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.