Israeli Official Urges Space-Based Weapons
By BARBARA OPALL-ROME
In a rare public discussion on Israel's military use of space, Yuval Steinitz, chairman of the Israel's Defense and Foreign Affairs Committee, said the nation must compensate for its lack of strategic depth on land by expanding use of sea- and space-based attacks.
Specifically, Steinitz urged defense and industry officials to consider future developments of anti-satellite missiles, satellite-attacking lasers and ship-based missiles "that can strike the skies."
" In Israel, our strategic Achilles' heel is our miniscule geographical size," Steinitz told a Dec. 22 symposium sponsored by the Israeli Space Society and the Fisher Institute for Strategic Air and Space Studies. "This lack of ground territory - and our obligation to defend the homeland from attack - drives the need to develop a strategic envelope of air, sea and space forces not only for defense, but for attack."
In his lecture, "Space and Israel's National Security," Steinitz outlined four worldwide trends in the militarization of space:
• Use of satellites
for intelligence and communications.
" We can draw many lessons from the evolution of air warfare," Steinitz said in an interview. "Just as the airplane evolved from an intelligence gathering platform to a self-protected precision attack system, so should the satellite - in the years ahead - be maximized for all kinds of missions."
Citing proposed space-based weaponry programs in the United States and elsewhere,
Steinitz said Israel must not ignore trends and technologies that can extend
the battlefield beyond the atmosphere.
And while Steinitz conceded that his exhortations for a militarized, tightly integrated sea, air and space force was merely "my personal vision, at this point," he said he would use his influential committee chairmanship to push for greater space-related funding. "What we're seeing today is just the beginning spark of a new kind of warfare that warrants a new kind of defense doctrine and organizational structure," Steinitz said.
In the long term, it should be possible to consider segregating the [Israel Defense
Forces] into two arms: the Ground Forces arm and the Envelope Forces, which I
envision as a combined sea, air and space arm that ensures strategic depth for
deterrence and defense," Steinitz said.
" The other side faces
a military handicap when compared to Israel, but it can use its borders to
try - through primitive means like Scud missiles, long-range
artillery and guerrilla tactics - to threaten Israeli territory. Israel cannot
allow itself to forsake its ground forces, but it also cannot permit itself
be dragged into a land war. Therefore, it is beneficial to push the war into
the air, sea and space."
" Sea and space assets don't require physical contact with the homeland, and so they are more efficient and survivable in the event of conventional war."
The committee chairman disparaged conventional wisdom that Israel no longer faces the threat of large conventional wars involving massive ground attacks.
" I have serious reservations about the doctrine mapped out tonight," David Ivry, former commander of the Israel Air Force, said in response to Steinitz' presentation.
Ivry, a former director-general of Israel's MoD who administered a significant portion of Israel's military space program in the 1980s and 1990s, warned against over-reliance on satellites, given Israel's spotty track record in successfully inserting spacecraft into orbit.
Alluding for the first time that Israel suffered more than the two publicly known launch failures - one involving the Ofeq-4 in 1998 and the other last September with the failed Ofeq-6 launch - Ivry said, "We've had more satellites on the ground than in space. . The failures of satellites over time were too frequent, and it will be very difficult to build support for reliance on space."
More than 150 nations, including Russia, China, Canada and members of the European Union, are pressing for a permanent ban on weapons in space that goes well beyond the 1967 Outer Space Treaty, which first codified "the peaceful use of outer space" and outlawed military bases or weapons of mass destruction in orbit. Annual attempts to update the treaty to include ASAT and other space-based weapons remain unsuccessful, largely due to opposition from the United States.
" Israel is one of the very few nations of the world that routinely abstains from voting for a resolution to ban weapons in space," noted Theresa Hitchens, vice president of the Washington-based Center for Defense Information, a public policy think tank.
" The assumption has always been that Israel did so to demonstrate political support for Washington ... But this news that serious people in Israel are seriously pushing for weaponizing space is highly disturbing, and shows that thinking in the United States is starting to corrupt the policies and doctrine of other space-faring nations," she said.