Defense Secretary Gates does an about face on missile defense

US Defense Secretary Robert Gates reported to a Senate hearing on Thursday, June 17th that the US had overhauled its missile defense plans following intelligence that Iran could fire “scores or hundreds” of missiles against Europe -in salvoes- rather than one or two at a time.

While referring to NATO allies, Gates did not mention Israel, which is located still closer to those missiles and far more prey to the devastation promised by Tehran.

The new US program, designed to protect NATO allies in the region against short- and medium-range missiles, uses sea and land-based interceptors. DEBKAfile’s military sources confirm that in addition to the thousands of ballistic missiles inIran’s arsenal, there are certainly many hundred that could be fired in salvoes.

Gates’s new evaluation breaks away sharply from the propositions American military chiefs have been advancing in their strategic deliberations with Gulf and Israeli leaders. Until now, they made a point of playing down the missile menace posed from Iran claiming that it consisted of no more than a few score ballistic missiles and far less launchers.

The new intelligence assessment Gates now unveils means that the balance of strength has dramatically shifted in favor of Iran and against Israel.

When the “scores or hundreds” of Iranian missiles are topped up by 800 Scud Ds, which Syria managed in the last two months to position close to the Lebanese border and the 1,000 Iranian and Syrian medium-range missiles transferred to Hizballah in Lebanon, Israel is confronted with an daunting array of 3,000 missiles capable of striking every corner of the country.

DEBKAfile’s military sources, which have published these figures more than once in recent months, ask why it was left to the US defense secretary to lay the facts out on the table – and why now?

True, Republican Senator Saxby Chambliss asked Gates if he supported deploying missile defenses including plans for an upgraded SM-3 missile by 2020 in Europe – even if Russia objected. He answered in the affirmative. But he must also have had at the back of his mind the heightened US military preparations taking place in the Middle East and Mediterranean – apparently in readiness for the type of Iranian missile salvo he mentioned.

After all, Iran has not so far reacted to the new sanctions for its nuclear program imposed first by the UN Security Council, then the United States and Europe. Washington takes it for granted that the new penalties will not go by without some sort of reprisal from Tehran. DEBKA

Eleven US warships, one Israeli vessel transit Suez Canal to Persian Gulf