President Bush's repeated announcements that the U.S. campaign in Afghanistan was just the beginning of America's war against terrorism, and his recent pointing at Iraq as part of an "axis of evil", raises the possibility that he may be contemplating action to unseat Iraq's dictator Saddam Hussein. It is generally assumed that Saddam Hussein is in possession of some Scud missiles and chemical and biological warheads.
Some Israeli intelligence officers are of the opinion that if Saddam Hussein were to find himself cornered by an American attack, he would in desperation launch these weapons against Israel. Are we in for a repeat of the scenario we experienced 11 years ago during the Gulf War when Iraqi Scud missiles fell on Israel's cities? Only this time the Scud warheads would more likely be of the non-conventional kind.
There is world of difference between Israel's position then and now. An American move against Iraq is not likely to be backed by a coalition including Arab countries as was the case in 1991, and there will therefore be no reason to fear that an Israeli response to Iraqi missiles falling on Israel might fracture the coalition. This time Israel is not likely to assume the position of a "sitting duck," and its response, if attacked, is likely to be swift and effective.
But the major difference between then and now is the Arrow anti-ballistic missile defense system. Developed by Israel Aircraft Industries, this system is capable of intercepting Scud missiles and is already operationally deployed. It is the only weapons system with that capability in the world at the present time. Protests by residents of the Ein Shemer area to the Supreme Court have delayed the deployment of the second Arrow battery. Hopefully, these legal obstacles will be removed before a crisis arises. Once the second Arrow battery is deployed, all the cities and villages of Israel in range of Scud missiles from western Iraq will be covered by the umbrella of the Arrow system.
The effectiveness of the Arrow system lies not only in its ability to intercept Scud missiles approaching Israel and to neutralize their warheads with a high degree of probability. Beyond that, the Arrow presents to Saddam Husseim a dilemma when he considers launching Scuds with non-conventional warheads against Israel. He will have to contemplate the probability that his attempt to wreak destruction on Israel will be simultaneously neutralized and exposed. Swift punishment is bound to follow.
Israel's safety has been significantly enhanced by the Arrow system. Where are the vociferous opponents of the system today? They, who insisted that its development was a waste of money. Who claimed that the development of the Arrow would be interpreted by our enemies as a vote of non-confidence in our deterrent capability, and therefore encourage an attack on Israel. Who claimed that regardless of the probability of intercept it would be insufficient because there would always remain some probability of penetration. Who predicted that in the future our enemies would develop maneuvering warheads and decoys to outwit the Arrow interceptor.
All these simplistic specious arguments disintegrate to nothing in face of the reality that Israel faces these days and the Arrow's contribution to Israel's safety. The indications that other countries that feel threatened by ballistic missiles are considering the purchase of the Arrow is further proof of the great success of the system.
It should come as no surprise that those who opposed the development of the Arrow system are the very same people who fought against the development of the Lavi and Israel's reconnaissance satellite. The same narrow-minded and baseless arguments were advanced: They would not work, they were not needed if they did work, and in any case they were going to bankrupt the country. Nobody regrets the existence of Israel's reconnaissance satellite today. Nobody should regret the existence of the Arrow system today. Everybody should regret the unfortunate decision to cancel the Lavi project. As is so often the case, those responsible for that mistaken decision need to give no account for their error that has cost the country so dearly. They just go on making other mistakes.
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