Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Rocket Wars of Attrition: the Lessons from Summer 2006


Antidote to the post that follows below: Shlomi Saranga and Moshik Afia, "Sweet Dream" (2002)

I have not seen a great deal of discussion about a recent report, citing unnamed UN officials, that Iran is deploying missiles in Syria. Obviously, Syria already possesses a significant arsenal of surface-to-surface missiles as well as the type of katyusha rockets used with such effectiveness by Hizbullah against Israel in last summer's war. It should surprise no one that in the wake of Israel's failure to stop Hizbullah's fire on the country's civilian population, the Syrians see these kinds of missiles as their best strategy. The question is, what can Israel do about it?

The Israeli military has yet to come up with a military doctrine to counter a rocket-based war of attrition, as the surrender of Sderot to the Palestinian qassams showed. Worse, it does not look like the Israeli military and government have explained to the public what exactly the country is up against. Despite Gabi Ashkenazi's replacement of Dan Halutz as Chief of the General Staff, a great deal of air force spin continues to dominate assessment of the last war. One of the myths still circulating is that the air force's "launcher hunting" doctrine was able to take out most of Hizbullah's Iranian-supplied long-range missiles. A report by Uzi Rubin of Bar-Ilan University's Begin-Sadat Center for Strategic Studies released this month argues that the "intensity of long-range rocket attacks" in fact "remained fairly constant" throughout the war, averaging 4 per day (Rubin, "The Rocket Campaign against Israel during the 2006 Lebanon War," p. 25).

Rubin makes it clear that Hizbullah "dominated the battle of the rockets" (p. 13). Neither the air force nor the late ground invasion (and definitely not the aimless artillery barrages) succeeded in stopping or diminishing the intensity of Hizbullah's attack. While it is true that toward the end of the war the air force managed to destroy every launcher from which rockets had been fired - reducing the sensor-to-shoot time to one minute (an unprecedented achievement) - as every resident of the north can attest, Nasrallah was able to give Israeli civilians a bitter reminder of who owned them until the last day before the cease fire (see all of Carmia's entries from August 13 for a taste).

All this was accomplished using very simple weapons. Rubin concludes that few if any Iranian rockets hit Israel, one of the exceptions being a Fadjr-3 240 mm rocket that struck Haifa. Another Iranian rocket may have surfaced in Beirut, after an air force attack blew it up, sending a large cylindrical object flying into the air; some enthusiastic Hizbullah fans at the time mistook it for a downed Israeli F-16 (see J.'s post).

The majority of the rockets fired at Israel were 122 mm Grad rockets with 50 km range, 220 mm (70 km), and some 302 mm (90-100 km). Most of these were fired from launch batteries with 4 tubes; at least one launcher had 12 tubes. For the heavier rockets, Hizbullah tended to use mobile launchers, which it fired from residential areas. The lighter rockets, on the other hand, appear to have been fired using stationary launchers that were camouflaged and hidden slightly underground in agricultural areas. Katyusha crews would use hydraulic mechanisms or manual levers to raise these launchers up and then fire them using remote controls. These stationary launchers were set up long before the war, and each one was aimed at a different destination in Israel. They would be fired once every twenty-four hours - but Hizbullah may have had up to 150 such sites (Rubin, p. 9).

Altogether, Hizbullah's "strategic rocketing" killed 41 Israeli civilians, and 12 soldiers (the Kfar Giladi incident), seriously wounded 250 noncombatants, and caused 100,000-250,000 to flee their homes. It also destroyed 2,000 dwellings. Ironically, "passive defence" saved the most Israeli civilians' lives. More specifically, early warning systems, staying in bunkers and safe rooms, or following the instructions about retreating to the south side of apartments in many cases prevented casualties(here's a related sample of unfunny humor from those times: "It would be nice to shower first but the bathroom faces north (that's bad, not because of the feng shui)) .

Recently, I came across something that Nobody wrote, in which he mentioned the dangers of taking for granted Israel's supposed military superiority as well as its permanent presence in the region. I don't remember his exact wording, but he seemed to be taking on one of his favorite targets, reckless "peace lunatics." I have to say that when it comes to Syria, we would do very well to heed the advice of Nobody as well as of our Lebanese friends. I, too, have been guilty of enthusiasm about Syrian "channels." But as this latest missile deployment and their intertwined strategies in Lebanon show, the Syrians and the Iranians are committed to an alliance that will take a lot more than engagement to undo.

