Israel's newly-launched spy satellite will have no shortage of threats to monitor. In addition to missile and WMD programs in Iran and Syria, there's the continuing menace from Hizballah rockets, deployed in South Lebanon. Today's Jerusalem Post has an abbreviated version of a report from Britain's Sunday Times, claiming that terrorists have amassed an undisclosed number of Fatah-110 rockets in bunkers near Israel's northern border. From that position, they could potentially reach Tel Aviv.
The Sunday Times has actually been following this story for several months; last November, the paper reported that Hizballah had largely replenished its inventory, and had as many as 30,000 rockets for future combat against Israel. That estimate may be a bit high, but even Israeli defense analysts acknowledge that the terrorist organization could have as many as 20,000 rockets. Most are short-range, 1950s-vintage Katyushas, with limited payload, range and accuracy. But, as Hizballah gunners demonstrated last summer, those relatively crude weapons can drive thousands of Israelis underground, bring normal life to a half, and from time to time, inflict serious damage and casualties.
Effectively targeting those weapons presents another headache. During a month of exceptionally high-temp operations last summer, the Israeli Air Force logged over 9,000 combat sorties, many against Hizballah targets in Lebanon. Despite some successes--including the destruction of several long-range rockets and launchers--the terrorists proved adept at continuing their rocket barrage. On the day before the cease-fire went into effect, Hizballah fired over 200 rockets into northern Israel.
In terms actual capabilities, the Fatah-110 is largely a terror and psychological weapon. It's guidance system is largely non-existent. To have any hope of hitting a target, it's best employed against a sprawling urban area like Haifa or Tel Aviv. The rocket has a 500-pound warhead, so it is capable of inflicting significant damage--providing it lands in a populated area.
Both the IAF and Israel's Patriot missile batteries are capable of dealing with this threat--provided they receive the necessary targeting and cuing information. But so far, Israel has not devised an effective strategy for dealing with the larger problem: Hizballah's rocket arsenal continues to grow geometrically, and the terror group is building underground complexes to protect its weapons. Left unchecked, Israel could someday face a massive rocket and missile attack on multiple fronts, an attack that could cause large numbers of casualties (if WMD were used), and potentially saturate missile defenses.
The long-term answer to the threat from Hizballah is clear. The real question is when Israel will muster the political willpower to deal with it, once and for all.