A Flexible NATO Missile Shield: Part II

The following  is Part II of an article I  wrote for the May 2013 issue of Atlantic Voices, a monthly magazine published by the Atlantic Treaty Association

Future Threats: The Middle East Post-Arab Spring

NATO’s missile defense plans have evolved with the changing geopolitical landscape. Despite past successes in meeting the changing missile defense needs of NATO, such as responding to the Iranian threat instead of Russia, or aiding Turkey with a rapid deployment of PAC-3s, the Alliance needs to maintain a watchful eye on potential future threats.

Keeping a focused eye on the horizon may be more difficult now that it has ever been in recent memory. In addition to budgetary pressures facing NATO members’ armed forces, the geopolitical environment is extremely murky. The Arab Spring has given hope to millions across the Middle East, but it has also been a cause for concern. Although the civil war in Syria may result in a peaceful situation with a state that would, unlike President Assad’s regime, be a partner with the West  the path to that point has been anything but smooth for Turkey and other NATO members and partners.

Looking beyond Syria, the picture becomes no clearer. Egypt is currently in the hands of what has so far been a responsible government, led by the Muslim Brotherhood. Despite the Brotherhood’s political achievements and ability to calm rattled Western nerves, the fall of President Hosni Mubarak has opened the gates of the Sinai Peninsula to armed groups that have launched repeated rocket (and terrorist) attacks against Israel and Jordan. Egypt serves as an example of what well-intended governmental change can bring. Failed states, or even failed regions, can bring widespread instability and violence to regional neighbors, as is seen on the Sinai-Israel border and the Syrian-Turkish border.

Whereas the Egyptian Sinai may be an example of the potential complications of the Arab Spring for neighboring states, Israel is an example of what NATO’s European members should emulate regarding rocket and missile defensive capabilities. Israel has had the unenviable position of having to protect its armed forces and populace from rockets (from Gaza, Sinai and Hezbollah in Lebanon), short and medium range missiles (from Syria and Iran), and long range missiles (Iran). Despite the myriad of rockets and missiles facing Israel, it has developed systems to defend against all of these threats (except for the crude Qassam rockets launched from terror groups in Gaza).

Iran’s Current and Future Threats

Iran currently has several missiles of varying ranges, and is pushing towards technologies that will increase the country’s missile program’s reach deeper into Europe and possibly across continents.

The operational missiles in Iran’s arsenal are the Shehab-3 and Shehab-3 Extended Range missiles, with a range of 1,300 and 2,000 km, respectively. The Shehab-3 can send a one-ton warhead to parts of southern Europe.[i] Also, after years of speculation amongst the missile community, it was eventually confirmed that Iran also obtained nineteen BM-25 missiles from North Korea. The BM-25 is a modified Russian missile with a range of almost 4,000 km, putting European capitals as far as Berlin (and Moscow) within range. This missile is also powerful enough to carry a nuclear warhead, although Iran is not known to possess the ability to make a small enough nuclear warhead to fit atop a missile.

An Iranian Shehab-2 missile on parade (Reuters).

An Iranian Shehab-2 missile on parade (Reuters).

The inclusion of the BM-25 in Iran’s arsenal is worrisome, however the real issue with the Iranian possession of such a missile is its ability to use the technology found within its more powerful boosters to advance its missile program. Iran has already displayed the ability to successfully launch more powerful rockets, including the deployment of a small satellite in 2009. The satellite was based off of the Safir rocket, which represents a more sophisticated class of rocket than Iran had displayed in the past. Its engines are based off of Russian technology and provide about 40% more lifting force than Iran’s kerosene-fired engines found in its other missiles.[ii] But the most significant news about Iran’s ability to orbit a satellite is the marriage between satellite technology and inter-continental ballistic missile programs. Russian and US ICBMs have their origins in space rocket technology. Iran was even able to launch its space rocket by using the Shahab missile launchers as the launch platform. By piecing the various components of Iran’s space and missile program together, Iran may not be far off from possessing an ICBM.[iii] Some predict Iran will have ICMB capabilities by 2015.[iv]

In addition, it has also been reported that Iran obtained several KH-55 cruise missiles from Ukraine.[v] These missiles act like low flying airplanes and do not take a ballistic trajectory, thus requiring a different mechanism of interception than those that are used to counter ballistic missiles. These cruise missiles can be launched from a large aircraft or ship, both of which require difficult, yet obtainable engineering adaptations. A cruise missile outfitted on a ship or airplane could be launched from beyond the confines of Iran, threatening Europe and even the US.

