* Bomb shelters, interceptor absorb four days of rockets
* Experts disagree on whether Israel ready for Iran war
By Dan Williams
JERUSALEM, March 13 Israel has emerged
from the past few days of fighting with Palestinians in Gaza
more confident that its advanced missile shield and civil
defences can perform well in any war with Iran.
"In a sense, this was a mini-drill" for Iran, an Israeli
official said on Tuesday after an Egyptian-brokered truce took
hold, leaving 25 dead in the Gaza Strip and three people wounded
"There are significant differences, of course, but the basic
principles regarding the 'day after' scenarios are similar," the
official said, alluding to Iran's threat to respond to any
"pre-emptive strike" on its nuclear facilities by firing
ballistic missiles at Israel.
Employing a similar doctrine of pre-emption against
Palestinians, Israel killed two senior militants in a Gaza air
strike on Friday, accusing them of planning a major attack on
its citizens through the territory of neighbouring Egypt.
That southern Israel weathered the ensuing scores of
short-range rockets from Gaza, with sirens summoning around a
million citizens to cover and the Iron Dome aerial shield [ID:
nL5E8ED538] providing extra protection, was savoured - warily -
by Israeli defence officials.
"The Israeli home front has shown once more that it can deal
with the challenges," the armed forces' commander,
Lieutenant-General Benny Gantz, told reporters.
Though he described the cumulative threat from surrounding
armies and guerrillas as "significant and abundant", Gantz said:
"I am convinced that our enemies understand the balance we have
between a comfortable defence capability and our offensive
capabilities, which we will use as required."
While Iron Dome is deployed against rockets from Gaza,
Israel's answer to the bigger, ballistic missiles of Iran and
Syria is Arrow II, an interceptor that works in a similar way
but at far higher altitudes.
Israeli officials said Iron Dome shot down some three in
four of the Palestinian rockets fired in recent days. Developers
of the Arrow II, which has so far proved itself only in trials,
boast a shoot-down rate for that system of some 90 percent.
Uzi Rubin, a veteran of the Arrow programme, cautioned,
however, against relying too far on such defences as Iranian
missiles, if not intercepted, could wreak far more damage than
Gazan rockets, many of which are improvised from drainage pipes.
"We are talking about 750-kg (1,650-lb) warheads, enough to
level a city block," Rubin said, noting there would be a greater
impact if Iran's allies on Israel's borders -- Syria, Lebanon's
Hezbollah guerrillas, and Palestinian militants -- joined in.
Yet some Israeli experts see that axis bending to new
domestic political pressures, notably after the popular Arab
revolts of the past year, which may reduce the extent to which
Tehran can count on their support in any conflict with Israel.
Indeed, Israeli Defence Minister Ehud Barak has recently
predicted that "maybe not even 500" of Israel's civilians would
die in any counter-attack after a strike on Iran.
Gaza's governing Hamas movement stayed out of the four days
of fighting waged by other militants -- a reflection, perhaps,
of the powerful Islamist group's placing of domestic interests
over any desire by Tehran to bleed Israel by proxy. Hamas's ties
with long-time sponsors Iran and Syria have weakened this year.
Sanguine assessments by Israeli defence officials are at
odds, however, with disclosures by an opposition lawmaker last
month that, despite a government-sponsored fortification drive,
almost one in four citizens lacked access to shelters.
Budgetary problems no doubt contributed to the lags in
construction, and the economic damage of any conflict with Iran
is a factor that those who counsel against over-confidence in
defensive systems have highlighted.
Rubin noted that while the flare-up with the lightly armed
Palestinians in Gaza had disrupted life and business activity
only in Israel's southern periphery, Iran's missiles were easily
capable of striking its main industrial hubs -- the Tel Aviv
conurbation and Haifa port in the north.
"There would be a total economic paralysis," he said.
If it is planning to attack Iran, which denies seeking the
bomb while preaching the Jewish state's destruction, Israel must
contend with unprecedented tactical hurdles and the disapproval
of the United States -- underwriter of Arrow II and Iron Dome.
Israel would also depend on Washington's grants for the two
projects to bear the lopsided cost of each interception --
between $25,000 and $80,000 for Iron Dome, and $2 million and $3
million for Arrow.
Though Israel is widely assumed to have its own atomic
arsenal, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu dubs Iran a mortal
threat and described the recent Gaza rockets as a harbinger.
"These terrorist attacks, by Islamic Jihad for example,
demonstrate the scale of the danger that will be wrought if, God
forbid, a nuclear Iran stands behind them," he said on Monday.
(Additional reporting by Maayan Lubell; Writing by Dan
Williams; Editing by Alastair Macdonald)