The eye of the storm

"The eye of the storm" Continued...

Issue: "The GOP and Hispanics," May 19, 2012

A major television news station in Israel aired a lengthy report in April about the preparedness of the Israel Air Force (IAF) for a possible strike against Iran. The reporter, Alon Ben-David, spent weeks with pilots and military personnel, concluding that "the coming summer will not only be hot but tense."

The IAF has about 100 frontline planes waiting for orders to depart. The most powerful are the two-dozen F-15I warplanes, U.S.-made aircraft that can carry "bunker busting bombs" necessary for an airstrike on Iran's nuclear facilities.

An attack of this proportion would likely result in counterattacks against Israel. Israel has three layers of defense in the event of counterstrikes: the Iron Dome, the Arrow, and David's Sling. The first of the three earned high praise after its life-saving performance in March when Palestinian militants fired nearly 300 rockets from Gaza into southern Israel. A U.S. State Department spokesman said the system intercepted more than 80 percent of the rockets it encountered, "saving many lives."

Israel says it needs at least 12 operating units of the Iron Dome system (it currently has three) in order to sufficiently intercept incoming short-range rockets. U.S. House Republicans drafted a plan that would allocate $680 million through 2015 for additional Iron Dome batteries and interceptors in Israel.

The second layer of defense, David's Sling, isn't scheduled for the frontlines until 2013. The system is designed to destroy incoming medium-range and long-range missiles (Katyusha rockets from southern Lebanon and ballistic missiles from Iran).

The Arrow, a final layer of defense, is operational but has never been tested in real-life combat. It is designed specifically to intercept Iran's Shahab missiles, with one unit deployed in the north and one in the south. A third unit is expected to be operational in the coming months.

The defense systems are not impenetrable, though. "Some of those missiles will make it to Israeli population centers," Yifta Shapir, director of the military balance project at Tel Aviv University, told Jewish & Israel News. "Israel should be ready for a long period of attacks, perhaps even months, and this may bring commerce and other aspects of civilian life to a halt."

Israel's intelligence community is already activated. On April 21, Israel's Counterterrorism Bureau urged tourists to leave the Sinai Peninsula immediately, citing new information that terrorist organizations in the Gaza Strip were planning imminent attacks against Israelis on Sinai's beaches.

Harvey describes the increased hum of army helicopters in recent months and the buzz of drones flying over her house during the barrage of rocket attacks from Gaza in March. She says her neighbors feel safer when they hear the sounds of their military in action. They trust their leaders, and ultimately they trust their allies and Iran's enemies to join forces against their common foes.

Diplomatic preparedness

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has signaled he won't be taking orders from President Barack Obama, but Litvak says Israel shouldn't do anything against America's expressed will: "It would be a disaster for Israel if the United States believes that American boys were killed because of an Israeli action carried out against American will. A long-term strategic alliance will be jeopardized if such things happen."

Both sides agree on one thing: Israel cannot go up against Iran alone. Israel has enough firepower to set back Iran's nuclear ambitions several years if a strike is successful, but the fallout from an attack would require American backup on several fronts. "For Israel, relations with the U.S are always of the utmost importance. It's a vital, strategic link for us," Litvak told me. "It's a matter of our survival-today, yesterday, and tomorrow."

Relations with Arab and Turkish neighbors are also important in a region where the Sunni-Shiite divide can work in Israel's favor. The timing and notable absence of Western powers from April's Palestinian-Israeli peace talks in Jerusalem may have seemed unusual unless viewed in light of Israel's dire need for allies in the region.

"It's very difficult for any of the Gulf states to do anything with Israel because of the Palestinian problem," Litvak said. "So some measure of progress-and I don't think we can reach this wonderful 'peace' people talk about-will make it easier to do things tacitly, under the table."

Faigenboim also stresses the importance of shoring up alliances with countries such as Turkey and Saudi Arabia, the region's main Sunni-led powers, pointing out that nobody in the neighborhood wants a nuclear Iran, which is majority Shiite.

"The Sunni-Shiite divide has become the most important divide in the Middle East-much more than the Arab-Israeli divide-because of Iran," Litvak said.


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