attack on Israeli civilians similar to that of 2011, which left eight Israelis dead. He was also one of the masterminds behind the 2006 kidnapping of Gilad Shalit. But the most important result of this exchange is that the fighting resulted in a crucial test of the Iron Dome missile defense system.

Iron Dome is an anti-missile defense system developed by Rafael, an Israeli-based military technology firm, in response to the 2006 war with Hezbollah in which almost 4,000 rockets were fired from Lebanon into Israel. At a unit cost of $50 million, and with pricey $50,000 missiles, Iron Dome was an expensive but necessary addition to the tiny country’s civilian defense scheme, and this March it performed remarkably well. In order to cut costs and make target acquisition more efficient, Iron Dome is designed to intercept only projectiles bound for population centers. Seventy-three out of the 300 rockets and mortar shells fired from Gaza fell under this category, of which Iron Dome shot down 56: an impressive 76 percent hit rate.

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Earlier this month, Palestinian militants fired approximately 300 rockets and mortar shells into Israel’s southern population centers. The ensuing escalation left more than 20 Palestinian militants dead, and about the same number of Israelis wounded. The barrage ensued after Israel killed Zuhir al-Qaisi, head of the Popular Resistance Committees in Gaza, who had been planning an attack on Israeli civilians similar to that of 2011, which left eight Israelis dead. He was also one of the masterminds behind the 2006 kidnapping of Gilad Shalit. But the most important result of this exchange is that the fighting resulted in a crucial test of the Iron Dome missile defense system.

Iron Dome is an anti-missile defense system developed by Rafael, an Israeli-based military technology firm, in response to the 2006 war with Hezbollah in which almost 4,000 rockets were fired from Lebanon into Israel. At a unit cost of $50 million, and with pricey $50,000 missiles, Iron Dome was an expensive but necessary addition to the tiny country’s civilian defense scheme, and this March it performed remarkably well. In order to cut costs and make target acquisition more efficient, Iron Dome is designed to intercept only projectiles bound for population centers. Seventy-three out of the 300 rockets and mortar shells fired from Gaza fell under this category, of which Iron Dome shot down 56: an impressive 76 percent hit rate.

There are five reasons why the recent escalation has resulted in strategic benefits to Israel.

First, as with any new weapon system, there was a real need to test it in an authentic operational setting. In 2006, Israeli government officials and military leaders learned (the hard way) how civilian vulnerability to rocket fire translates into political and even military operational setbacks. A campaign against Iran, which would likely draw out for days if not weeks, would likely lead to Iranian ICBM attacks against Israeli population centers. Therefore, it is necessary for Israeli leaders to ascertain the approximate number of hits civilian areas would sustain, in order to better grasp the political and military freedom of action they would enjoy.

Second, a systems check provided crucial data regarding Iron Dome’s technology and whether it meets its original expectations. In the first month of 2012, Rafael upgraded part of Iron Dome’s operating system. One could presume that following the recent confrontation in Gaza, Iron Dome’s new technologies will be reexamined and, if necessary, improved.

Third, and also based on the experience of 2006, it is important to inspire confidence in the system’s capabilities on the one hand, but set realistic expectations on the other. When Iron Dome was announced, optimists projected a 100 percent interception rate, due in part to wishful thinking, and in part to the Defense Ministry’s public campaign to justify the enormous expenses involved in the Iron Dome program. But a perfect system with perfect results is clearly not possible, and it is now time to modify the expectation many Israelis have unjustifiably developed during the past few years. Concurrent with recent events in Gaza, Defense Minister Ehud Barak publicly acknowledged that an Iranian-Hezbollah attack on Israel would likely result in approximately 500 casualties.

The fourth beneficial result of this round was that the Gaza terrorist infrastructure wasted a significant number of rockets in a controlled conflict in which Israel clearly had the upper hand. Israel also managed to knock out some of their rocket-launching teams. Israel, at a relatively negligible cost, managed to induce at least a partial reduction of the Palestinian rocket threat.