The nuclear-capable KH-55 has a range of 3,000 km and is an example of why NATO needs to maintain a flexible and fluid approach to missile defense. Iran will continue to develop its missile program, expanding on existing missile platforms such as the BM-25, Safir rocket and KH-55 cruise missile. And as noted above, the Middle East is a difficult place to make political predictions. A strong, stable autocrat can give way to a less friendly government with little warning. While national ballistic programs take some time to develop, so do missile defense systems. Using Israel as example, it took that country over ten years to deploy its BMD system after sustaining 39 Scud missile attacks in the Gulf War. For Europe, the final stage of the EPAA is not planned to be completed until 2021. NATO will need to constantly reevaluate its ABM plans in order to stay ahead of the various threats it may face.

A model of the Iranian satellite launcher, the Safir-2, on display in Tehran in 2009 (AP).

A model of the Iranian satellite launcher, the Safir-2, on display in Tehran in 2009 (AP).

Watching Asia

Although half a world away, the tensions on the Korean peninsula are of great importance to NATO’s North American and European members, as well as its “partners across the globe,” such as Japan and South Korea. North Korea has been a major catalyst of missile technology proliferation to several states. Iran has been a major recipient of this illegal trade. Iran’s Shehab-3 is very closely designed off of North Korea’s No Dong 1 missile.[vi] In addition, Iran obtained the BM-25 missiles from North Korea, as noted above. The relationship has been strong and represents a rare trade corridor for these isolated states.

North Korea has intermittently tested its missiles, including the intermediate range Taepo Dong 1 and 2 missiles, and launched a satellite into space in December 2012. The US Navy was able to recover part of the rocket that launched the satellite, giving intelligence analyst useful insight into the North Korean missile program that they have not had before. The Defense Intelligence Agency released a classified assessment in March 2013 that it believes with “moderate confidence” that the “North currently has nuclear weapons capable of delivery by ballistic missiles however the reliability will be low.”[vii] These tests, along with a North Korean test launch of three short-range missiles in mid-May 2013, have raised the concerns of Japan, South Korea, and the US. President Obama recently announced that the US would place Ground Based Interceptors in Alaska and California in order to counter the growing North Korean threat. Japan also responded to North Korea’s saber-rattling by deploying PAC-3 missiles in Okinawa and Tokyo, signing a $400 million deal with Lockheed Martin to upgrade its existing Aegis system, and deploying Japanese and US warships equipped with the Aegis system in the Sea of Japan and Korean peninsula, respectively.[viii]

The cooperation between the US and Japan and the US and South Korea is an example of rapid ABM mutual assistance, which is facilitated by the more abundant ABM systems in existence today. The developments in Asia, along with Turkey’s acceptance of PAC-3s from its NATO allies, are two examples of NATO members and partners creating deterrence against regional missile threats. This form of mutual assistance, coupled with cooperation with Russia, must continue as the threats against NATO continue to evolve. The threat from Iran will only grow as that nation gains more technological prowess and continues its push towards nuclear weapons. The stakes will only rise and NATO will need to continue to adapt and strengthen its anti-ballistic missile systems to meet these dangerous challenges.

Therefore, NATO needs to pursue a strong enough missile defense policy that can respond to current missile threats, but be flexible enough to deal with upcoming challenges. The future threats that NATO will face will change, whether a current foe obtains new missiles that threatens the continent, or new danger zones are created in areas that were once stable or safe. Some tangible threats on the horizon are an indigenous Iranian missile program that will expand its Shehab missile program and upon the BM-25 platform. Iran will try to continue to trade with North Korea, which will continue on the path towards nuclear warhead miniaturization and increased rocket strength, as seen in its satellite launch last year. Finally, just as the Iranian and North Korean threat grows as a part of their cooperation, NATO can also get assistance from other partners. Linking NATO’s early warning system with regional radar operators, such as Russia, the states of the Gulf Cooperation Council and Israel will expand Europe’s vigilance and solidify a meaningful and strong regional cooperation revolving around missile defense.

