US-Israel Discuss Joint Anti-Missile Defense System

By Julie Stahl | July 7, 2008 | 8:18 PM EDT

Jerusalem ( - Israel and the U.S. have agreed to work on an anti-missile defense system intended to stop ballistic missiles launched from Iran and Syria as well as smaller rockets fired by terror groups from Lebanon and the Gaza Strip.

Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak met with U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates at the Pentagon on Tuesday. The two officials, who have worked together in the past when Gates headed the CIA and Barak headed the Israeli army, agreed to set up a joint committee to examine how the U.S. could help Israel develop such a system, reports said.

For the last seven years, Israel has depended on its Arrow II anti-ballistic missile system to intercept ballistic missiles launched from a distance of 300 kilometers or more. The U.S. will help Israel upgrade that system, Reuters reported.

Israel is currently working on a system called David's Sling to combat the threat of Katyusha and other medium-range rockets like the thousands fired by Hizballah against Israel in the summer of 2006.

It also has plans for an "Iron Dome" system to knock down simple rockets fired by Palestinians from the Gaza Strip, which will be ready in two or three years.

Uzi Rubin, former head of Israel's anti-ballistic missile program, described the missile and rocket threat to Israel as "comprehensive and severe." The threat includes rockets fired from hand-held launchers with a range of a few miles to medium-range ballistic missiles.

"The spectrum is really staggering," Rubin said in a recent interview. "It is unprecedented in the West."

Rubin said that Israel was slow to develop the anti-missile and anti-rocket systems because it was assumed that the Israeli Air Force could deal with the rocket threat.

The U.S. suspended work with Israel on a laser-guided defense shield in 2004 that could have combated the rockets from Gaza. Israel let the idea drop then, and it was a mistake, Rubin said.

It took Israel's war against Hizballah to educate the high command on the need for a short-range missile and rocket defense system, said Rubin.

Rubin, who has long pressed Israeli lawmakers to approve anti-missile and anti-rocket systems, said he was furious when the war broke out and Israel could not stop the rocket fire on civilians.

About a million Israelis either fled their homes or were hidden in bomb shelters for weeks as Hizballah bombarded northern Israel with thousands of rockets. Forty-three civilians were killed in rocket attacks.

That changed the complexion of the war, said Rubin. The Israeli army high command realized that it had to be concerned not only with fighting on the front lines, but also with what was happening to the civilians in the rear.

Defenses for the civilian population won't win the war but they will allow the army to concentrate on the front lines, Rubin said.

The best option is to prevent war altogether by discouraging the enemy from attacking, Rubin said.

"If he knows that most of his missiles are going to be knocked down and perhaps the strategic assets that he wants to knock down will not be knocked down [and Israel's] retaliation could be very painful, this may discourage him from firing his missile," said Rubin.

But if there is no defense, then Israel is "completely vulnerable" and this "generates war by itself," he said.

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