Who will deter whom?
By Ze'ev Schiff -Haaretz 4.3.06
Israel should not scoff at Iran's growing power as a regional force and the dangers of the worldview of its radical regime. Iran may have made some mistakes, but it has achieved some outstanding accomplishments. While the world is busy only with its efforts to acquire nuclear arms, it has managed over the years, through a sophisticated move in cooperation with the Syrians and Hezbollah, to build an array of rockets in southern Lebanon that could harm Israel over long ranges.
There are recent reports that a weans convoy, apparently Iranian, made its way through Syria through the Lebanese Bekaa and received a transit permit with the Lebanese government openly confirming that it knew the convoy's goal was Hezbollah. Therefore, the Lebanese government is an indirect partner in the establishment of the rocket array aimed against Israel. It has already been published that this includes some 12,000 Katyushas and rockets of various types. Militarily, it makes no difference if there were only 5,000 Katyushas, for example. The important factor is the range, which Iran makes sure to constantly improve. The Fajr-3 and Fajr-5 rockets have increased their ranges to some 70 kilometers. This means Hezbollah and, in effect, Iran can shoot at targets south of Haifa, and not only in the area of Haifa Bay.
There are various approaches to this threat to Israel. The former chief of staff, Moshe Ya'alon, used to say that the Hezbollah rocketry array will rust on its own without being used. Maybe. But what if there are reasons found for its use before it rusts? Other say that this is not an Iranian threat, because the same targets could be hit by terror actions. That's strange to say. Is the danger of putting two million people into shelters and a cessation of schooling and work in all the regional enterprises within the rockets' aim not a strategic blow? Past experience with artillery fire from southern Lebanon and the experience of primitive Qassam rockets make it difficult to come up with calming conclusions.
A few months ago there was a one-day conference at Haifa University on dealing with a sudden multi-victim disaster in the Haifa Bay area. Dr. Ephraim Dvir, head of the geography department for disaster areas and the chairman of the national steering committee for preparations for an earthquake, spoke of the "disaster triangle" in the Haifa area. The bay, he said, is the most dangerous of all the sensitive areas in Israel because of the ammonia and bromide facilities, the oil refineries and the heavy industry. Add to that the population density and the flawed local infrastructure for dealing with the population during a surprise disaster.
The experts remember that the state comptroller devoted three reports to the subject, as did two Knesset subcommittees. After much foot-dragging, the Home Front command announced that the huge ammonia tank in the bay area does not meet its standards. Safeguarding the tanks would require a most enormous expenditure, so Haifa municipality ordered Haifa Chemicals to immediately cease use of the tank. However, the sensitivity of the area, within range of Hezbollah rockets, remains.
Clearly, Israel has failed from every aspect in preventing the establishment of the Iranian-backed rocket array. No arms convoy or plane carrying weapons or warehouse of rockets in Lebanon has been struck. The rockets are deployed out of harm's way, and Iranian representatives in Lebanon help plan and produce conclusions from Hezbollah operations. This does not mean that Israel cannot deal with the threat; but it decided to base itself on a strategy of bed-and-breakfasts and skiing, according to which it is best not to really respond to harm, kidnappings and provocations lest it endanger the tourism. In recent years, that strategy has been paramount and that is what enabled the Iranians to establish their deterrent arm against Israel.