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Israels Next ABM Shield

Workers build part of Israel's controversial separation barrier in the West Bank city of Bethlehem. Once completed, the 670-kilometre (415-mile) mix of concrete, steel and razor wire will effectively confiscate eight to 10 percent of Palestinian land in the occupied West Bank and east Jerusalem. Palestinian leaders call the barrier "an apartheid fence". Photo courtesy of Musa Al-Shaer and AFP.
by Martin Sieff
UPI Senior News Analyst
Washington (UPI) Apr 24, 2006
Most international attention on Israel's ballistic missile defense programs has focused on the Arrow interceptor system, the U.S.-bought Patriot PAC-3 and their capabilities for intercepting Shehab intermediate-range missiles from Iran or Scuds that would be fired from Syria.

But now, with little fanfare, Israeli is also energetically pushing ahead with some of its traditional major U.S. high-tech corporate partners with a radically new design to protect the Jewish State from extremely short-range Palestinian missiles. This decision also has revealing strategic implications for the policies of the new government currently being formed by Interim Prime Minister Ehud Olmert in Jerusalem.

The U.S. missile systems maker Alliant Techsystems, or ATK, has joined the Boeing and Israel Aircraft Industries consortium that is participating in Israel's Ministry of Defense Israeli Short-Range Ballistic Missile Defense tender worth $50-100 million, Globes-Israel Business News reported on April 4. A consortium of Raytheon and the Israeli Rafael Armament Development Authority is also participating in the tender, Globes said.

The tender is part of the Israeli Ministry of Defense's Homa project and it is intended develop an anti-ballistic missile defense for the short-range Qassem rockets that Palestinian guerrilla groups like Islamic Jihad have fired into Israeli territory. The Qassems give Palestinian guerrilla groups the tactical capability to threaten major Israeli industrial infrastructure installations in the Ashkelon port area. Israel has huge oil and chemical facilities there.

The threat is wider: Qassem rockets are little more than low-tech simple knock-offs of old World War II Soviet technology rocket mortars or Katyushas. They are easily and widely produced currently in Gaza and they also have the capability of threatening Israel's main airport, Ben-Gurion Airport, from the West Bank across the security barrier built by Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, Olmert's predecessor, to defeat the bloody Second Palestinian Intifada.

The so-called fence, or barrier, has proven highly effective in dramatically curtailing the slaughter of Israeli civilians including women and children caused by suicide bombers. Over a four-year period, at least, 1,100 of them died. But the barrier effectively confirms that Israel has ceded security control of much of the West Bank as well as Gaza to Hamas, the Islamic Resistance Movement. And Hamas has so far shown no desire to restrain attacks on Israel from its territory.

Sharon had no hesitation in sending the Israeli army in full force to carry out bloody retaliatory attacks in Gaza, the West Bank capital Ramallah and Jenin during his five years as prime minister. But Olmert may prove more reluctant to take such ruthless and drastic action, especially under pressure to exercise restraint from President George W. Bush and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice. Further, Olmert has already publicly indicated that he would like have Israel's permanent borders with the West Bank and Gaza stabilized by 2010 at the latest and possibly by as early as the end of 2008.

The plans to develop a new BMD system to defend Israel against very short range missile attacks such as it is already suffering from must be seen in the context of this strategy. They appear serious. And it is striking that they are being developed with major corporations that have long enjoyed very close ties to Israel and its own main defense contractors.

The IAI-Boeing proposal is based on their collaboration on the Arrow anti-ballistic missile. They plan to adapt Arrow technology to intercept short-range rockets, Globes said.

Alliant is based in Minnesota and has a factory in Mississippi. It already builds rocket engines for Israel's Arrow anti-ballistic missile interceptor that is produced by IAI and Boeing. If IAI and Boeing win the SRBMD tender, Alliant will manufacture engine components for the rocket, which is based on the Arrow, and which forms the core of the defense system, Globes reported.

"The Boeing-ATK partnership has been a success story for the Arrow program," Boeing Integrated Missile Defense Vice President Debra Rub-Zenko told Globes. "Our exclusive teaming agreement for SRBMD will build upon that vital relationship, ensuring an advanced solution for Israel's short-range missile defense needs."

As with previous Israeli tenders, the U.S.-Israeli consortia participating in the SRBMD tender want their systems to be eligible for U.S. government funding for the proposed project, Globes said.

The U.S. Congress has already approved $133 million for the Arrow program in the coming fiscal year, including $10 million for defense against short-range missiles. Bringing in Alliant into the SRBDM project could ensure that a large congressional bloc will support budget appropriations for short-range missile defense, provided that IAI and Boeing win the tender," Globes said.

Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld can be expected to enthusiastically support the new program: He has always been a leading enthusiast for every kind of new BMD program and has green-lighted every kind of close Department of Defense cooperation with Israel too.

The on going U.S, struggle with the Sunni Muslim insurgency in central Iraq has also brought home to U.S. defense chiefs the value of having some kind of very short-range BMD system that could provide at least partial protection from such attacks.

However, the key point in the Globes report is the fact that Israeli top military planners are now wrestling to reconcile two conflicting realities: They recognize that Hamas may rule Gaza and much of the West Bank with undisguised enmity towards them for years to come, leaving many of Israel's main population centers and strategic targets within range of attack by very short range missiles. Yet they do not want to reoccupy the territories needed to prevent such attacks as that would render them vulnerable again to more suicide bomber attacks from the Palestinian population they had re-conquered. The new very short range BMD program may offer a way to at least partially escape these twin dilemmas..

Source: United Press International

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