Since its founding in 1948, Israel has faced a variety of military threats from its Arab neighbors that test the Israel Defense Forces in its ability to adequately protect Israel's innocent civilians from enemy attacks. The Jewish State has defended itself no fewer than ten times on the battlefield, with victory reliant on its qualitative advantage over its enemies in addition to its superiorly trained manpower.
However, the proliferation of rockets and ballistic missiles across the Middle East - particularly in Iran, Syria, Lebanon, and the Palestinian territories - has now forced Israel to strengthen a new aspect of its defense doctrine – active anti-missile technology. Given Israel's small size — about the same as the state of New Jersey — all ballistic missiles deployed by hostile Middle East powers represent a potential existential threat to the existence of the Jewish State. Israel must therefore have an antimissile defense network to provide overall protection for the country's entire population. The philosophy of active missile defense - which involves developing advnaced anti-missile systems in addition to grouping together its air, rocket and missile defense capabilities - underpins Israel's new defensive concept, which also includes early-warning, passive defense, and counter-strike capabilities.
Since the missile threat is not confined to one geographical region or to any one type of rocket, Israel, in collaboration with the United States, has created a multi-layered missile defense apparatus – comprising four key anti-missile systems – in order to combat the threat. The entire system is considered one of the most advanced in the world.
Iran continues to develop its ballistic missile program alongside the expansion of its nuclear infrastructure.
According to the 2012 CIA Report on Proliferation, Iran has an increasing number of short- and medium-range ballistic missiles (SRBMs, MRBMs) and is involved with the technology applicable to create long-range missile systems.
In May 2011, Iran's defense minister claimed that their Qiyam-1 SRBM cuts down on launch timelines and reduces detection to anti-missile systems. In June 2011, Iran conducted a series of test launches for the Shahab-1 and 2 SRBMs, a Shahab-3 MRBM, and Zeizal rockets.
Syria possesses a large ballistic missile force that includes liquid-propellant Scud SRBMs and Scud-class variants such as Scud-C and -D. Syria also fields the SS-21 solid-propellant SRBM.
Though it is a signatory to the nuclear NPT, Syria has also been engaged for more than a decade in a covert nuclear program, though its main reactor capable of producting plutonium for nuclear weapons was destroyed by an Israeli air strike in 2007.
Syria remains dependant on foreign suppliers such as North Korea and Iran for some key ballistic missile technology; however, Syria has growing domestic missile capabalitiies.
Hezbollah displayed its threat capability during the 2006 Lebanon War, estimated to have fired between 3,970 and 4,228 rockets at northern Israel. The vast majority were 122-mm Katyusha's, which carry warheads of up to 30 kg and have a maximym range of 20 miles. Nearly every city in northern Israel was vulnerable to attack.
Hezbollah is now believed to have reloaded its missile stock from the war to around 60,000 in number, including at least 10,000 Katyusha rockets, 100-500 Fajr short-range rockets, and up to 30 Zelzal-2 SRBMs.
Hezbollah is also developing unmaned aerial drones and sea-to-air missiles.
For more than a decade, Palestinian terrorists - most notably Hamas and the Palestinian Islamic Jihad - have used Gaza as a springboard to launch missile attacks on southern Israel using short-range rockets.
The Palestinians most recent rocket offensive - when more than 300 were fired in March 2012 - displayed the extended range of their improved GRAD rocket (30 miles, 100 lb warhead), which can reach to many cities even in central Israel; Katyusha (13 miles, 35 lb warhead); and Kassam (11 miles, 20 lb warhead). Beyond these, Hamas is also believed to hold Fajr-3 rockets (Iranian made, 385 lb warhead) as well as improved Iranian 107-, 120-, and 168-mm rockets which can reach a distance of up to 25 miles.
