National Security

Israeli Rocket Engineer Dismissed for ‘Grave Breach of Information Security’

Headed successful development of Israel’s missile defense program

Israeli soldiers are seen near an Iron Dome battery near Jerusalem / AP

JERUSALEM—A rocket engineer who headed the successful development of Israel’s vaunted missile defense program has been dismissed for "a grave breach of information security," according to Israel’s Defense Ministry.

Reports in the Israeli media said that Yair Ramati was discovered to have stored classified material in his personal computer, which rendered the information vulnerable to hacking. There were no charges of criminal misconduct and the ministry’s announcement of Ramati’s dismissal also praised him for overseeing "unusual achievements, on a world scale, for active, multi-layered missile defenses." However, the ministry statement added that "going forward, the case will be handled by the relevant authorities."

Ramati, 61, was head of the Homa (Defensive Wall) Directorate, which has been responsible for developing a series of defensive missile systems aimed at protecting Israel from a variety of rocket and missile threats posed by hostile entities such as Hamas, Iran, and Hezbollah. Much of the funding comes from the United States government. The first of these systems, Iron Dome, has in recent years intercepted close to 90 percent of the rockets fired from the Gaza Strip whose trajectory endangered built-up areas in Israel. The system is able to ignore rockets heading for open space.

Within this past month, Ramati oversaw the successful testing of two other systems aimed at curbing longer range threats. On Dec. 10, he announced the first successful test of the Arrow 3 inter-continental ballistic missile, which is aimed at downing long-range missiles in space. Iran is developing such missiles. The new defense system will replace the Arrow 2, which is already operational and can intercept missiles within the atmosphere. Ramati won the government’s coveted Defense Prize in 2003 for his work as an engineer in developing the Arrow 2.

Two weeks ago, Ramati announced that the David’s Sling system, aimed at meeting threats between short-range rockets and long-range missiles, has successfully completed its testing stage. It will soon begin to be deployed by the Israeli Air Force, which is operationally responsible for the nation’s missile defenses.

The ministry’s announcement of Ramati’s sacking shocked colleagues, some of whom said the punishment was out of proportion to the offense and that Ramati’s skills were important to national defense. In the not distant past, the main strategic threat facing Israel were Arab armies whose tank forces and personnel far outnumbered Israel’s. The principal strategic threat today is rockets and missiles, which endanger Israel’s cities. The systems developed by the Homa Directorate, which has been under Ramati’s direction for the past four years, are aimed at coping with this threat.

The decision to sack Ramati was made by the Defense Ministry’s new security director, Nir Ben Moshe, whose staff is currently investigating whether Ramati’s security breach caused damage to national security. Two weeks ago, the army dismissed an artillery colonel who left classified documents in his car, which was stolen. The car and documents were soon recovered.