Last and most important of all, is the deterrence factor. Activating Iron Dome in an authentic operational setting with a 76 percent hit-rate sends a powerful message to Iran and its proxy, Hezbollah. A successful Iron Dome is unlikely to altogether deter Iran and Hezbollah from firing ICBMs and rockets at Israel. But it would give Iran another reason to pause before retaliating after its nuclear facilities would come under attack, thereby risking further Israeli strikes without a credible enough threat of their own.

The hope in Jerusalem is that Tehran will follow a course similar to that of Bashar al-Assad in Israel’s 2007 attack on the clandestine Syrian reactor. The Syrian president, fearing a harsher Israeli counter-attack, decided against retaliation, opting instead (and in cooperation with Israel) to cover up the Israeli operation. With Assad’s regime facing increasingly grim chances of survival, the risk of a Hezbollah-initiated confrontation with Israel as a diversion tactic is growing.

Iron Dome’s success in Gaza might give Nasrallah and his Iranian patrons a good reason to reconsider.

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Revisiting the Failed Gaza Experiment

This past weekend, southern Israel was hit by more than 200 rockets flying over the border from Hamas-controlled Gaza. Dozens of the missiles were intercepted by the Iron Dome missile defense system but most got through with some casualties and damage. The lives of more than a million Israelis living in the southern part of the country were disrupted by the assault. Schools were closed as the population was urged to take shelter until the latest crisis passed.

To the extent the world is paying much attention to this (it was overshadowed by the story of the American soldier who murdered Afghan civilians) it has been in the form of the usual “cycle of violence” stories that depict the situation as one in which both Israel and the Palestinians are seen as being at fault. As is generally the case, the focus quickly shifts to efforts to reinstate a cease-fire, with Secretary of State Clinton condemning the missile fire while also calling for both sides to show “restraint.” But the real issue here is not who started it or how well the Iron Dome system is working. It is the way Israel must learn to live with an independent Palestinian state in Gaza in all but name that is run by terrorists. Those who continue to demand Israel withdraw completely from the West Bank and Jerusalem, as they did from Gaza in 2005, need to understand the lessons of that failed experiment will not be forgotten.

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This past weekend, southern Israel was hit by more than 200 rockets flying over the border from Hamas-controlled Gaza. Dozens of the missiles were intercepted by the Iron Dome missile defense system but most got through with some casualties and damage. The lives of more than a million Israelis living in the southern part of the country were disrupted by the assault. Schools were closed as the population was urged to take shelter until the latest crisis passed.

To the extent the world is paying much attention to this (it was overshadowed by the story of the American soldier who murdered Afghan civilians) it has been in the form of the usual “cycle of violence” stories that depict the situation as one in which both Israel and the Palestinians are seen as being at fault. As is generally the case, the focus quickly shifts to efforts to reinstate a cease-fire, with Secretary of State Clinton condemning the missile fire while also calling for both sides to show “restraint.” But the real issue here is not who started it or how well the Iron Dome system is working. It is the way Israel must learn to live with an independent Palestinian state in Gaza in all but name that is run by terrorists. Those who continue to demand Israel withdraw completely from the West Bank and Jerusalem, as they did from Gaza in 2005, need to understand the lessons of that failed experiment will not be forgotten.

This latest dustup along the border started when the Israeli Defense Forces acted to foil an impending terror attack being launched by one of the dissident Islamic groups that operate in Gaza with Hamas’s permission. The Popular Resistance Committees’ leader and several of his terrorist cadres were killed by Israeli action. The Palestinians responded with a massive missile barrage in response to the Israeli “aggression.” But as Israelis who live in the region know, missile fire from Gaza is hardly an unusual occurrence. Since the cease-fire agreed to by Hamas and Israel in January 2009, more than 1,200 rockets have been fired from Gaza, including 100 in just the last month prior to this weekend’s fighting.