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Filed under Aegis, ballistic missiles, Diplomacy, EPAA, Foreign Affairs, Iran, Israel, Middle East, Missile Defense, NATO, North Korea, Nuclear weapons, PAC-3, rockets, Russia, SM-3, South Korea, Soviet Union, United States, US-Russian relations

A Flexible NATO Missile Shield: Part I

The following  is Part I of an article I  wrote for the May 2013 issue of Atlantic Voices, a monthly magazine published by the Atlantic Treaty Association

Containing regional conflicts and blunting their expansion into other areas has always been a difficult challenge for independent states and international organizations. Today, there are several existing and potential regional conflicts that threaten to draw in states that are currently not at war. The political phenomenon of the Arab Spring is a remarkable example of how quickly and broadly isolated conflicts can spread to neighboring countries. In addition, tense situations such as the Iranian nuclear crisis and North Korean saber-rattling continue elsewhere, threatening NATO member states and strategic partners should these situations escalate into actual military engagements.

The ability for conflicts to spread beyond their initial borders is partly facilitated by the modern tools of mass media. News, information and political discourse can span the globe in just moments on the Internet as social media has given voice to individuals previously rendered mute by their oppressive regimes. However, just as modern advances have given new recourse for the oppressed, modern weaponry also has allowed states and armed militant groups to spread violence further than they were previously capable. Both states and non-state actors (NSA) have been able to threaten and attack their targets beyond their zones of operation without putting boots on the ground by utilizing missiles and rockets. These technologies range from the extremely sophisticated to the very crude, where some can  only be implemented by states while others can be harnessed by almost anyone, thus creating the need for states to properly prepare and defend themselves against these threats that emanate from beyond their borders.

The NATO Missile Defense exhibit at the Chicago Summit in 2012 (Source: AP).

The NATO Missile Defense exhibit at the Chicago Summit in 2012 (Source: AP).

NATO is uniquely positioned to create spheres of stability and protection against missile threats by sharing anti-missile defense systems amongst its members and creating a credible deterrent to states and NSAs that would consider using such weapons against them. NATO should focus on a policy that enables a robust missile defense program for its members and strategic partners, as several threats loom on the horizon for the Alliance.

TURKEY’S PATRIOTS

The most recent example of NATO members bolstering each other’s missile defense is the deployment of PAC-3 (Patriot) batteries to Turkey in January 2013. This was done in response to a Turkish request of assistance from NATO after Syrian Scuds landed close to the Turkish border. The United States, the Netherlands, and Germany deployed batteries and hundreds of troops to operate them in two areas bordering Syria under NATO command.[i]

Turkey under Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan has been the most vocal supporter of the Syrian rebellion to overthrow President Assad. In addition to offering public support for the rebels, Turkey has allowed them to operate in its territory. However, the fear from Turkey and its allies is that the Syrian civil war will spill over into its territory. In addition to the stray mortar shells and bullets that may land in Turkish territory, there is a credible fear that President Assad will try to draw Turkey into the war by launching missiles directly against its Western neighbor.

German soldiers walk past a PAC-3 launcher in December 2012 (Photo source: Reuters).

German soldiers walk past a PAC-3 launcher in December 2012 (Photo source: Reuters).

The Syrian armed forces possess an array of ballistic missiles, including Scud B and Scud C variants with ranges between 300 and 500 kilometers, respectively.[ii] There is also the constant fear that these missiles could carry a chemical warhead. These missiles threaten to make the localized Syrian conflict into a broader regional conflagration by drawing in Turkey and its allies into a confrontation with Syria and its allies, which include Iran and Russia.

Therefore, it was in NATO’s interest to deploy the PAC-3 system to Turkey. This system serves two very important roles. Most obviously, it is meant to intercept missiles that Syria may fire at Turkey. Limiting civilian deaths is one important way to ensure that certain violent situations do not become larger conflicts. Not only would these missiles, in theory, save lives, but they would also save Turkey from the internal pressure of responding in full force against Syria.

