Lt. Gen. Benny Gantz, Israel Defense Forces chief of staff, scans the Syrian border May 21, one day after Israel fired a Tammuz missile in response to Syrian fire across the Golan Heights frontier. (Israel Defense Forces)
MAJDEL SHAMS, ISRAELI-ANNEXED GOLAN HEIGHTS — Beyond the berms and barbed wire of Israel’s reinforced border with civil war-wracked Syria is an imperceptible but formidable sensor-fused network that detects and targets sources of fire across the Golan Heights frontier.
Activated under an operational concept known here as See-Shoot, the network processes and streams data from multiple sensors within seconds to forward-deployed tanks, artillery and Tammuz, Israel’s precision weapon of choice along the tripwire transforming this once tranquil border. An expanded version of the See-Shoot concept used for nearly a decade along its southern border with Gaza, the northern-deployed network constitutes Israel’s response to increasingly frequent cross-border fire from troops loyal to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad as well as rebel forces battling the flailing regime.
Elements of the system have been tested and honed at least seven times over the past year when Israel responded to mortar and heavy machine gun fire into its territory, sources here said. But it was only last week that the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) publicly credited the sensor-to-shooter network for the early morning May 20 precision strike that destroyed a Syrian Army gunner’s position in Beer Ajam.
Speaking at an international conference just hours after Israel’s response to Syrian fire directed at IDF patrols, Maj. Gen. Uzi Moscovitch, commander of the military’s C4I division, said the network was proving “super significant” for so-called closed loop, sensor-to-shooter operations.
“The exchange of fire last night in the Golan Heights was performed by IDF systems operating under the See-Shoot concept,” Moscovitch told participants at an Israel defense conference on command, control, communications, computers, cyber and intelligence.
The concept, he said, allows shooters in the field to act instantaneously on “huge quantities of quality information” flowing through the network.
Moscovitch did not provide additional detail, but an Israeli Army officer and industry sources said the Rafael-developed Tammuz — a non-line-of-sight (NLOS) version of the company’s Spike anti-tank missile — has become the “shooter of choice” against Syrian fire into Israeli territory.
Operated by Israel’s Artillery Corps, the canister-contained round has a dual-mode, electro-optical, day-night seeker for precision strikes against targets up to 25 kilometers away. Connected to the Elbit Systems-developed digital Army network through a specialized Artillery Corps link known here as Hot Transmission, also by Elbit, Tammuz enables “one-shot, one-kill” destruction of targets at standoff ranges, sources here said.
“Operational activity at the Syrian border has shown us that this is the most appropriate weapon. You don’t make mistakes and hurt civilians … I don’t think there is a better, more measured response to these provocations,” said the Army officer, a brigadier general, of the Syrian cross-border fire.
Named after the 10th month of the Hebrew calendar, Tammuz made its operational debut in Gaza in 2005, was used extensively in the 2006 Lebanon war, but only recently was fully integrated into the IDF’s digital network.
The system was declassified in August 2011, and Rafael is offering ground-, air- and sea-launched versions for export under the marketing name Spike NLOS.
No Dog in This Fight
Israeli military and political leaders insist they have no interest in interfering in the ongoing bloodshed in Syria, which has claimed upwards of 80,000 lives. But Israel is committed to responding to cross-border fire, whether intentional or accidental, from rebel and regime forces alike. Here in these strategic highlands captured from Syria in 1967 and annexed as sovereign Israeli territory in 1981, the IDF’s See-Shoot concept does not distinguish Assad loyalists and their Iranian and Lebanese Shiite supporters from moderate Sunnis, extreme Salafists and Iraqi-trained al-Qaida forces that constitute the Syrian opposition.
“Syria today has become a theater of multiple players ... we are not interested in interfering one way or another, not on behalf of the Satan we know, etc., etc., or anyone else,” Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon said in reference to erroneous press reports that Israel favored the familiar Assad regime over more extreme opposition elements that may take its place.
“Assad is losing Syria. Even if he is projecting confidence, it has no basis in reality,” Ya’alon said in a May 22 address to Israel’s Fisher Institute of Strategic Air and Space Studies, noting the Syrian civil war could continue for years. “Therefore, we need to be prepared for multiple scenarios … and we set a few rules that we will not hesitate to enforce.”
He was referring to Israel’s zero-tolerance policy against Syrian fire into Israeli territory as well as Israel’s commitment to preventing Assad’s chemical arsenal and advanced weaponry from falling into the hands of Hezbollah or other terror groups.
In an indirect reference to air strikes earlier this month attributed to Israel, Yuval Steinitz, Israel’s minister for strategic affairs, said the government’s policy of nonintervention in the Syrian civil war does not conflict with the obligation to pre-empt critical threats.
“This is an appropriate policy, even if we are obligated to prevent quality, game-changing weapons from leaking out,” Steinitz told Israel defense conference participants May 21.
To discourage Assad from retaliation, Israel never claimed responsibility for three airstrikes this year against high-value, Syrian-based weaponry suspected of being transferred to Hezbollah.
Nevertheless, a surprise attack from Syria is one of the scenarios Israel is preparing for, said Maj. Gen. Amir Eshel, commander of the Israel Air Force. Addressing the Fisher Institute on May 22, Eshel said Syria’s array of surface-to-air missile systems, including the Russian S-300, which is not yet deployed but “on its way” to Syria, pose considerable challenges for Israeli air power.
“If Syria collapses tomorrow, we will need to take action to prevent a strategic leaking of advanced weaponry,” Eshel said. “And if we want to prevail within a few days, we’ll need to use a lot of firepower, and quickly.”