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The Missiles of July

missile-defenseby Peter Huessy

In the last month, Hamas has now launched over 2000 rockets at Israel with Tel Aviv shooting down roughly 90% of those aimed at Israeli population centers. While the US need not fear a terrorist group launching rockets at Boston or Seattle from our northern neighbor Canada, missiles launched from the contiguous maritime regions around the United States or from terrorist sponsoring states such as North Korea or Iran or for that matter Russia or China, need to be intercepted as those threats are very real.

Since we withdrew from the ABM Treaty in 2002 that prohibited the US from defending our country from such missiles, we are on track to have built and deployed roughly 1400 missile interceptors of all kinds able to destroy short, medium and long range rockets aimed at the United States and its allies and friends around the world.

An Iranian Shahab missile, for example, could hit Miami if launched from Venezuela where many reports have claimed a missile launch site was being built. The former Director of Central Intelligence, R. James Woolsey, testified July 23, 2014 before the House Armed Services Committee that North Korea has launched a space launch vehicle in a southerly direction. It just so happens that if you look south, the US has no radars or missile defense interceptors—primarily because during the Cold War the assumption was that Soviet missiles would come over the North Pole if launched at the United States.

However, the Defense Intelligence Agency folks still believe their original 1999 estimate that Iran will have demonstrated the capability of being able to launch an ICBM that can hit America by next year 2015. And North Korea is the primary missile manufacturer for Tehran, just as it is tied in to Hamas and Hezbollah rocket arsenals.

That is why Congressman Mike Rogers of the House Armed Services Committee held a July 23, 2014 hearing to explore the extent to which the United States should expand the missile defenses protecting America that now consist primarily of 30 interceptors in Alaska and California and another 14 interceptors scheduled for future deployment in Alaska for added protection.

But beyond these two sites the US could very well deploy a variety of additional missile defenses including those based at sea, in space or on land. A variant of the sea based standard missile–the SM-3–could be deployed on land which eliminates the need for building an Aegis cruiser just for missile defense when these Navy ships have a critical multi-purpose role in defending America and are needed elsewhere as well..

To some extent, missile defenses have to be ready 24/7 especially if the US is concerned with accidental or unauthorized missile launches or terrorist launches, all of which do not necessarily grow out of a crisis which would give the US at least some advance warning that the bad guys are up to something. There is also not necessarily an identifiable return address from which a missile can be traced.

Like 9-11 and Benghazi, and other terrorist attacks, rogue terrorist actors including states, don’t send us warning telegrams that something is coming over the horizon. While missile threats most certainly may grow out of a crisis, they can also be launched surreptitiously against the United States with no warning.

In an excellent essay originally published by National Review online July 25th, my colleague Rebeccah Heinrichs outlines the current status of US missile defenses for America in a concise but very informative manner and relates our defenses with those of Israel especially the Iron Dome system. It should be required reading for all Congress.

Why? It addresses the very points explored by the 23rd July HASC hearing: what is the extent to which the US must seriously think about defending ourselves from Chinese or Russian missiles as well as those from what we often term as rogue states such as Iran or North Korea.

My guess is the American people don’t much care whether we should down a missile launched by the Kremlin or from orders originating in the Forbidden City in Peking.

But part of the controversy over such an idea is with elements on the left. They believe defending against missiles from China and Russia sounds as if we want to prevent Moscow and Peking from “deterring the US” from attacking them in the first place.

That is very Cold War thinking–both old and obsolete.

For example, defending the American heartland with 100 interceptors would hardly vitiate either China’s or Russia’s ability to strike American cities. But having the capability on the part of the US to effectively intercept some missiles means in a crisis any use by Moscow or Peking of a small number of missiles–a demonstration of resolve for example–could be foiled without the US leadership having to respond quickly with a retaliatory strike. In short, stability in a crisis would be enhanced. Diplomacy would be given the time to be able to do its job. And any massive use of missiles by either country would be an invitation to Armageddon and here our overall deterrent capability would theoretically stop any such adventure.

But as we have seen with the thugs in Gaza, terrorists and their sponsors have no concern for the lives not only of their own people but the lives of its perceived enemies—just as long as the big shots are not at risk. Hamas hides rocket launchers in schools, mosques and hospitals. They prevent civilians, even children, from taking shelter, away from military targets. They have threatened to kill reporters and their families that report this fact. In short, while Israel uses its Iron Dome missiles to protect the lives of its people, the thugs of Hamas use the people of Gaza to protect their missiles. And the US media falls into this trap by reporting on the “body count” without noting the very strategy of Hamas which is to increase the deaths of its own citizens.

Missile defense, as former US Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta once said, is designed to save lives and prevent war. However, when the enemies of peace are determined to hurl thousands of rockets at civilian populations with no concern for human life, missile defense while not stopping the waging of war by Hamas can indeed save the lives of countless people living in Israel.

And when Hamas and the troglodytes that lead it finally cease their vile aggression, (primarily because Israel can effectively defend itself), the missile defenses deployed by Israel will actually end up saving the lives of many Palestinian people as well.

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Peter Huessy is the President of GeoStrategic Analysis and Senior Defense Fellow at the American Foreign Policy Council.