But the other role that the PAC-3 plays, which they have performed remarkably well since their deployment, is simply to deter Syria from launching missiles against Turkey. It could be argued that President Assad would never intend to launch missiles against Turkey whether the PAC-3s were deployed or not, but it is clear that they have acted as a successful deterrent.

The rapid deployment of this missile defense system in Turkey is a prime example of how NATO allies can aid each other in bolstering the security of member states while also containing regional political and military confrontations. Had Syria successfully launched Scuds against Turkey, the Syrian civil war could easily be overshadowed by a greater Middle East war that would be significantly more costly and bloody.

EUROPE’S DEFENSE

In addition to containing localized threats, joint planning of a NATO ballistic missile defense (BMD) system helps foster regional cooperation and creates a unified front against military and political foes  challenging NATO’s security. In addition to Turkey’s request for NATO assistance, another strong example of BMD cooperation among NATO members is the longer-term European ballistic missile shield. This plan, which took its first steps in 2002, was both the cause of regional political clashes and an example of how the collaborative efforts of NATO members could create strong deterrent measures against NATO’s foes.

Initially, NATO BMD plans were aimed against threats that NATO troops may face when deployed in the field, known as Theater Missile Defense. The Theater Missile Defense plan, which was focused against the tactical missiles threatening NATO forces, eventually expanded in 2002 to include a broader defense against ballistic missiles that may threaten European population centers and territory, or Territorial Missile Defense.[iii]

The process of creating a robust European BMD plan started at NATO’s 2002 Prague Summit where the participants agreed to examine the possibility of a BMD system to protect Allied forces, territory and populations. The two following summits – Riga in 2006, where participants approved the results of the Prague Summit; and Bucharest 2008, where NATO members decided to allow American BMD systems in Europe – pushed these plans closer to fruition. However, Russia reacted angrily when the US signed a missile defense agreement with Poland in the summer of 2008. While the US claimed the planned missile shield based in Poland and the Czech Republic was being created only to counter threats posed by Iran, the Russian envoy to NATO responded that the timing of the agreement, which was at the end of the Russian-Georgian War, indicated that “the missile defence system will be deployed not against Iran but against the strategic potential of Russia.”[iv]

The US had strongly considered plans to place long-range missile interceptors in Poland for the past decade. However, there was hardly a unified front within NATO over the proposal. Polish officials faced tremendous internal opposition from their constituents, while other NATO leaders also argued against the plan, such as then French President Nicolas Sarkozy. When US President Barack Obama terminated the plan in September 2009, the leaders of France, Germany and the United Kingdom all reacted positively to the announcement, which was seen as a move to assist in the warming of US-Russian and European-Russian relations.

Instead of a BMD shield based in Poland, the September 2009 announcement by President Obama included the outline of the new European Phased Adaptive Approach (EPAA). The EPAA is a plan that gradually builds Europe’s missile shield. Seeking to ease the concerns of its Polish and Czech allies, the US dispatched Vice President Joseph Biden, along with several military commanders, to Poland in October 2009, where he reaffirmed the US’s commitment to Poland’s security. Vice President Biden outlined the plan, which called for the smaller Standard Missile-3 (SM-3) to be placed on US warships in the region and on Polish soil in 2018, pending Polish parliamentary approval.[v]  This plan, according to US officials, was a more appropriate response to the Iranian missile threat and would also be more tolerable in Moscow.

The USS Hopper launches a Standard Missile-3.

The USS Hopper launches a Standard Missile-3.

EPAA is designed to counter short and intermediate-range Iranian ballistic missiles. The EPAA allows for flexibility by implementing mobile radars and interceptors mounted on Aegis-equipped cruisers and destroyers.[vi]

In a further effort to work with Russia, NATO sought to create a functioning mutual BMD system at the 2010 Lisbon Summit. During  the summit, the NATO-Russia Council agreed to discuss pursuing BMD cooperation and agreed on a joint ballistic missile threat assessment. This new cooperation culminated in April 2012 when NATO and Russia successfully conducted a computer-assisted missile defense exercise.[vii]

By 2011, more NATO members had signed on to elements of EPAA. In the autumn of 2011, Turkey agreed to host a BMD-supporting radar in Kureak, Turkey while Romania agreed with the US to house the SM-3s in 2015. Moreover, The Netherlands contributed to the EPAA by announcing plans to  upgrade four frigates with long-range missile defense early-warning radars as its national contribution to NATO’s BMD. At the same time of the Dutch announcement, the US and Spain entered into an agreement to station four Aegis-equipped ships in Rota, Spain.

