Arrow, Ofeq, Lavi

Moshe Arens
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Moshe Arens

The latest test of the Arrow anti-ballistic missile system, in which a Scud missile was intercepted off the coast of California, must have filled all Israelis with pride. It was a first-magnitude achievement for the engineers of Israel Aircraft Industries, an engineering feat that has yet to be equaled by any other country. It was a demonstration of the effectiveness of a system that in the years to come will be able to counter the plans of rogue regimes or terrorists to launch missiles from a distance at Israel or, for that matter, at any other target of their choice. They will now run the risk of being exposed without causing any damage.

Further development of the Arrow system will be needed: enhancing its ability to intercept missiles arriving at higher speeds, dealing with decoys, as well as countering multiple warheads and maneuvering re-entry vehicles. There is good reason to believe that the Arrow will stay ahead in this technological race and keep Israel safe in the years to come. Other countries concerned about a similar threat may be interested in acquiring the Arrow system.

Those close to the development of the Arrow were not surprised by the latest successful test. It was the last of a series of tests of the system, all of which have been successful. Based on the confidence in the system's effectiveness, the Arrow was declared operational some years ago and deployed in the field by the Israel Air Force. During last year's American military operation in Iraq, the Arrow systems were ready to defend the citizens of Israel against a Scud attack from Iraq. There was really no need to distribute gas masks to the population. They were already protected by the Arrow shield.

Strangely enough, the many years of development of the Arrow were accompanied by opposition at home. It was claimed that the goal set for the Arrow was too ambitious, and that it would not work; that the project was going to be exorbitantly expensive, and that the money could be better spent elsewhere; that anything less than an interception probability of 100 percent would still leave Israel open to a potential catastrophe; that the deployment of the Arrow system would indicate to Israel's enemies that Israel did not have confidence in its deterrent capability. And so on and so forth.

The most serious opposition came from the IDF that balked at allocating funds for the development of the system. Had it not been for President Reagan's Strategic Defense Initiative, which constituted the initial framework for the Arrow development and part of its funding, and the concept engineered by Dov Raviv, the head of IAI Malam, the project would never have gotten off the ground.

The other roadblock that had to be surmounted was the development of the early warning and fire-control radar. This was going to have to be paid for completely by Israeli funds. In my last act as Defense Minister before turning the Defense Ministry over to the late Yitzhak Rabin in June 1992, I signed - over the objections of the IDF - the purchase order for the development of the "Green Pine" radar at IAI Elta. The development of the radar, a great technological achievement based on technology that had been developed for the Lavi project, assured the success of the project.

The Arrow, the Ofeq reconnaissance satellite, and the Lavi fighter are the three great Israeli technological projects in the past 25 years. Ofeq, like the Arrow, is operational providing Israel with a continuous view from above of areas that are of interest for Israel's defense. This project too had to overcome hurdles of opposition at home before it could be completed. Again, the objection was raised that this was an unnecessary expenditure of funds. The head of IDF intelligence at the time insisted that there was no operational requirement for an Israeli reconnaissance satellite. If last-minute funding had not been obtained from foreign sources, this Israeli satellite would not have gotten into space.

The Lavi project, the pinnacle of U.S.-Israeli cooperation - the development funded by the U.S., a U.S. engine developed especially for this fighter, and U.S. industry given the green light to participate in the program - was shot down by the Israel Air Force with the aid of some politicians. Here again it was said that it was going to be far more expensive than projected, that it was too advanced, or, alternatively, not advanced enough, that there was better use for the money to be allocated, and so on and so forth. A one-vote majority was manipulated at a cabinet meeting, and Israel was denied what would have been the world's best fighter plane.

You might say two out of three is not bad. Three out of three would have been far better.