The threat posed by a missile attack on Israel is not as terrible as people think, according to Haim Rosenberg, the former head of long-term planning at Rafael Advanced Defense Systems Ltd.

In a paper published by the BESA Center at Bar Ilan University, Rosenberg explains that at this time, missile attacks by Muslim countries would only be able to inflict limited physical damage on Israel. He further argues that it would be a mistake to prepare mostly for missile strikes, when a future war could also involve ground attacks.

"Recent discussions around a preemptive strike on Iran have included the possible repercussions of such a move, namely missile attacks on Israel," he writes. "The threat of ballistic missile warfare is perceived as a paradigm shift capable of radically altering modern warfare. Those who believe that Middle East battlefields of the future will primarily consist of missile attacks upon Israeli cities therefore argue that Israel must prepare itself for such a situation."

He explains, however, that "no war in which missiles were employed – from the Iran-Iraq War to the Second Lebanon War – has ever been won without the additional use of maneuvering ground forces. In other words, the use of missiles has never been a deciding factor in any armed conflict."

Missiles have limitations on accuracy that prevent them from becoming a decisive weapon, argues Rosenberg. While missiles like the Russian SS-26 are extremely accurate, no Arab country possesses them. "A bird's-eye view of any town will show that due to public areas and numerous spaces between buildings, only a fraction of any area is in fact occupied by buildings," he says. "It is therefore likely that an attack by dozens of missiles will only cause a small number of direct hits and result in a relatively small number of casualties."

However, the psychological impact of such an attack would be quite significant, he admits. In addition, a direct hit to a facility containing hazardous materials could "extremely high" damage.