ASHDOD (AP) The last few weeks of fighting with Palestinian groups in Gaza have given the Israeli military with valuable experience in front of a war with Iran.
– We have learned very much during the recent escalation in the conflict with Gaza. We are far better prepared for a greater conflict now than we were a few weeks ago, and we will be even better prepared tomorrow, says the head of the Israeli anti-missile defense, Colonel Zvika Haimovich to VG.
In the past year, Israel has established what the IDF itself claims is a highly effective shield against missiles launched from the Gaza Strip. In recent weeks, the so-called Iron Dome system has been thoroughly tested by the Palestinian groups in Gaza who launched a new offensive. According to the Israelis, more than 200 rockets were fired at Israel before the Egyptian authorities succeeded in negotiating a ceasefire between Israel and the Islamic Jihad group last week.
– Warming up for war
Figures from the Israeli defense paints a clear picture of the system’s efficiency: 56 missiles were intercepted by the missile defense system that was first adopted on the 7th of April last year. Only three of 220 missiles hit targets in Israel, while the remaining landed outside the populated areas in the Negev desert or on the Palestinian side of the border.
Khaled Mashaal, the Hamas spokesman said in an interview with the Turkish Anatolia news agency that the background for the recent Israeli air offensive against Gaza was to test the Iron Dome system’s efficiency before an Israeli attack on Iranian nuclear facilities.
– Israel is now preparing for a possible war against Iran, he said.
The Israeli colonel denies the accusation by Hamas, but also confirms that the defense has gained valuable experience over the past few weeks. He does not deny that the defense is now preparing for larger tasks than dealing with sporadic attacks from Gaza.
– Right now, our eyes are focused on Gaza, but in recent weeks has not made us forget the big picture, he said.
Haimovich VG shows around by one of the batteries that are deployed outside the port city of Ashdod, about 30 kilometers from the city of Tel Aviv. This battery alone has the capability to protect about 400,000 people against missile attacks.
In a modest container painted in desert colors five men keep a constant watch on all hostile activity. Within seconds, they must make the decision whether to fire missiles to intercept incoming missiles. Reaction times vary from 10 to 50 seconds depending on where the rocket came from. The system is mobile and can be moved around the country with only a few hours notice.
– Iranian experts in Gaza
Israeli sources claim in the newspaper Haaretz that Iranian military experts are present in Gaza and has put pressure on Palestinian groups to continue rocket attacks against Israel.
Israeli military strategists envisage that an escalation of the conflict regarding the Iranian nuclear program will trigger attacks from Iran’s allies in Hezbollah and Hamas. Thus, the new missile defense system has a key role if the nuclear dispute develops into full-scale war in the region.
At the same time the country is developing similar systems to handle long-range missiles.
– The systems overlap, and will together provide an effective defense says Haimovich.
Military analysts in Israel, however, have questioned the systems’ ability to protect civilians from an extensive attack by Iranian ballistic missiles.
The Israeli colonel confirms that there are still parts of the country that are not protected. He admits that a war with Iran and its allies would cause the missiles to hit targets in central Israel.
– I trust my men and my systems, but they can not provide 100 percent security. My job is to limit the number of rockets that hit us, and thus minimize the damage, he said.