JERUSALEM–At least five times in the past week in Gaza, Israeli tanks equipped with a revolutionary defense system have deflected anti-tank missiles fired at them by Hamas fighters, according to the Israeli army.
The success of the Windbreaker system, as it is called in Israel, augments on the ground the technological achievement in the air of the Iron Dome anti-rocket defense system which Israel credits with neutralizing the intensive rocketing from Gaza of the past two weeks.
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An urgent need for yet another technological breakthrough—this one underground—emerged last week when Israeli troops entering the Gaza Strip uncovered dozens of attack tunnels leading to, or under, the border fence separating Gaza from Israel. Even Israeli security personnel who were aware of the existence of tunnels were astonished at their numbers, their proximity (in one case, only 200 yards from a kibbutz), and their sophistication, with ventilation, lighting, and communication systems.
Israelis living near Gaza are demanding assurances from the government that Hamas commandos will not be able to emerge in the future from under the ground in their back yard. Officials say that no technology exists at present to detect the excavation, or existence, of tunnels at the depth Hamas is digging them—more than 60 feet below the surface. The only action that can be taken now is the destruction of existing tunnels, which the army is currently carrying out. New tunnels would take a year or two to build.
Intensive research, much of it top secret, is already underway in Israel to find a technological solution. One proposal was publicly aired this week by Haim Siboni, founder of Magna BSP, which he describes as "a security provider company, which specializes in automatic detection systems". Siboni told Globes, an Israeli business newspaper, that existing technology, with some software and hardware adjustments, could provide the answer.
He proposed that Israel dig a 45-mile-long tunnel—the length of the border with Gaza—on the Israeli side of the line, and install in it every half mile an underground radar station, at a cost of $150,000 for each site. "It would provide real-time alerts of any tunnel, whether above or below," he says. "The army will know exactly where the attack tunnel is, how many people are in it, and can monitor the progress of digging."
Officials, who presumably are aware of Siboni’s proposal, say that research is continuing.
The Windbreaker system (known abroad as Trophy), which became operational in 2009, has since been successfully tested by live fire twice when Israeli tank patrols on the periphery of Gaza were fired on two years ago. The current Gaza campaign is the first time the system is being tested in a face-to-face war against advanced Russian anti-tank rockets. In the 2006 Lebanon War against Hezbollah, missiles penetrated 22 Israeli tanks, destroying several.
Installed on Israel’s most-advanced tank, the Merkava IV, the system’s sensors instantly identify a rocket or RPG heading toward it. Without intervention of the crew, the system fires pellets that detonate the rocket at a safe distance from the tank. It also informs the crew of the location from which the incoming rocket was launched, permitting counter-fire.
The system has also been mounted on Israel’s more advanced personnel carriers built on the frame of the Merkava IV. Unfortunately for the Israelis, an older personnel carrier was hit and destroyed last week in Gaza, killing the seven infantrymen inside.
The video below shows the Windbreaker system detonating a Hamas anti-tank missile before it reaches its target.