The missiles are a fact of life in southern Israel, and though the country has learned to live with this threat, it has taken a toll on the people who live there that is often ignored abroad as well as by some who live in the central part of the country not currently under fire. If anything, the improved missile defense has lessened some of the pressure on the Israeli government to consider a repeat of the December 2008 Operation Cast Lead in which the IDF conducted a counter-offensive designed to silence the intolerable attacks on the country.

But few in Israel are oblivious to the meaning of this standoff. By its withdrawal of every settlement, soldier and Jew from Gaza in 2005, Israel set the stage for the creation of a terrorist state there that has given an indifferent world a foretaste of what Palestinian independence looks like. The assumption then, reinforced by the presence of the legendarily tough Ariel Sharon in the prime minister’s office, was that any cross-border attacks would be met with such force as to make them unlikely. However, the terrorist government of the strip has launched terrorist attacks on Israel with relative impunity and counts on the international community’s outrage to force Israel to always respond to these provocations with the “restraint” that Secretary Clinton desires. It is far from clear the stricken Sharon would have been any more capable of reversing this situation than his successors Ehud Olmert or Benjamin Netanyahu.

While few in Israel seek a permanent return to Gaza as they have no interest in ruling over Palestinians there, possible negotiations with the Palestinian Authority about withdrawal from the West Bank are necessarily informed by this example. Should the West Bank become as much of a no-go zone for the IDF as Gaza is, the likelihood of its long border with central Israel turning into another battleground is a nightmare for Israelis. With Hamas now planning on joining Fatah in the government of the West Bank, it takes little imagination to understand what a sovereign Palestinian state there would mean for Israel’s security. Rather than rockets flying over just the southern portion of the country, Hamas would acquire the ability to terrorize the whole of Israel as well as to interdict flights out of its international airport. No missile defense system could possibly protect the nation under those circumstances.

The vast majority of Israelis, including the majority of the members of its right-of-center government, have embraced a two-state solution as the answer to the conflict. Were the PA to return to the negotiating table, they would find most Israelis willing to talk about such an outcome. But the missiles flying out of Gaza provide us with a vision of what an independent Palestinian state actually looks like. So long as the Palestinian sovereignty is expressed in this manner, there is little chance Israel will be so foolish as to repeat the failed experiment in Gaza.

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Obama’s Backing of Israeli Rocket Shield: Charm Offensive or Harbinger of More Pressure?

The White House’s charm offensive toward Israel’s supporters continued this week with a nice dividend for the Jewish state: financial backing for the country’s “Iron Dome” anti-missile system designed to protect Israeli towns against Palestinian rocket attacks. Haaretz reported yesterday that the Pentagon informed Israel’s Defense Ministry that the president had approved the transfer of $205 million for the purchase of 10 Iron Dome batteries that could help shield southern Israelis towns such as Sderot that have been battered in the past by Katyushas and Qassam missiles from Hamas terrorists in Gaza.

Iron Dome has, of course, been in the works for years, and the decision is merely a continuation of U.S. support for the project that began during the Bush administration. But to Israel’s great frustration, approval of the money for these purchases had been held up for the past couple of years. Obama’s critics could well point out that he deserves the blame for stalling the Israelis for the past 16 months as well as the credit for the final approval. That said, if the weapons system works as well in practice as it did in tests, it has the potential to minimize the missile threat from Gaza in the future.

The timing of the decision may have been dictated by the administration’s desire to walk back from the hostility its stands on Jerusalem and insults to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu provoked from friends of Israel. The charm offensive belies the left’s claims that most American Jews back Obama’s Israel-bashing. The White House’s clear desire to undo the impression it had previously sought to foster of America distancing itself from the Jewish state is an indication that it doesn’t believe most American Jews support a policy of further pressure on Israel.

