The congratulations offered by an American officer involved in the Pentagon's anti-ballistic missile (ABM) programs was for the technology display off the coast of California. But the implications of the successful test of the Arrow ABM for the IDF are strategic: it means greater ability to accurately intercept attacking missiles, and less pressure on decision makers, allowing them to take risks for peace and war.
The Americans brought to the test the target ballistic missile, the facilities for the launch and the interception, and of course the funding - about $10 million. The Israelis brought themselves, the Arrow missiles, the Green Pine radar, and lots of hope.
For those behind the Arrow system luck was not a factor in yesterday's test. The success was the result of many years of investment of talent, resources and hard work. The Scud-B surface-to-surface missile of Russian origin, an evolution of the German V-2 of World War II vintage, threatened Israel for the first time in 1973 from Egypt. Its deployment there, under Soviet control, offered Anwar Sadat the feeling that a balance was achieved versus the Israel Air Force.
After the war the Egyptians provided the North Koreans with Scud-B missiles in exchange for fighter pilots who assisted the Egyptian Air Force during the war in October 1973.
On the basis of the Soviet missile it received from Egypt, North Korea developed the missiles that made their way to Iraq. As a counter to Saddam Hussein's Iraq, Syria and Libya provided Iran with similar missiles, which Tehran named Shehab-1. The different versions of the Scud-B were at the crux of the exchange that targeted the two capitals, Baghdad and Tehran, which brought an end to the eight-year bloodshed and showed that there is no effective defense against surface-to-surface ballistic missiles fired against large, civilian targets.
Saddam Hussein absorbed this lesson and proceeded to adapt the Scud-C, missiles with more than double the range, in order to target Israel, Turkey, Kuwait and Saudi Arabia, in addition to American targets in the region.
The project, Homa (Wall), was meant to seek a local answer to this threat - be it from Iraq, Iran, Syria (still equipped with Scud-B and other missiles, capable of carrying unconventional warheads), Libya, and pro-Western countries whose regimes may collapse and pose a threat to Israel, such as Egypt and Saudi Arabia.
A dozen years later, the threat of Scuds from Iraq came to an end with the American offensive that brought Saddam and his regime down, but has not dissolved the remaining threats.
When asked yesterday about the planning for the test and its relation to the realities of a surprise attack, one of the directors of the Arrow project was adamant in his response. "In theater," he said, "a good show is exciting every time anew, even if it has been preceded by rehearsals and shows." He meant that the test was planned to simulate a realistic attack and the operators of the system had no warning of the launch of the offensive missile.
The critics of the Arrow will continue to argue that the financial investment is not justified and that it shifts the center of gravity in Israel's security doctrine away from offense and on to defense. The budgetary issue is worth discussing, but the events of recent years suggest that a country that bases its strength solely on its offensive capabilities is exposed to those who refuse to play by the rules of its own logic, such as Saddam in 1991 and the suicide terrorists since 2000. Exposing a civilian population on the basis of the assumption that the enemy will be deterred by a response to a missile or terrorist attack is not responsible policy.
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