When a war broke out between Israel and Hezbollah in South Lebanon in the summer of 2006, war fever in the America press reached frightening levels. For a few weeks, there seemed a very real threat that this frenzy would push America into war with Hezbollah's supporter Iran.
So, that month I spent a lot of time writing about how ridiculous this all was, how it's not 1938 again, how the Middle East is less a powder keg than a powder thimble, how America has roughly half the defense spending in the world, how Iran barely has an air force, how war is decliningly profitable, etc etc. In the indirect way my writing works, I may have helped deflate that dangerous war bubble.
This time around, fortunately, there doesn't seem to be as much media mania in the U.S.
I wonder why?
Perhaps it's just the even more extreme one-sidedness of the conflict; or the lack of a credible Muslim sponsor country for the enthusiasts to demand that America bomb; or the sense of deja-vu, the feeling that this is just depressing and boring business as usual. Weirdly, I have a vague hunch that the lack of insanity in the press is in some way connected to Bernie Madoff, ridiculous as that sounds.
All that said, Gaza is an important worst case stress test of the advantages of separatism. The Israelis built a fairly effective fence around Gaza that more or less prevents suicide bombers from getting into Israel. They've removed the Israeli settlers from Gaza. Now, their main problem is Gazans lobbing explosives over the fence into Israel. It's in everybody's interest to help them come up with an effective solution for that.
We know that the long term solution is, in the words of newspaper magnate Lord Copper in Waugh's Scoop, "the Beast stands for strong, mutually-antagonistic governments everywhere." Nobody in Jordan or Syria shoots stuff at Israel anymore because the governments of Jordan and Syria know that the Israelis will come and break the government's shiny war weapons, so the governments keep their hotheads under control. I'm not sure how they do it, and I'm not sure I want to know. But, they do it.
Unfortunately, that's a long way off in the case of Gaza, the West Bank, and Lebanon. The problem is that the political process by which strong governments will eventually emerge in these lands will no doubt be through a long struggle with Israel in which various bravos demonstrate their courage and patriotic bona fides by attacking Israel, bringing about Israeli reprisals, which in turn stoke anti-Israeli fanaticism, etc.. Presumably, somebody will eventually come out so securely on top that he can then call it off and start living above ground again, but that could be a long, long way off.
So, I've been trying to think of a technical solution to the problem of people in the Gaza Strip shooting locally-made unguided missiles at Israeli towns nearby. From 2001 through 2008, 15 people have killed by Qassam rockets fired from Gaza.
This has not been a gigantic problem so far for Israelis, in part because most of the missiles are so short range that they can only reach a single Israeli town, which the government of Israel has been fortifying. The Israelis have the technology to track a rocket back to its launch site and place an explosive on that spot within a few minutes. This means that the Palestinians typically shoot and scoot, which in turn means that they can't calibrate their fire. With unguided high trajectory weapons, such as mortars, artillery, and the Gazans' rockets, to actually hit your target, you need to stay in one place and, taking guidance from forward observers, fire again and again, methodically walking the impacts up to the target. But the Gazans are terrified of dying from Israeli counter-fire, so they prop up their missile in an orchard, point it in the general direction of that Israeli town, and drive away. So, their accuracy doesn't improve.
If the Gazans were to get a guided missiles (with longer ranges), this could prove to be a much larger problem for Israel. On the other handed, those are expensive, and the Gaza Strip doesn't currently have the industrial base to make them so they'd have to be imported. But Israel's fear of Palestinians importing better missiles encourages Israel to keep a clampdown on Gaza imports, with much economic pain inflicted, which just encourages Gazans to fire missiles at Israel.
So, an effective Israel anti-missile defense system would be beneficial.
Israel intends to implement by 2010 in the Gaza neighborhood the "Iron Dome" anti-missile missile, but there are some drawbacks. First, it won't be able to protect the Israeli town closest to the border, since it takes 15 seconds to get launched and the total flight time to that local target is less than that. Second, each Iron Dome anti-missile missile costs about $100,000, so it's an expensive solution to use against home-made rockets.
I've long wondered if guns wouldn't be more cost-effective anti-missile weapons than missiles. The usual advantage of a rocket is that it continues to accelerate after launch, allowing it to achieve higher ultimate speeds, whereas a gun's projectile achieves its maximum speed as it leaves the barrel and subsequently declines. When you need very rapid response, however, perhaps guns are the better technology, perhaps combined with some sort of guidance system for the projectile? One downside of guns is that they tend to have high fixed costs, while missiles have high variable costs, but this kind of chronic situation seems ideal for a few fixed high-tech guns. Also, in the Gaza area, they could be aimed so that their projectiles that miss could come down in the sea harmlessly.
Anyway, I don't know whether current gunpowder guns would work at all, or whether this kind of anti-missile gun defense would be dependent on the final development of a practical railgun, which was one of those war-winning wonder weapons the Germans tinkered with way back in WWII instead of developing a tank with the cost-quality effectiveness of the Russian T-34.
However, there's another old defensive technology that might be updatable with modern electronics to be even an better solution: barrage balloons. During the Blitz in 1940, the British launched 1,400 balloons anchored by heavy cables to damage German airplanes flying under 5,000 feet who collided with their metal cables. They were modestly effective against the plague of V1 buzz bomb cruise missiles that Germans fired at London later in the war, destroying 231 of them. The Germans, however, cleverly built wire cutters into the wings of the V1.
My thought is that high-tech barrage balloons could defend Israeli towns against missiles in a different way than simply relying upon impact with the cable (a method that assumes the flying attacker has wings, which missiles don't). Instead, they could be used to pre-position anti-missile shrapnel charges at various altitudes. As a missile from Gaza is launched, Israeli radar could choose which of the floating charges to detonate.