Defense Ministry inks deal with Israeli firm for new precision rockets

Surface-to-surface missile system more exact than artillery fire and ostensibly safer than aerial attacks, which can require planes to enter enemy territory

Jacob Magid is The Times of Israel's US correspondent based in New York

Advanced rocket purchased by the Defense Ministry on August 27, 2018. (Israel Military Industries)
Advanced rocket purchased by the Defense Ministry on August 27, 2018. (Israel Military Industries)

The Defense Ministry announced Monday that it had purchased a vast network of surface-to-surface precision missiles, for an undisclosed sum, and is reportedly seeking longer-range arms that can target the whole region.

The ministry said Israel Military Industries will supply the IDF with rockets that can hit targets between 30 kilometers and 150 kilometers away (18 to 93 miles).

The ministry said only that the deal is worth “hundreds of millions of shekels.”

“This precision firepower significantly improves the IDF’s capabilities and enables precise impact on remote launch, immediate availability and low mission cost compared to other combat systems,” the Defense Ministry said in a statement.

“We are acquiring and developing precision fire systems that will enable the IDF… within a few years to cover any point in the region,” added Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman.

This planned missile corps is believed to act as the offensive counter to the Lebanese Hezbollah terror group’s own huge arsenal of more than 100,000 short- and medium-range rockets.

It will allow Israel to fire at Hezbollah targets from its own territory using a system more precise than artillery fire and ostensibly safer than aerial attacks which often place pilots and planes in enemy territory.

Spokespeople for both the Defense Ministry and IMI declined to disclose the exact price of the rocket system as well as further details on its capabilities.

However, Hadashot news reported that among the missiles purchased were  multiple launch rocket systems, or MLRS, which will be able to reach targets 40 kilometers (25 miles) away. These rockets have warheads that contain 20 kilograms (44 pounds) of explosives and are guided by GPS. The system can fire 18 rockets per minute.

The Defense Ministry is also interested in purchasing a number of other models from IMI, including Extended Range Artillery — or EXTRA. EXTRA missiles have a maximum range of 150 kilometers (93 miles) and can carry a 120-kilogram (265-pound) warhead, according to IMI. They cost $300,000 per rocket.

Another model being considered is the Predator Hawk, a tactical ballistic missile with a range of 300 kilometers (186 miles), which would cover all of Lebanon.

The notion of forming such an arsenal of ground-based missiles and a dedicated corps responsible for it has been bandied about in the IDF General Staff for years, but ultimately these types of missiles have remained in limited use and under the purview of the air force, which also reportedly operates long-range varieties, like the Jericho.

According to a January report in Yedioth Ahronoth, Liberman met with senior IDF officers and, following a short discussion, ended years of consideration with a decision to form the array, pledging a starting budget of some half a billion shekels, with the potential for far more in the coming years.

Judah Ari Gross contributed to this report.

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