A major breakthrough for NATO’s BMD plan was announced at the Chicago Summit in 2012. NATO allies stated in article 60 in their official Declaration “We are pleased today to declare that the Alliance has achieved an Interim NATO BMD Capability. It will provide with immediate effect an operationally significant first step, consistent with our Lisbon decision, offering the maximum coverage within available means, to defend our populations, territory and forces across southern NATO Europe against a ballistic missile attack.”[viii] This announcement confirmed that the agreement reached at Lisbon in 2010 to create a functioning BMD system for Europe had reached its interim capability. This meant that basic command and control capabilities had been installed at NATO Allied Air Command Headquarters in Ramstein, Germany, while US ships in the Mediterranean equipped with the Aegis-system had been put under NATO command.

There are several benefits from NATO’s  current position  in terms of ballistic missile defense. One of the key points of tension with Russia for the past several years was the placement of an intercontinental ballistic missile interceptor, known as the Exoatmospheric Kill Vehicle (EKV), in Poland. The EKV represented a system that was designed to defend against long-range missile threats, while Russia felt that its single purpose was to reduce Russia’s nuclear deterrence. However, the refocused EPAA plans to utilize the SM-3, which is not an intercontinental missile interceptor, but rather is designed to intercept short- to intermediate-range missiles. This switch of interceptor missiles both symbolically and practically refocused NATO’s BMD capabilities away from Russia and towards Iran. This reopened a crucial political dialogue between the US and NATO with Russia. Re-engaging Russia politically is vital at a time when many Western and Middle Eastern states are increasingly concerned about Iranian missile and nuclear progress. In 2009 Russia signed a deal with Iran to supply it with the S-300 air defense missile system, believed to be one of the most sophisticated air defense systems in the world. However, by 2010 the deal had been postponed by Russia. This postponement is in great part due to diplomatic efforts against Iran as well as direct negotiations with Russia. In fact, the timing of the Russian cancellation falls near the announced EPAA, which replaced the EKV with the SM-3. It is fascinating to think that NATO BMD plans may have actually had a positive impact on NATO-Russian relations and helped NATO politically.

The integration of the missile defense systems of several nations is both a technological and political feat. The integration of BMD systems includes NATO members and other partners throughout the globe that are linked into US-missile defense systems. Most notably, Israel and Japan have been the biggest recipients of US aid and cooperation. The collaboration and goals outlined within EPAA signal a unified military and political front to the globe that a multi-national continental missile defense system is not only theoretical, but achievable. When dealing with belligerent neighbors, whether they be Iran or North Korea, this form of alliance helps contain possible conflict. We have already witnessed the localized success of regional cooperation with the deployment of PAC-3 missiles in Turkey, and may owe credit for future peace to a continent-wide missile defense system in Europe, along with NATO cooperation with other partners such as Russia, Israel and Japan. It is important to take a closer look at these future threats and analyze what a comprehensive ballistic missile defense program can achieve.

Endnotes

[2] http://www.nti.org/media/pdfs/syria_missiles_table.pdf?_=1344557599&_=1344557599

[3] http://www.nato.int/cps/en/natolive/topics_49635.htm

[4] http://www.aljazeera.com/news/europe/2008/08/200881514010734640.html

[5] http://www.nytimes.com/2009/10/22/world/europe/22biden.html

[6] http://www.armscontrol.org/factsheets/Phasedadaptiveapproach

[7] http://www.nato.int/cps/en/natolive/topics_49635.htm

[8] http://www.nato.int/cps/en/SID-0F822699-129071C5/natolive/official_texts_87593.htm?selectedLocale=en

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Touring Terror

It’s frightening how so many things can sound like an air raid siren when you’re listening for it. A truck accelerating, beats in a song, even a crying baby. Any of these things, just for a split second, cause you to stop what you’re doing, look up and wonder, “Is that it?”. Your heart skips a beat, you hold your breath. If it’s a siren, you run for shelter. If it’s just a truck driving by, just part of a song, or just a baby, you take a deep breath and carry on.