However, backing for the Iron Dome project may have another context. Even if the system isn’t foolproof, should a new terrorist offensive against Israel be launched either in the south by Hamas or, as widely anticipated, in the north by an even more heavily armed Hezbollah, a defensive shield against rocket attacks could give the administration the leverage it needs to prevent substantial Israeli counterattacks against either threat. Moreover, in the unlikely event that the “proximity” talks with the Palestinian Authority make progress, the existence of even a leaky missile shield will strengthen American pressure on Israel to make further territorial surrenders to the Palestinians. After all, the reason why most Israelis are aghast at the prospect of a further pullback in the West Bank is the knowledge that such a move could put virtually all central Israel — and the vast majority of the Israeli population — in missile range and potentially put the metropolis of Tel Aviv in the same sorry condition as bloodied and battered Sderot.

Seen in this light, the American money spent on Iron Dome batteries could help buy future Israeli concessions to the Palestinians. Though the anti-missile defense the program promises is desperately needed by Israel — and a move for which Obama deserves applause — it is an open question whether the country will be better off or more secure if this charm offensive purchase is the harbinger of more American pressure.

The White House’s charm offensive toward Israel’s supporters continued this week with a nice dividend for the Jewish state: financial backing for the country’s “Iron Dome” anti-missile system designed to protect Israeli towns against Palestinian rocket attacks. Haaretz reported yesterday that the Pentagon informed Israel’s Defense Ministry that the president had approved the transfer of $205 million for the purchase of 10 Iron Dome batteries that could help shield southern Israelis towns such as Sderot that have been battered in the past by Katyushas and Qassam missiles from Hamas terrorists in Gaza.

Iron Dome has, of course, been in the works for years, and the decision is merely a continuation of U.S. support for the project that began during the Bush administration. But to Israel’s great frustration, approval of the money for these purchases had been held up for the past couple of years. Obama’s critics could well point out that he deserves the blame for stalling the Israelis for the past 16 months as well as the credit for the final approval. That said, if the weapons system works as well in practice as it did in tests, it has the potential to minimize the missile threat from Gaza in the future.

The timing of the decision may have been dictated by the administration’s desire to walk back from the hostility its stands on Jerusalem and insults to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu provoked from friends of Israel. The charm offensive belies the left’s claims that most American Jews back Obama’s Israel-bashing. The White House’s clear desire to undo the impression it had previously sought to foster of America distancing itself from the Jewish state is an indication that it doesn’t believe most American Jews support a policy of further pressure on Israel.

However, backing for the Iron Dome project may have another context. Even if the system isn’t foolproof, should a new terrorist offensive against Israel be launched either in the south by Hamas or, as widely anticipated, in the north by an even more heavily armed Hezbollah, a defensive shield against rocket attacks could give the administration the leverage it needs to prevent substantial Israeli counterattacks against either threat. Moreover, in the unlikely event that the “proximity” talks with the Palestinian Authority make progress, the existence of even a leaky missile shield will strengthen American pressure on Israel to make further territorial surrenders to the Palestinians. After all, the reason why most Israelis are aghast at the prospect of a further pullback in the West Bank is the knowledge that such a move could put virtually all central Israel — and the vast majority of the Israeli population — in missile range and potentially put the metropolis of Tel Aviv in the same sorry condition as bloodied and battered Sderot.

Seen in this light, the American money spent on Iron Dome batteries could help buy future Israeli concessions to the Palestinians. Though the anti-missile defense the program promises is desperately needed by Israel — and a move for which Obama deserves applause — it is an open question whether the country will be better off or more secure if this charm offensive purchase is the harbinger of more American pressure.

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Iron Hope

On Wednesday, Jan. 6, the IDF attacked a group of Palestinians preparing to fire rockets into Israel from southern Gaza. On Thursday, Palestinians fired 10 rockets at Israel in retaliation for the previous day’s intercept, in which a Palestinian was killed. The Kerem Shalom border crossing was menaced by the rocket barrage, causing Israel to close it and aid trucks to pile up at the border. The IAF then dropped leaflets in Gaza for the first time since May 2009, warning Gazans against participating in attacks on Israel.

On most occasions, the appropriate response to this recitation might be: and your point is…? For over two decades, this kind of exchange has been one of the most common on earth. But that may be changing in the next six months, as Israel deploys a new defense system called Iron Dome.

