Two equations and one missing term

Five comments on five days of “Shield and Arrow.” A special column by Amir Rapaport

Two equations and one missing term

Israel's Iron Dome anti-missile system intercepts rockets launched from the Gaza Strip, as seen from the city of Ashkelon, Israel May 11, 2023. REUTERS/Amir Cohen

The “Shield and Arrow” round of fighting will also end with Egyptian mediation, sooner or later. Such a ceasefire is currently the only out for both sides, unless the situation escalates and spreads to other fronts, requiring more significant international intervention. This isn’t a likely scenario, but it’s possible.

Our equation, their equation

“We changed the equation,” announced Prime Minister Netanyahu during a security briefing held earlier this week, referring to Israel’s assassinations of the three Islamic Jihad (IJ) leaders at the launch of this operation, after several days of restraint following heavy fire from the Gaza Strip on the Israeli south.

In reality, for Israel this is more of the same: a maintenance operation of deterrence and ongoing defense, which could not be more necessary given the recent fire on the south – which followed endless rocket “drips,” as well as a heavy barrage of rockets towards Israel during Passover, from Gaza and from Lebanon.

In retrospect, Israel has been engaged in battle rounds with the Gaza Strip for almost 15 years now. Their main purpose is the restoration of calm – until next time. This is our equation: calm for a plausible time period in exchange for a cease fire and no targeted killings of Hamas / Islamic Jihad heads (depending on which organization is leading the current round of violence.)

If Israel’s objectives are the “regular ones” this time as well, it would be more correct to say that “Shield and Arrow” was meant to prevent our enemies – the IJ in this case – from changing said equation. In a broader view, there is intensifying pressure, on all rounds, to try and change the equation.

In their attack from the north during Passover, Iran and Hezbollah – hiding behind the Hamas forces in southern Lebanon – attempted to assert that Israeli attacks on their targets in Syria, which have been going on for year, will not be able to continue.

Since operation “Guardian of the Walls” two years ago, Hamas has been trying (and succeeding, to a certain extent) to link fire from Gaza with Israeli steps (real or imaginary) in Jerusalem. The Islamic Jihad’s goal, this time, was to drag Israel into a fighting round, in retaliation for Israeli actions against Jihad leaders in the West Bank. Not in Gaza.

As it would seem, at the end of the Cairo negotiations no equation that would be relevant until the next round will be announced. Rather, far less important elements will be agreed upon informally: who will fire last, and will the “concluding barrage” from Gaza include also Tel Aviv and Be’er Sheba, or “only” the areas near the Gaza Strip.

Israel is weakening

The escalating attempts to set a new equation on all fronts also has to do with what is perceived as the weakening of Israel. In this context, it is important to understand that a nation-state’s power isn’t merely something objective, depending on the number of its soldiers and quality of weapons and intelligence. There is also a subjective factor: how its enemies comprehend its willingness to use force and go to battle.

Undoubtedly, Israel’s severe internal crisis, and overt cracks in its alliance with the United States, have been weakening Israel’s powerful image, especially in an environment that has been expecting its disintegration for decades.

“David’s Sling” makes its debut

At least in terms of the quality of precise intelligence and the abilities of its defense industry, Israel is still at its prime. This week, the “David’s Sling” air defense system made its debut real-world rocket interception.

Supposedly, the interception of a cheap rocket using a sophisticated missile which costs over $1 million, is not cost effective. However, this wouldn’t be the correct calculation. Those million dollars should be contrasted with the enormous cost of a strike by a missile carrying over 100 kg of explosives (much more than that Kassam warhead). Beyond the potential damage to human life and property, a serious attack on Israel’s central area would have, undoubtedly, greatly expanded this round of fighting. 

Generally speaking, “David’s Sling” is a new defense system developed within the multi-layer defense doctrine, against missiles and rockets launched at Israel. Its main purpose is to intercept medium-range rockets, such as the Fajr-3 and Fajr-5 (which are in the hands of Iran and Hezbollah, but have still not been used), and enable more than one interception attempt in case of rockets/missiles on a ballistic trajectory.

“David’s Sling” was designed to enable another interception attempt when missiles are launched from far ranges, Iran for instance, in case the “Arrow” missile system fails. In the case of the rocket launch from Gaza this week, had “David’s Sling” failed, additional attempts to intercept that same rocket using the “Iron Dome” system would have been made. 

This system combination is meant to bring the interception’s success rate to almost 100%. This is especially important as our enemies are trying to challenge the “Iron Dome” capabilities with massive launches of dozens, even hundreds of rockets at the same time. Yet, even this multi-layer defense will not be fully airtight in the case of a confrontation in multiple arenas at the same time, as was the case this past Passover.

These days, Israel’s defense industries are developing interception systems for closer ranges than “Iron Dome,” as yet another layer of defense.

One final point: unlike “Iron Dome,” which is a completely Israeli System that the US only partially helped fund, “David’s Sling” is a joint American-Israeli system, from funding to developing and equipping. This is just one point of many, to illustrate the importance of the strategic alliance between Israel and the US.

Iran first

Israel’s skirmishes with the Islamic Jihad are enabling Hamas, Hezbollah, and above all – Iran, to continue preparing for a potentially much greater confrontation in the future. Currently, Iran is focused on the rapid enrichment of uranium in order to develop nuclear weapons, and on advancing the development of missiles that would carry these weapons.

Soon, by next Friday

Next week Israel will celebrate Jerusalem Day and its traditional “Flag March.” Under these circumstances, will Hamas choose to join the current round of fighting?

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