It’s also an interesting way to spend a vacation.

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Israel was in the midst of a campaign to attract more tourists to the country when a missile killed Hamas’ Ahmed Jabari in Gaza, setting the final spark needed for a week-long war between Hamas and Israel. When the missile destroyed his car on the afternoon of Wednesday, November 14, I was somewhere high above the Mediterranean Sea excitedly anticipating an eight-day trip to Israel. When I left the US on Tuesday night I was looking forward to a warm climate and seeing my friends and family in Israel. When I landed, my aunt told me in the car ride from the airport, “We just killed some Hamas commander. There will probably be a war now.” And so, my vacation in a war zone started.

I won’t paint a picture of victimhood here. I still very much had a vacation, but vacationing in a country at war is quite an experience. Some vacations are looked back upon and scenes of beautiful beaches, fine food or interesting cultural experiences. Strangely, my vacation was marked by those same things, but it was also marked by air raid sirens, the constant chatter of the news on TV, and the stress of visiting locations under attack. This was a bizarre dichotomy.

The war that raged in the southern part of Israel had a minimal impact of my plans. The first time I was personally affected was a surreal moment. It was just as Sabbath was starting in Jerusalem and as I looked outside my hotel window at the setting sun over the city air raid sirens started their ominous call. The sirens can be only be heard, and not seen, yet I was looking out into the Jerusalem dusk, in disbelief, for answers. Could this be an air raid siren so far from Gaza?

As I later found out, rockets were indeed aimed at Jerusalem. Hamas fired rockets at Jerusalem on two occasions last week. The first rockets landed outside a Jewish community in the West Bank. The second attack almost hit Bethlehem, a city inhabited by Arab Muslims and Arab Christians. These rockets seemed to define Hamas’ reckless destruction. Over 1,400 rockets were launched from Gaza during the war, almost exclusively at civilian targets in Israel. Furthermore, Hamas knows that its civilian population in Gaza will suffer greatly from Israeli retaliation, but the consideration for the wellbeing of Israelis and Gazans are disregarded alike by Hamas. Such is the misery of terrorist organizations, whether they be your neighbor or ruler.

The next evening, as the war progressed and intensified, I left Jerusalem for a party in the central part of the country, twenty minutes outside of Tel Aviv. On the way there a friend called me to say he was just called up for emergency reserve duty in the Israeli army. He won’t be available this evening.

The first thing I noticed when I entered the party was the absence of a few of my male friends. I was told by their anxious wives that they too had been called up for reserve duty. The men who were there joked about why the army did not call them. It was a coping mechanism, not for stress, but for rejection. The war was making its presence known to me more and more. And I wasn’t even near the rockets.

My vacation and the war progressed in this similar manner for the rest of the week. More Israeli cities were targeted with rockets, more air raid sirens (including in Tel Aviv, which was a tremendous shock to Israel), more news and more stress.

I didn’t want the war to effect me. I wouldn’t let it. I went to Tel Aviv despite the air raid sirens. Both times I escaped without having to find shelter. But I did have to make some accommodations for the war. Instead of walking directly along the pleasant promenade along the beaches in Tel Aviv where there is no shelter I walked across the street where I could more easily run into a building if needed. I checked the news more often than I would have liked. I was very tense at times, relaxed at others.

As rumors of an impending ceasefire circulated on Wednesday, I planned one last evening in Tel Aviv at my favorite Italian restaurant in the heart of town. Reservations were made for 7 pm, although they were not needed. The city, which is vibrant at all hours of the night and day, was eerily empty. Known for a lack of parking, I found spots easily in the busiest neighborhoods. Normally crowded cafes were vacant. It was not the same Tel Aviv I remembered.

Sometime after noon my cell phone started to ring with a flurry of calls and texts. When a bomb exploded in a bus or restaurant in Israel, everyone calls everyone. Are you OK? Where are you? Have you spoken to your brother?

A bus exploded in the heart of Tel Aviv. Hamas dispatched an Israeli Arab to place a bomb under a seat on a bus that blew up across the street from the same restaurant we were going to that night.

