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FEATURE ARTICLE  

Israel’s Transportation Chief Sounds Alarms on Regional Threats 

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by Elizabeth Book 

All efforts to stop the transfer of technology from Russia and North Korea to Iran have failed,” said Gen. Ephraim Sneh, Israel’s new minister of transportation. “What we have to do is see beyond the horizon—heed the warnings from the United States and other allied countries—about missile and enemy activities,” he said.

Addressing the threats of terrorism and the development of chemical, biological, nuclear and ballistic missiles by Iran and Iraq is top priority for the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF), according to Sneh, who, in former Prime Minister Ehud Barak’s administration, served as deputy minister of defense. Sneh, originally trained as a medical doctor, has been in the Knesset as a member of the Labor Party since 1992. He spoke at the American Israel Public Affairs Committee conference in Washington, D.C.

Several concerns complicate Israel’s defense posture in the Middle East region, said Sneh. First, the guerilla war occurring in the West Bank and Gaza is a low-intensity conflict where individuals frequently aim to carry out “spectacular terrorist operations,” he said. Additional defense personnel are needed in this area to protect the 200,000 Israeli’s who commute from the West Bank and Gaza, and to protect isolated settlements, he said. However, “We need to have even better shielding for both the soldiers and the settlers,” he said, so reserve military service will soon be increased. “The price tag of this operation is $250 million,” he said.

Additionally, there is the danger of resumption of terrorist activities resuming on the northern Lebanese border. “There is a potential for penetration of the Lebanese border from the Hebron mountains all the way to the sea,” Sneh said. He said that Lebanon’s weapons have been procured from Iran, and warned that “some of the weapons in Lebanon’s arsenal are state-of-the-art.” Sneh explained that Iran has deployed missiles in Southern Lebanon which are targeted at both small settlements and larger Israeli cities. “These missiles have a longer range than ever before,” he said. “These are like the Soviet missiles deployed in Cuba in 1962.”

The reality is that Israel is behind other Arab countries in its modernization efforts, said Sneh. “Most of our logistics were procured in 1975 or 1976. The equipment is not rusty, but it is aged,” Sneh said. Sneh noted that the Israeli Air Force still flies the F-4 Phantom, a Vietnam War-era aircraft.

Another concern is Iraq’s and Iran’s fast-moving development of nuclear and ballistic missile weapons of mass destruction aimed at Israel, he explained. “Currently, Iran’s weapons have the range of 800 miles. In five years, they will have a 3,000-mile range.”

Since Israel depends on the United States for foreign assistance for defense operations, the Israeli government supports programs of mutual interest such as missile defense. Sneh noted that the Arrow anti-tactical ballistic missile system “must be upgraded and there must be more units produced. The U.S. and Israel must continue to work on it together and export it together,” he said. Because Israel’s defense shield has been developed and produced in the U.S., most of America’s foreign assistance dollars to Israel are spent in this country, Sneh said.

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