TARGET ISRAEL:The New Threat of Very Accurate Missiles Aimed At Destroying The Jewish State
EXECUTIVE SUMMARY: Precision-guided medium-range missiles, a relatively
new technology, are beginning to proliferate in the Middle East. When they work
as designed, they can deliver half a ton of high explosive to within meters of their
targets. This means that for many targets, they are almost as effective as nuclear
weapons. With their capacity to destroy capital facilities like power plants, the
loss of only a few of which would severely harm Israel’s economy, they introduce
a new way for Israel to decisively lose a war. Israel will have to get the difficult
balance between offense and defense right before the next war or it may not have
a second chance.
Throughout history, until 1945, a country was basically safe as long as no enemy
army could invade and defeat its army. This basic strategic fact became obsolete
with the invention of nuclear weapons, which could be thrown or delivered by plane
over a defender’s undefeated army and kill hundreds of thousands of a defender’s
population with a single warhead.
The first generation of intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs) was not accurate
enough to present much of a threat to military or strategic targets. They could not
reliably hit close enough to destroy an airfield. But large nuclear weapons, each with
destructive effects measured in miles, combined with ICBMs whose accuracy was
similarly measured, turned the focus of war thinking toward attacks on cities. This
represented a new kind of war.
A special kind of “deterrence” thus became the central topic of strategic thinking:
deterrence based on the threat of a retaliatory attack that hurts the country to be
deterred, but doesn’t necessarily turn the balance of forces in the deterrer’s favor.
This new style of deterrence says, “If you hit me, I will hit you back even if I have to
do so in a way that does me no good. I will commit myself to hitting you, regardless
of its effect on my situation, to stop you from hitting me first.”
This paper is a narrow analysis of strategic concepts in a historical context, omitting
diplomatic and arms control considerations as well as several technical issues.
Throughout history, countries have faced dangers other than those posed by military
attack. And in a nuclear world, there are ways of protecting yourself other than
through your own nuclear deterrence.
ICBMs eventually became accurate enough that smaller nuclear weapons could be
used, but not so accurate that ballistic missiles without nuclear weapons could be a
More recently, however, technology driven by the computer revolution began to
create a new strategic situation for the great powers. This technology controlled a
warhead’s accuracy not by improving the precision of the missile’s launch, but by
guiding the missile’s warhead as it approached its target.
“Terminal guidance,” as this technology is known, can enable warheads to be
delivered over very long distances and to hit within meters of their aim-points. The
launch does not have to be perfectly accurate if the final trajectory of the warhead is
controlled by guidance that depends not on the initial trajectory of the missile but on
equipment on the warhead.
To survive, a country has to make sure that it is not attacked by weapons that kill a
large number of its citizens or that destroy so many critical pieces of infrastructure,
like power plants, that its economy will be ruined. Precision-guided missiles make it
possible to threaten decisive damage with a small number of non-nuclear weapons.
They can have a strategic effect, in other words, that is comparable in important
ways to that of nuclear weapons.
Terminal guidance technology (much of which is based on civilian technology) is
now beginning to spread among smaller powers, including some that have not
acquired nuclear weapons. Before now, few countries without nuclear weapons
bought or built medium-range missiles, because the warheads those missiles could
deliver were not destructive enough to justify the missiles’ cost. But even half a ton
of high explosive, if delivered accurately, can kill a lot of people or destroy a
That is, a precision-guided missile armed with a non-nuclear warhead can produce
enough damage to justify its cost. It is reasonable to expect, therefore, that over the
next twenty years or so, some smaller countries that do not possess medium-range
missiles might acquire such missiles with terminal guidance. The future might reveal
a world in which a number of countries – especially in the Middle East – are armed
with precision-guided missiles.
Now, many countries participate in the Missile Technology Control Regime (MTCR),
which stipulates that they neither produce nor help others produce any missile that
can deliver a half-ton payload over a distance beyond 300 km. Most countries seem
to be observing this limitation. But until recently, the ineffectiveness of non-nuclear
missiles meant that countries were not giving up anything useful by refraining from
building them. As precision guidance technology spreads, it is unclear whether as
many countries will continue to refrain from buying or building such weapons.
Up to now, the fundamental strategic situation was different for the great powers
versus the less advanced countries. The less advanced countries lived in the
traditional world in which they could only be militarily defeated by an enemy army
invading their territory and defeating their army. The countries threatened by
superpowers could have decisive damage inflicted on them by distant enemies
leaping over their armies.
But if terminal guidance technology spreads to more countries (and possibly to
terrorist groups), we will be living in a new world. Many governments will have to
recognize that countries all over
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