We finally gave in. We cancelled our trip to Tel Aviv. We weren’t going to deal with the stress, the bombs, the air raid sirens. Dining with a view of a bombed out bus isn’t so appealing anyway.

Sure enough, just hours later a ceasefire was declared at 9 pm local time. The war was over – for now – and we could finally have a normal vacation. Alas, our flight left that same evening and as the war ended, so did our vacation.

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Filed under Air travel, Egypt, Gaza, Gilad Schalit, Hamas, Iron Dome, Israel, Israeli Jews, Israeli-Arab Wars, Middle East, rockets, Terrorism

Tel Aviv is Targeted

Islamic Jihad moments ago took credit for launching a Fajr missile against Tel Aviv. This is the first time that city has been targeted by a missile since the 1991 Gulf War.

This signifies a major escalation in the Gaza war that is now two days old. IJ is most likely baiting Israel into a ground offensive in Gaza in which Hamas will feel the brunt of the fighting against the IDF.

Below is the rest of the blog post I was writing moments before the Islamic Jihad announcement:

This week features another war in which Gaza and Israel are facing off against each other using the best rockets and rocket-defenses they have, respectively. Hamas uses the Grad rocket extensively, and when accurately aimed at Israeli population centers, the Israeli military counters with it’s Iron Dome, the most advanced rocket and missile interception system in the world.

The picture below from The Muqata blog shows how far the Iron Dome has come, and how much damage Hamas can cause.

Image

Those puffs of smoke are the remnants of seven rockets that the Iron Dome intercepted in one barrage.

There are so many amazing things about that picture. What Hamas tried to do there was simply ‘overwhelm’ the system. For years before the Iron Dome proved it could work, its detractors said for that this was one simple way of getting passed the system. However, the Iron Dome is even more capable that it’s creators imagined.

This afternoon the Israeli city Rishon LeZion was hit my something. This city is just south of Tel Aviv and is most definitely beyond the range of Grad rockets. This likely means that Hamas launched a Fajr missile against the city. This is a much more advanced and accurate missile. Israel hoped to knock most of these missiles out in the beginning of the conflict on Wednesday.

It has not been officially confirmed if indeed a Fajr was launched against Israel’s fourth largest city.

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Filed under Hamas, Israel, Missile Defense

The Secret Service is Running Out of Gas

The US Secret Service has its hands full these days. With both President Barack Obama and his rival Mitt Romney criss-crossing the US in the final weeks before the presidential election, and foreign dignitaries visiting for the start of the UN General Assembly, the agency surely has a lot to deal with these days.

These enormous responsibilities are weighing on the men and women in the Secret Service, who are probably counting down the days until the visiting dignitaries leave and the election is over so they can go back to protecting just one man. After an incident that occurred to the Israeli and German press delegation headed to the UN today, it’s pretty clear that the Secret Service is running out of gas, literally.

Read the Times of Israel story here.

Image

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The Terrorist Sweepstakes

The recent Mega Million lottery, with a prize totaling $640 million, caused quite the stir as long lines of people crowded small bodegas and grocery stores for a chance to buy a winning ticket. Most people were aware the chances of winning were slim. Statisticians put the odds of winning at 1 in 176 million.

Three winning tickets were sold, but if you missed out on the lottery, the US State Department is giving you another chance at winning millions of dollars, and with slightly better odds. Wendy Sherman, under secretary of state for political affairs,  announced on Monday that the US government was offering a $10 million reward for information leading to the capture of Pakistani terrorist Hafiz Saeed.

If you were willing to buy a lottery ticket despite the poor odds of winning, you should also consider trying to track down Saeed in Pakistan. Compare the numbers:

  • Odds of winning the Mega Millions:  1 in 176 million.
  • Ratio of Saeed to the total population of Pakistan: 1 in 173 million

That’s a difference of 3 million in your favor. And if you’re still unconvinced, the State Department is increasing your odds. There is also a $2 million reward for information that leads to the arrest Saeed’s brother-in-law, Hafiz Abdul Rahman Makk.

