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The Missile Threat Against Israel
Boost Phase Intercept of
Tactical Ballistic Missiles

Azriel Lorber

Policy Paper No. 27, From the books:

Ballistic Missiles
The Threat and
the Response

Arieh Stav (ed.),
ACPR Publishers and
Yediot Aharonot (Hebrew), 1998
ACPR Publishers and
Brassey's (UK) Ltd. (English),

The Threat of Ballistic Missiles in the
Middle East:
Active Defense and

Arieh Stav (ed.),
Sussex Academic Press and
ACPR Publishers, 2004


The paper deals with the different aspects of intercepting a ballistic missile during its boost phase, by means of an autonomous UAV constellation, patrolling at a stand off range from suspected TBM launch sights. The aerial platforms are equipped with Infra-Red Search and Track systems, capable of detecting the ballistic missile launch, whereupon an interceptor missile is launched from the UAV, so as to destroy the TBM during its boost phase, which is the most vulnerable and predictable part of its trajectory. This concept is described and its advantages over terminal phase interception is discussed.

Guided, long range ballistic missiles were first introduced by the Germans during the Second World War although their development started much earlier. They were part of a system of long range weapons dubbed by the Germans V (vengeance) weapons and were intended to counterbalance the German inability to effectively bomb Britain while allied bombers raised havoc over the German countryside. After the war both the United States and the Soviet Union embraced this novel technology. The Soviet Union however, lacking a real strategic air force, did pursue it more vigorously and successive generations of ballistic missiles were produced and fielded.

The Arab countries, which several times were defeated by Israel, were constantly on the lookout for something which would give them the edge over Israel's qualitative superiority. Egypt, with extensive German help, attempted the development of ballistic missiles (and aircraft) in the early sixties. Diplomatic pressure by the US, and other means employed by Israel, caused the German technicians to leave and the missile projects withered away.

In the seventies Egypt, Syria, Iraq, Yemen and Libya acquired SCUD Bs from the Soviet Union which was getting rid of older systems while fostering political good will. Later, North Korea and The People's Republic of China joined the list of suppliers to the Middle East. During their war, both Iraq and Iran developed (albeit with extensive foreign help) a modest local design and production capability, and in the nineties Syria purchased, from North Korea, a production plant for SCUDs. Saudi Arabia obtained Chinese missiles and Egypt again attempted to collaborate in this field with other countries.

The acquisition of ballistic missiles does confer some added military capability, especially when coupled with an existing air force or an artillery arm. The financial burden is relatively light and the manpower requirements, in terms of quality, are modest. What's more, it adds to the prestige of the regime. Finally it enables the owner of such missiles to intimidate neighbors, particularly if they are not so equipped, and even wage war across buffer countries.

While compared with the load carrying capability of modern combat airplanes the warheads of ballistic missiles are relatively small but up to now they had a much higher chance of penetrating through any air defense. Due to a short preparation time they also can be used in surprise attacks to destroy vital assets such as airfields, command and control centers and important economic facilities.

Due to its small area, all of it a short distance from the neighboring countries, small number of important targets (such as airfields and mobilization centers) and its reliance on the air force during mobilization, Israel is particularly vulnerable to such a surprise attack.

Furthermore, because of the asymmetry, in terms of area and population, between Israel and its neighbors, Israel is vulnerable to a "war of attrition" conducted by low rate missile firings.

While deterrence is considered, worldwide, an important element in preventing war, its role in the Middle East is questionable at best. Active defense, the destruction of missiles while in flight, is a much more effective way to prevent missile hits on Israel, while concurrently adding to the credibility of the deterrence.

The Chemical and Biological Threat

The Moslem block includes today six countries, at least, which possess chemical and biological weapons (CBW); four Arab states, namely Syria, Libya, Iraq and Egypt, and two non-Arab states, namely Iran and Pakistan. Advanced long-range ballistic missiles technologies are concurrently and persistently being procured by those countries, so as to allow the conjunction of these two strategic weapon systems. Saudi-Arabia, Sudan and Algiers as well are likely to pursue having CBW, if not already possessing them. Kazachstan, essentially a Moslem state, forms a most significant bridge for CBW technology transfer from the former USSR into Middle-Eastern Moslem countries, while Pakistan plays a similar role with respect to technology absorption from the Far-East. Three major Moslem states Iraq, Iran and Libya, are extreme by nature, particularly in their attitude towards Israel and the West. Iran and Libya, plus Syria and Egypt, are being assisted by another non-Moslem radical state of remarkable capacity North Korea. In addition, the evolving inter-Moslem CBW-related technological cooperation (for instance; Iran-Syria, Egypt-Libya, Iraq-Sudan) may rapidly develop into a strategic one, and may gain a supreme quantum leap if Iraq, for example, decides to share its profound CBW expertise with other Arab and Moslem countries. The spreading of such critical mass to the whole Arab world (and Iran, through Arab countries like Libya) would create a larger threat to Israel and to south Europe, and has far-reaching ramifications because it essentially removes dependency on non-Arab resources, thereby reducing intelligence sources and allowing maximum inter-Moslem cooperation.

Extrapolating from the current ongoing processes, one should conclude that it is only a matter of time before the amassing of CBW stockpiling, including remarkably long-range ballistic missile warheads, will be accomplished. This will enable their launching from every enemy area to any location within Israel, as well as to considerable parts of Europe, in terms of basic strategic time, there is no fundamental difference if this accomplishment will occur in three, six or nine years.

The uncertainty as to the validity of an Islamic nuclear umbrella furnished by the nuclear capabilities of Pakistan may considerably diminish soon, if, or more precisely when, Iran (not mentioning Iraq or other Arab countries) acquires nuclear arms.

For the complete text of this article in Hebrew, click here.