Israeli Missile Defense Systems
Name: Iron Dome (כיפת ברזל)
Developers: Rafael Advanced Defense Systems; Elta; mPrest Systems
Target: Short-range rockets; Artillery/mortar shells (44 mile maximum distance)
Missile: Tamir Interceptor with electro-optic sensors and numerous steering fins
Cost: Battery - $50 million; Missile - $40,000
Battery Components: Tracking Radar; Battle Management & Weapon Control (BMC); Missile Firing Unit
Operational Timetable: First test- July 2009; First deployment- March 2011; First Interception- April 2011
Interceptions/Success Rate: 93 rockets at 90% interception success (as of April 2012)
Overview: Israel's first line of missile defense, designed to protect from the short range rockets adn mortars fired by Palestinian terrorists in Gaza and Hezbollah in southern Lebanon. The system has the capability to identify and destroy projectiles before they land in Israeli territory. One of the most advanced features of Iron Dome is its capability to determine where an incoming rocket will land and to then only intercept projectiles that pose threats to populated areas. In March 2012, the Iron succeeded in its first real battle test, when it intercepted more than 60 rockets fired by Hamas. Since 2010, the US has budgeted more than $800 million for Iron Dome batteries.
Name: David's Sling (קלע דוד)
Developers: Rafael Advanced Defense Systems; Raytheon
Target: Medium- to long-range rockets (25-185 mile range)
Missile: Stunner two-stage Interceptor with electro-optical sensor & radar targeting system
Operational Timetable: First test, First Deployment, and First Interception - November 2012
Budget Allocation: $330 million from US government since 2006
Overview: David's Sling was developed as a flexible, multipurpose weapon system capable of engaging aircraft, cruise missiles, ballistic and guided missiles. Its Stunner interceptor missile is designed for land-based, maritime and airborne applications and is fitted with a dual-band imaging infrared and radio-frequency seeker, as well as a multi-pulse rocket motor enabling all-weather operation. David's Sling was designed to target incoming missiles during their terminal phase, unlike the Iron Dome which intercepts missiles at their highest trajectory. Its primary role will be to intercept medium- and long-range ballistic and guided rockets, such as the Iranian Fajr-5 and BM-25 as well as the Syrian M-600 and Yakhont supersonic cruise missile.
Name: Arrow Theatre System (חֵץ)
Developers: Israel Aerospace Industries (IAI); Boeing
Target: Long-range conventional ballistic missiles; high-altitude nuclear warheads (Arrow-3)
Cost: $3 million per unit
Budget Allocation: $825 million from US government since 2006; ~$300 million from Israeli government
Battery Components: Arrow Interceptor; early-warning AESA radar; command & control center; launcher
Operational Timetable: First deployment (Arrow2)- October 2000; First test (Arrow3)- January 2012
Overview: The Arrow is designed to give Israel a full theatre ballistic missile defense capability. The original versions (Arrow-1 & -2) were initially greenlit in 1988 and became operation in 2000 to protect against long-range conventional missiles. In August 2008, the US and Israel began production of the Arrow-3 which is comprised of an exoatmospheric interceptor and proportional navigation to directly target an incoming missile outside of the earth's atmosphere, thereby preventing collateral damage from impact with a nuclear warhead. The Arrow has a greater accuracy (99% kill rate) and a longer targeting range (missiles of over 600 miles). Currently, Israel has two Arrow-2 batteries deployed in the center of the country and may deploy an Arrow-3 by 2014.
Developers: Raytheon; Hughes; RCA
Target: High-Perfomance Aircraft; mid- and long-range tactical ballistic missiles
Missile: Surface-to-Air Interceptor (SAM)
Battery Components: Stationary launcher (with 4 missiles); scanning radar; command & control center
Operational Timetable: First deployment (US) - 1984; First Activity (Israel) - 1991
Overview: The Patriot missile system was first used in Israel during the Gulf War when Saddam Hussein fired Scud missiles at Israel and it had a 40% claimed success rate in shooting down incoming missiles. The Israeli government, however, with dissatisfied with the performance and has worked to update the system and will now be phasing it out for the David's Sling. The upgraded versions, PAC-2 and -3, provide a more reliable and lethal capability to defeat advanced threats - including aircraft, tactical ballistic missiles, cruise missiles, and UAVs - in almost all operational combat environments. The newest Israeli version is set to replace the four-missile stationary launcher with a 16-missile launcher, which will make it better equiped to contend with a prolonged barrage of missiles. In 2006, Israel stationed a Patriot battery in Haifa to protect from Hezbollah rockets. Another was placed in the north during 2012.