Israel Burnishes Missile Shield as Mideast Churns

May 19, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

By Dan Williams

PALMACHIM AIR BASE, Israel (Reuters) – Israel’s upgraded Arrow air defense system, designed to blow up ballistic missiles in space, could be rushed into deployment before its 2014-15 target date, a senior officer said Thursday.

Partly funded by the United States, Arrow III is envisaged as the future Israeli bulwark against Iran and Syria, with shorter-range interceptors providing protection against rockets favored by neighboring Lebanese and Palestinian guerrillas.

Political turmoil in the Middle East has focused Israel’s crisis planning and a senior military officer, speaking during a rare media tour of Arrow’s command center on a base down the coast from Tel Aviv, predicted a tighter production timeline.

“We’ve already shown how we can get systems out ahead of schedule when there’s a need,” he said, referring to Israel’s Iron Dome interceptor, which shot down several Katyushas fired from Gaza last month during what was billed as an accelerated field trial.

Arrow’s manufacturers had slated the new version for 2014 or 2015. But the officer, who could not be identified under military guidelines, said: “Don’t be surprised if it’s sooner.”
The Arrow command center, dubbed “Defensive Sword,” is one of the few Israeli military units to offer a public glimpse of preparations at a time of often dizzying regional instability.
Watching citizen revolts buffet Arab states, a few of them heretofore friendly, Israelis have preferred to fret quietly on the sidelines rather than risk been perceived as meddling.
But with the future of the stable, decades-old standoff with Syria in doubt, and arch-enemy Iran forging ahead with controversial nuclear and missile projects, Israel’s air defense corps has been promoted as a strategic deterrent.

While its officers insist they can protect the Jewish state alone, the corps has practiced meshing Arrow with mobile U.S. counterparts like the seaborne Aegis ballistic interceptor.

Ensconced amid a pentagon of ochre structures in Palmachim base, protected by bunker-like steel portals and passages, the Arrow command center is staffed around the clock by a dozen officers.

Though the lieutenant-colonel in charge Thursday was careful not to answer questions about current geopolitics, the exercise playing out on his computer screen seemed topical: a Scud missile launch by Syria and its Lebanese Hezbollah allies.

The unit trains regularly, under conditions meant to simulate the stress of a real war. The commander’s F2 button sets off the firing sequence for the Arrow interceptor missiles.

A battery of Arrow II — the system’s current configuration — could shield most of Israel, a major in the unit said. But Israel has deployed several batteries and drilled using them against salvoes involving “dozens” of incoming missiles.

Defense sources report an interception rate of 80 to 90 percent. Back-up Arrow batteries, or lower-altitude interceptors like Patriot and the yet-to-be-deployed David’s Sling, would be expected to take on missiles missed by the first volley.

As with Iron Dome, Arrow has an in-built thrift in its ability to ignore missiles determined to be on a “safe” trajectory away from residential areas.

Could such protection be extended to Palestinian cities in the Israeli-occupied West Bank, should they, along with Jewish settlers nearby, find themselves facing an incoming missile?

“I’m in the business of protecting populaces, whether or not they pay us taxes,” the lieutenant-colonel said.

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Obama’s Quiet War

June 27, 2009 by · 2 Comments 

By Jeremy Scahill

2009-06-19T075405Z_01_AAL103_RTRMDNP_3_PAKISTAN-VIOLENCE

An internally displaced woman, who fled a military offensive in the Swat valley region, walks the grounds of the UNHCR (United Nations High Commission for Refugees) Jalozai camp, about 140 km (87 miles) north west of Pakistan’s capital Islamabad, June 19, 2009.   

REUTERS/Ali Imam

In a new interview, Obama said he has “no intention” of sending US troops into Pakistan. But US troops are already in the country and US drones attack Pakistan regularly.

Three days after his inauguration, on January 23, 2009, President Barack Obama ordered US predator drones to attack sites inside of Pakistan, reportedly killing 15 people. It was the first documented attack ordered by the new US Commander in Chief inside of Pakistan. Since that first Obama-authorized attack, the US has regularly bombed Pakistan, killing scores of civilians. The New York Times reported that the attacks were clear evidence Obama “is continuing, and in some cases extending, Bush administration policy.” In the first 99 days of 2009, more than 150 people were reportedly killed in these drone attacks. The most recent documented attack was reportedly last Thursday in Waziristan. Since 2006, the US drone strikes have killed 687 people (as of April). That amounts to about 38 deaths a month just from drone attacks.