The timing of Sherman’s announcement, just a few days after the Mega Millions lottery found three winners, reminded me of another lottery in the recently released movie “The Hunger Games.” There’s an oft repeated line in the first installment of the Suzanne Collins  trilogy repeated to the contestants of a gladiatorial-style game in which they must fight each other for survival: “May the odds be ever in your favor.”

Unfortunately, the odds look to be against the State Department and in Saeed’s favor.

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Filed under India, Pakistan, Terrorism, United States, US-Pakistani relations

The Return of the Hunters

The news brought on mixed emotions. The Attorney General held a shocking press conference, stating, “I have agreed to, with the consent of our President and cabinet ministers, grant asylum for, and the return of, all of our citizens held in prisons in foreign lands. This government will accept the return of any citizen, regardless of whatever alleged crime they committed overseas, as it is our duty to return any one of our citizens to their native homeland. The terms of the prisoner release have been approved by foreign representatives, and the release will commence tomorrow at noon.”

There was a moment of silence in the press room. Only the clicking of cameras could be heard. Then there was an eruption of applause and cheers, and even the stoic Attorney General revealed a wide grin.

The foreign captivity of our citizens has been a contentious issue for years. It mostly revolves around hunting, which is a national pastime here. Many go overseas to hunt, often illegally. Foreign governments have demanded that our citizens cease hunting in their countries, and have often arrested our citizens they have caught on suspicion of hunting. The domestic pressure at home is not if we should curb our hunting habits – we’ve been raised since childhood on how to hunt animals – but how we can return our nationals that have been arrested overseas. There are a few brave citizens that speak against hunting here, but it’s not so much of a social issue here anymore because we already killed off all our animals at home. That is why we have to go overseas to hunt.

I was still uneasy about the impending prisoner release. In a few short hours the country had been whipped into a nationalistic frenzy, the streets filled with people waiting for their fellow countrymen to return home. While I was excited to have my brothers return home after years in foreign jails, I was not totally comfortable with the fact that the government was willing to bring back anyone, regardless of whatever crime they have committed or were charged for.

My friend Mike is a cool-headed cynic, and I thought I could talk to him to get some perspective. I asked if he was comfortable having some of our country’s most notorious hunters return to our neighborhoods and streets, and reenter our society.

“Of course! They’ve been held in jails by foreign governments for acts only they consider crimes,” Mike answered. “Besides, there are no more animals left here for them to hunt, so what’s the worry?”.

Yet, I was still concerned. I was beginning to think there was something wrong with a society that only teaches one side of the issue. I couldn’t help but feel that we lost our self-control. I didn’t hear anyone ask if we should have all the hunters returned, even the ones that killed baby animals, or endangered species, for example. Hunting had become so pervasive in our society that people were only focused on the return of their countrymen, and not the acts they carried out.

Crowds started to gather in Aya Shaya Square, named after our countries first and most famous hunter who was killed while hunting several years ago just when it started to become a popular sport. A leopard has snuck up and mauled him. Some reports said his head was severed. His gruesome death and intrepid spirit, which took him hunting into uncharted territories, made him a national hero.

Our country has a great sense of irony and humor. Mocking the environmentalists overseas that jail our hunters, green flags were being handed out and waved by the crowd, while speakers were being set up on a stage in anticipation of the return of the hunters.

A young volunteer reached out to hand me a flag, but I hesitated. “Don’t you want a flag to greet our brothers upon their return home?,” he asked.

“I’m excited, don’t get me wrong, but do we know who all of these people are? What if they killed innocent animals? We could be welcoming some really terrible people back into our society,” I answered.

“Innocent animals? What are you talking about? They’re animals, what’s the difference? And having our brothers return home after languishing in jail is more important than whatever alleged “crimes” they committed overseas,” he retorted.

He thrust a flag in my hand and ran off to hand out the rest.

I stood there, looking at the stage, the flags, and the spectacle that was unfolding around me. I’m proud of my country, but I’m worried that we’ve lost our sense of justice to some form of extreme nationalism. I felt there is something terribly wrong with a society that welcomes with open arms some of the world’s most notorious hunters.

I don’t fear what may happen to the animals overseas in the future. After all, they’re just animals. I fear what the hunters may do at home, and what all this says about us.

The hunters come home. (Reuters)

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