9 comments:

Anonymous said...

Anon.
The whole Syrian-Iranian missiles system is based on the Shderot model. Arabs are allowed to shoot random missiles at Israeli civilian sites, the Israelies are not allowed to do the same. Israel can probably mass produce low accuracy missiles (~ 100 kg high explosive,+/- 200-300 meters nominal target) in the 100.000s at a very very low cost, that will duplicate in all Syria with a very high intensity for a time of weeks if not months what Hiz. did to North Israel. But this is not allowed. This double standard and not this or that type of missile carrying this or that funny name, is the foundation of the so called "new strategy". As long as this double standard is not addressed to one is living a page of old "Mad" mag. A missile against missile against missile against missile in which every stage cost X million than the previuos one. The USSSR could not take it, can Israel? To any body with whom I am discussing this fact I bring the Vannunu story. When the Van. story was hot all over the world nice, fine, good, peace loving people were demonstrating about the Israeli A industry. There was never ever even one single demo. by the very same people about the Iranian A industry. This double standard is not a questions of degrees of gray but of total black and white, double standard. Theoretically Israel could have selected one Leb. village and convert it to Dresden like picture but in realty it could have not. This is OK for the Leb. army in Trabalus and the camp near it is not permitted for Israel any where any time, this is the problem, a political PR one not technical or military.

Amos said...

Anti-missile missiles are clearly not the answer.

You're certainly right about the double-standard. But where does one go from there? Are you willing to support the leveling of entire villages? And do you really think that this would have stopped the firing of the rockets last summer?

I think that Israel has to think more like Hizbullah (low-tech solutions). But I don't think the army should emulate the former's morality.

Nobody said...

As long as this double standard is not addressed to one is living a page of old "Mad" mag.

the thing is that this double standard seems to be impossible to address ... we are made a semi pariah state by the world ... or maybe a full scale pariah state ... i plainly dont know what we would do without the US ...

Nobody said...

Amos said...

Anti-missile missiles are clearly not the answer.


i think anti missile systems can do against cruise missiles and ballistic missiles ... short range katyushas seem to eb more difficult to tackle.. but first there is this laser .. second, but this is only my intuition, rapid fire cannons should be the most promising field ...

i would believe that their costs can be brought down significantly because they are relatively low tech weapons and can be manufactured in big quantities ... their another advantage may come from the fact that metal clouds fired by them should be even more effective against fast moving targets ... and i have no doubt that if lasers or anti missile missiles are deployed, our adversaries will counter this move by using faster rockets ...

Amos said...

Do you think all the time and money that people invest in "addressing the double standard" might be better spent on other things? I sometimes feel that way.

Nobody said...

i think that we can do better ... but i doubt it can change much .. it looks hopeless .. unless something dramatic happens like terror attacks using wmd in europe ... or that this whole region goes up in flames ..

the latter is quite likely by the way ...

Blam Blom said...

cool song

Anonymous said...

Hazbani
To Amos, talking about a double standard, when is the last time some body posed the question, YOU asked Anon., to any Arab leader, Hizb. Hamas. ect. ect. and even to people like Chomski and his kind and even to this strange creature Alister Croock and his like and even to some of the European media after one of their ever going, long, usual talks about the ( real !!!!) evils of Israel; when were they asked: "Are you ready to flatten any Israeli civilian site and do you think this will solve the Palestinian question ?", The flatenning will be defined as Hama in Syria and Nahar el Bared in Leb. This double stand is so ingrained that it has become a major issue. Amos, if this double standad kills and kills and kills and if two or three days after a real low tech. (I mean real real low tech. as described by the Guardian, the Nation, BBC ect.) missile will hit a summer school in an Israeli city the whole ME will go in flames than one should talk about the double standard. By the way, what will happen not only to Israel but also to some Jews in few? many? places all over the world if some Mitnahlim will do to any reporter from any nation what is done to a BBC reporter in Gaza, and this while the BBC is reporting from there about calm and such. And just wait and see what this expert hater of Israel will say when, as I hope, he will come well from where he is now. These are practical, real, critial very influential issues, the elephant is in the room.

Anonymous said...

The following blogger in his list of the top 8 lies as number 2 that Hitler was evil. Mind you he isn't a White NeoNazi but some guy from India.

http://bornalibran.blogspot.com/2007/06/eight-biggest-lies-they-tell-you.html