Iron Dome, developed on an exceptionally rapid timeline, is designed to intercept exactly the short-range rockets with which the Israeli population is routinely menaced by both Palestinian terrorists and Hezbollah. It’s a discriminating and potentially very cost-efficient system, intended to intercept only the incoming rockets that are on a trajectory to hit populated areas.

The Israelis are satisfied with Iron Dome’s performance in the latest tests and now expect to field it in southern Israel in the first half of 2010. Although there is a natural skepticism among Israelis about what Iron Dome can do for them, by objective military analysis, it’s a game-changer – assuming it works under the stress of operational conditions. The way to counter Iron Dome will clearly be by affecting the performance of its radars and computer systems. But that’s a category of operations requiring an unprecedented level and type of preparation on the part of the terrorists. Flinging rockets indiscriminately at Israeli territory cannot be compared with trying to interdict specific radars and computers, in terms of the planning and sophistication required.

Israeli operational calculations could also change. For the first time, the assurance of brutal, deterrent counterstrikes will not be the only thing standing between Israeli civilians and terrorist rocket attacks. The IDF could be buying some political latitude for its civilian leadership, even as it forces terrorists to reconsider their own methodology.

Much is riding on the performance of Iron Dome in the field. It has the potential to obviate, at least in part, the well-worn pattern of attack and retaliation represented by the events of January 6 and 7, 2010. Americans as well as Israelis should be watching its progress closely. Iron Dome is a missile shield that will face live, “real-world” testing very soon, and if it works as intended, its impact will be felt in the political as well as the military realm. We will see what happens when a population can be effectively defended against missile attacks.

On Wednesday, Jan. 6, the IDF attacked a group of Palestinians preparing to fire rockets into Israel from southern Gaza. On Thursday, Palestinians fired 10 rockets at Israel in retaliation for the previous day’s intercept, in which a Palestinian was killed. The Kerem Shalom border crossing was menaced by the rocket barrage, causing Israel to close it and aid trucks to pile up at the border. The IAF then dropped leaflets in Gaza for the first time since May 2009, warning Gazans against participating in attacks on Israel.

On most occasions, the appropriate response to this recitation might be: and your point is…? For over two decades, this kind of exchange has been one of the most common on earth. But that may be changing in the next six months, as Israel deploys a new defense system called Iron Dome.

Iron Dome, developed on an exceptionally rapid timeline, is designed to intercept exactly the short-range rockets with which the Israeli population is routinely menaced by both Palestinian terrorists and Hezbollah. It’s a discriminating and potentially very cost-efficient system, intended to intercept only the incoming rockets that are on a trajectory to hit populated areas.

The Israelis are satisfied with Iron Dome’s performance in the latest tests and now expect to field it in southern Israel in the first half of 2010. Although there is a natural skepticism among Israelis about what Iron Dome can do for them, by objective military analysis, it’s a game-changer – assuming it works under the stress of operational conditions. The way to counter Iron Dome will clearly be by affecting the performance of its radars and computer systems. But that’s a category of operations requiring an unprecedented level and type of preparation on the part of the terrorists. Flinging rockets indiscriminately at Israeli territory cannot be compared with trying to interdict specific radars and computers, in terms of the planning and sophistication required.

Israeli operational calculations could also change. For the first time, the assurance of brutal, deterrent counterstrikes will not be the only thing standing between Israeli civilians and terrorist rocket attacks. The IDF could be buying some political latitude for its civilian leadership, even as it forces terrorists to reconsider their own methodology.

Much is riding on the performance of Iron Dome in the field. It has the potential to obviate, at least in part, the well-worn pattern of attack and retaliation represented by the events of January 6 and 7, 2010. Americans as well as Israelis should be watching its progress closely. Iron Dome is a missile shield that will face live, “real-world” testing very soon, and if it works as intended, its impact will be felt in the political as well as the military realm. We will see what happens when a population can be effectively defended against missile attacks.

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