The use of these attack drones by Obama should not come as a surprise to anyone who followed his presidential campaign closely. As a candidate, Obama made clear that Pakistan’s sovereignty was subservient to US interests, saying he would attack with or without the approval of the Pakistani government. Obama said if the US had “actionable intelligence” that “high value” targets were in Pakistan, the US would attack. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, echoed those sentiments on the campaign trail and “did not rule out U.S. attacks inside Pakistan, citing the missile attacks her husband, then- President Bill Clinton, ordered against Osama bin Laden in Afghanistan in 1998. ‘If we had actionable intelligence that Osama bin Laden or other high-value targets were in Pakistan I would ensure that they were targeted and killed or captured,’ she said.”

Last weekend, Obama granted his first extended interview with a Pakistani media outlet, the newspaper Dawn:

Responding to a question about drone attacks inside Pakistan’s tribal zone, Mr Obama said he did not comment on specific operations.

‘But I will tell you that we have no intention of sending US troops into Pakistan. Pakistan and its military are dealing with their security issues.’

There are a number of issues raised by this brief response offered by Obama. First, the only difference between using these attack drones and using actual US soldiers on the ground is that the soldiers are living beings. These drones sanitize war and reduce the US death toll while still unleashing military hell disproportionately on civilians. The bottom line is that the use of drones inside the borders of Pakistan amounts to the same violation of sovereignty that would result from sending US soldiers inside the country. Obama defended the attacks in the Dawn interview, saying:

“Our primary goal is to be a partner and a friend to Pakistan and to allow Pakistan to thrive on its own terms, respecting its own traditions, respecting its own culture. We simply want to make sure that our common enemies, which are extremists who would kill innocent civilians, that that kind of activity is stopped, and we believe that it has to be stopped whether it’s in the United States or in Pakistan or anywhere in the world.”

Despite Obama’s comments about respecting Pakistan “on its own terms,” this is how Reuters recently described the arrangement between Pakistan and the US regarding drone attacks:

U.S. ally Pakistan objects to the U.S. missile strikes, saying they violate its sovereignty and undermine efforts to deal with militancy because they inflame public anger and bolster support for the militants.

Washington says the missile strikes are carried out under an agreement with Islamabad that allows Pakistani leaders to publicly criticise the attacks. Pakistan denies any such agreement.

Pakistan is now one of the biggest recipients of US aid with the House of Representatives recently approving a tripling of money to Pakistan to about $1.5 billion a year for five years. Moreover, US special forces are already operating inside of Pakistan, along the Pakistan-Afghanistan border in Baluchistan. According to the Wall Street Journal, US Special Forces are:

training Pakistan’s Frontier Corps, a paramilitary force responsible for battling the Taliban and al Qaeda fighters, who cross freely between Afghanistan and Pakistan, the officials said. The U.S. trainers aren’t meant to fight alongside the Pakistanis or accompany them into battle, in part because there will be so few Special Forces personnel in the two training camps.

A senior American military officer said he hoped Islamabad would gradually allow the U.S. to expand its training footprint inside Pakistan’s borders.

In February, The New York Times reported that US forces are also engaged in other activities inside of Pakistan:

American Special Operations troops based in Afghanistan have also carried out a number of operations into Pakistan’s tribal areas since early September, when a commando raid that killed a number of militants was publicly condemned by Pakistani officials. According to a senior American military official, the commando missions since September have been primarily to gather intelligence.

It is clear-and has been for a long time- that the Obama administration is radically expanding the US war in Afghanistan deeply into Pakistan. Whether it is through US military trainers (that’s what they were called in Vietnam too), drone attacks or commando raids inside the country, the US is militarily entrenched in Pakistan. It makes Obama’s comment that “[W]e have no intention of sending US troops into Pakistan” simply unbelievable.

For a sense of how significant US operations are and will continue to be for years and years to come, just look at the US plan to build an almost $1 billion massive US “embassy” in Islamabad, which is reportedly modeled after the imperial city they call a US embassy in Baghdad. As we know very clearly from Iraq, such a complex will result in an immediate surge in the deployment of US soldiers, mercenaries and other contractors.

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