Antimissile Defense and the Air Force's Chutzpah

The IAF has always opposed the development of antimissile defense systems. It didn't want the Iron Dome, and even after the system was developed, the IAF stubbornly refused to deploy it.

The extent to which the Israel Defense Forces and the defense establishment are capable of manipulating the public is evident in the words of Col. Shahar Shohat. Shohat is the head of the air force's active defense wing. This wing was recently established as part of a structural and cosmetic change to adapt the Israel Air Force to the need to protect the home front - a need it hitherto treated with revulsion and disdain.

In a conference in Lod last week on antimissile defense, Shohat referred to the Iron Dome's interceptions of Grad missiles fired at Ashkelon and Be'er Sheva in April. He said the interceptions gave our political leaders room to maneuver that made it unnecessary for them to launch a new offensive in Gaza. Let's set aside the fact that it's problematic that army officers are publicly analyzing our political leaders' decision-making process. We're used to that.

But to hear an air force officer bragging about the Iron Dome - that's chutzpah. The IAF has always opposed the development of antimissile defense systems. It didn't want the Iron Dome, and even after the system was developed, the IAF didn't want to adopt it and stubbornly refused to deploy it. This opposition continued even after missiles were fired at Be'er Sheva. Does Shohat have to be reminded that had it not been for pressure applied by the public (and in all modesty, articles by this writer as well ), the system would not have been deployed at all, despite the missile attacks?

The IAF is not alone in this behavior. It receives support from the IDF and the Defense Ministry. Israel is not a country with an army and an air force. It seems that in Israel the IAF and the Defense Ministry are tails wagging the dog.

It's no surprise that in such a situation senior officers and Defense Ministry officials throw sand in the public's eyes, conceal information and convey a sense that they're the only ones who count. It's not only their attitude toward the Iron Dome. It's also happening, perhaps even to a greater extent, in their attitude toward the development of the Arrow 3 for intercepting ballistic missiles like the Scud and the Shihab.

Out of disdain for public opinion, defense officials are refusing to disclose details about the Arrow's performance, claiming that it's a state secret. And they're avoiding the question of whether it will really be capable of intercepting Iranian missiles. Claiming that this is a state secret did not prevent them from revealing details on the Arrow, including drawings, when their patent was registered in the United States in October 2008.

For over a decade the heads of the Defense Ministry's Homa administration (which is in charge of developing the Arrow in cooperation with the United States ) - Uzi Rubin and Aryeh Herzog - said the Arrow 2 would provide a solution not only to Scuds with a range of 500 to 600 kilometers, but also to the Shihab, with a range of 1,200 kilometers. These statements were not true, to put it mildly. The fact is, the defense establishment needs to develop a new model, the Arrow 3, do deal with the threat of the Shihab. There is no certainty that the Arrow will be able to deal with the Shihab 3, whose range is 1,900 kilometers. Perhaps it is even probable that it will be unable to do so. In the United States the Arrow 3 initiative is described as "high risk."

Maybe we can console ourselves with the fact that while we have the feeling that the defense establishment is bluffing the public, another bluff is going on - the Iranian one. Iran is creating an illusion about its missiles' marvelous capabilities, and Israel is reacting by glorifying the interception capability of its antimissile systems.