Now You See Them?
One of the more interesting "developments" from the past week was the alleged sighting of Israeli Jericho missiles near Jerusalem and in the West Bank. If those reports are accurate--and there was no confirmation from the Israeli military--they would suggest that Tel Aviv is posturing rather aggressively, or dispersing one of its most capable nuclear delivery systems to field dispersal sites. The alleged sightings came as the war of words between Israel and Iran continues to intensify, and a mysterious blast rocked one of Tehran's key nuclear facilities.
According to Aaron Klein of World Net Daily, the Jericho movement was witnessed by Israeli and Palestinian observers:
Multiple eyewitnesses reported seeing Israeli military trucks in recent days transport and station large missiles at the periphery of Jerusalem and locations inside the West Bank.
The descriptions of the projectiles are consistent with the Jewish state's mid-to-long range Jericho ballistic missiles.
The missile movement, if confirmed, would be unusual.
One of the witnesses is a member of the Palestinian Authority security services. He told me that a large missile was recently stationed near Neve Yaacov, a Jewish neighborhood in northeast Jerusalem. That neighborhood is adjacent to several Palestinian-inhabited towns.
Four other eyewitnesses, Israeli and Palestinian, reported seeing similar sights during the past week--large missiles being transported by the Israeli military around Jerusalem and the West Bank.
Reached for comment, the spokesperson's of the Israel Defense Forces could not confirm the information and referred me to Israel's national police.
Mickey Rosenfeld, the national police spokesperson, told me he has no information on any such movements.
While intriguing, this narrative has a few problems. For starters, Israel's ballistic missiles are among the least-sighted weapons on earth. During my own days as a civilian analyst, I was working on an assessment that focused on denial and deception (D&D) programs in the Middle East. A colleague suggested I include the Jericho II/III program as an example of superb operational deception and security. Looking through an imagery database, I quickly discovered the reason behind his suggestion. There was virtually no imagery of field-deployed Jericho IIs and IIIs, despite the fact that both systems are a top collection priority.
In fact, one of the few field shots I found was a grainy image of rather poor quality. "We caught them early in the window," my colleague explained. "Apparently, the Israelis don't know as much about our collection capabilities as they think." But the grainy image was the exception, not the rule. Israel has an excellent satellie warning program, and schedules important military activity "around" known collection windows. By the time that satellite was in position to take a better shot, the missile was back in covered storage. On those exceptionally rare occasions when we get a high-resolution image of a Jericho in the field, it's because the Israelis want us to see it. So far, there has been no report of our spy agencies capturing an overhead shot of those Jerichos that were deployed around Jerusalem and the West Bank.
It's also worth noting the absence of hand-held images of the missiles. In an era when virtually every Israeli (and Palestinian) has a cell phone with a camera, no one apparently bothered to take a shot of this unusual activity. What are the odds of that happening?
From an operational standpoint, the deployment also makes little sense. Israel's Jericho missiles are based at Palmachin Airbase, south of Tel Aviv. Dispersal sites are believed located in less-populated areas south of the installation, as opposed to the densely-populated West Bank, or the Jerusalem area. In those locations--particularly the West Bank--missile vehicles would be potentially vulnerable to Palestinian tracking and even attack, with weapons including mortars and short-range rockets. Moving Jericho launch vehicles to Jerusalem and the West Bank would send a powerful signal, but it would improve adversary detection and surveillance--something the Israelis don't want.
The most likely scenario goes something like this: the vehicles and missiles purportedly seen last week were decoys, dispatched to populated areas to send a signal to Iran (and Israel's other enemies). Coming on the heels of a recent Jericho test launch (and successful covert attacks on Iranian nuclear facilities), the decoys were aimed at reminding Tehran that Israel has a variety of options for striking its enemies. In a worst-case scenario, the Israelis could launch nuclear-tipped Jerichos at a variety of targets in Iran, obliterating dozens of cities and military targets. By comparison, Iran's nuclear capabilities are nascent; if Tehran has the bomb, it's arsenal consists of a handful of devices, and there's no confirmation it has a warhead small enough to fit on one of its medium or intermediate-range missiles.
Finally, the Palestinians have their own reasons for hyping this story. If Israel was forced to fight its various enemies, the Palestinians would be dispatched quickly and ruthlessly, something their leaders hope to avoid. The missile story is something the PA might use in pressuring the Obama Administration to lean on Israel, hinting that the Jewish state is about to launch World War III.
Sadly, the current occupant of the White House might actually listen to such far-fetched claims--even in the absence of intelligence confirmation. After all, we know how Mr. Obama feels about Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.