Sunday, February 7, 2010

Missile defense race in the Persian Gulf

The United States shifted gears in its efforts to upgrade its current defenses against possible Iranian missile attacks in the Persian Gulf. General Petraeus said the United States was now keeping Aegis cruisers on patrol in the Persian Gulf at all times in order to shoot down medium-range Iranian missiles.

A second line of defense is formed by the deployment of antimissile systems in at least four Arab countries on the Arabian Peninsula, according to administration and military officials. The U.S. deployments include PAC-3 systems, which would be used against short-range missiles.

Military officials said that the countries that accepted the defense systems were Qatar, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Kuwait. They said the Kuwaitis had agreed to take the defensive weapons to supplement older, less capable models it has had for years. Saudi Arabia and Israel have long had similar equipment of their own.
The cooperation does not stop at the delivry of missile defense hardware. Lieutenant General Mike Hostage, commander of US Air Force Central Command, stated recently that the U.S. would be sharing early-warning missile launch intelligence with the Gulf Cooperation Council countries, which is formed by the five abovementioned Arab countries: UAE, Kuwait, Bahrain, Saudi Arabia, Oman, and Qatar.

Several reaons are being provided for the deployment of the anti-missile systems:

Firstly, the systems are intended to act as a buffer against potential Iranian retaliation to new economic penalties related to its atomic activities and as an answer to growing perceptions that Tehran is the region's ascendant military power.

The second stated goal is to prevent a nuclear arms race in the region. If the Arab states are reassured that they are protected from a potential Iranian aggression, they do not feel they have to go nuclear themselves.

Thirdly, the same argument but a different angle: The U.S. is furthermore trying to show Israel that there is no immediate need for military strikes against Iranian nuclear and missile facilities, according to administration officials who spoke on the condition of anonymity.

However, the build-up, which is touted by U.S. officals as a strictly defensive action, is a sword that cuts both ways. One can also take a different approach:
[Assuring Israel] and Gulf states Bahrain, Kuwait, Qatar and Saudi Arabia which host U.S. infantry, air and naval forces that they are invulnerable to retaliation after attacks on Iran is to increase the risk of unprovoked Israeli and U.S. assaults.
Yeah, yeah: if you have the shield, it is easier to use the sword…

Naturally, Teheran has – or pretends to have – a different viewpoint than the United States: "[Washington does not] want to see good and growing relations between Iran and its neighbors in the Persian Gulf and thus started a psychological war," Major General Hassan Firouzabadi, the chief of staff of Iran's armed forces, was quoted.

But do not expect to catch the competition napping. The Iranian ambassador in Moscow has meanwhile said that Russia has assured Iran that it still intends to deliver long-range S-300 air-defense missiles. A top Russian arms trade official recently signaled the delivery may go ahead in spite of strong Israeli and U.S. objections.

In short, we can see a situation that is only too familiar: the arms race is on and everybody has only peaceful thoughts.

February fools - no Iron Dome for Sderot

February started with bad news for the citizens of Sderot. The city is located near the border to the Gaza Strip and has suffered heavy rocket and mortar fire over the last nine years. Less than a month ago, Israeli Defence Minister Ehud Barak said the Iron Dome would have its first deployment on the Gaza front to defend the city such attacks. Well, we have another exaxmple of how quickly such political commitments expire. The Haaretz correspondent Amos Harel reported on February 3 that the Israel Defense Forces and the defense establishment decided to place the first Iron Dome battery, which will become operational in four to six months, in military storage in the south and not deploy it for the defense of Sderot and its neighboring communities. Even though it seems now certain, that Sderot will be left outside the dome, there seems to be some inconsistency in the leadership. Amos Gilad, Director of Policy and Political-Military Affairs at the Israeli Defense Ministry, said on Februar 5 that Israel's new anti-missile system will not be deployed on the front with Gaza as expected, but rather kept on the front with Lebanon to counter Hizbullah's attacks in case of conflict with its regional sponsor Iran. Hizbullah fired during the 2006 war some 4,000 rockets into northern Israel. Hizbullah is now believed to have an arsenal of some 40,000 rockets.

Some commentators claim that the Iron Dome was never meant to defend Sderot and the border communities but that this was only a pretext used to serve other interests:

The decision to develop Iron Dome appears to have been, from the start, an effort to keep the Rafael scientists employed and compensate the company for not benefiting from the research and development funding for the Arrow system, which is being developed by Israel Aerospace Industries.
If this is the case, the Iron Dome was a very costly occupational therapy: US$270m for the development and US$50m for each battery. Other sources come up wit NIS 50m for a battery, which equals roughly US$13.4m. It seems that dozens of batteries will be necessary to defend Sderot and the other communities bordering the Gaza Strip. Depending on the price of the batteries, the costs will sum up to at least US$300m or US$1bn, respectively. It is clear that Israel will not be able to invest such sums. However, there are also other constraints than just money: a defense offical said that there are currently only two batteries under construction. A far cry from the 20+ needed to protect the Gaza Strip area. Defense Minister Ehud Barak acknowledged this by saying on January 18:

"We can't sow the illusion that now that development has been successfully completed, tomorrow morning there already will be complete protection for the Gaza area or the north […] It will take years before we are equipped."
Update: Defense Ministry is working on allocating the funding to manufacture seven Iron Dome missile defense batteries over the next two years, defense officials said on January 18.