An Alibi for the Arrow

If the Arrow system is so effective and successful, why should we be asking for information on U.S. systems?

The good news, which is being strongly denied, is that the defense establishment is beginning to doubt the anticipated effectiveness of the Arrow anti-ballistic missile system. The bad news is that in addition to the continued investment of large sums in the Arrow, we will now also have to pay for the procurement of an American-made missile defense system.

Sources at Homa, which is in charge of the entire anti-tactical ballistic missile project, claim that they have full confidence in the Arrow system. They say that they contacted the Americans, to receive information on their defense systems, in an effort to advance the possibility of "operational synergy" between the Israeli and American defense systems, if and when the Americans decide to deploy these in Israel. This is a slightly strange claim, because the U.S. systems have been in development for a decade and to date the Americans had not been asked to transfer any information on their performance to Israel.

As far as it is publicly known, the subject of missile defense was not probed in any of the dozens of in-house investigations carried out regarding the recent war in Lebanon by teams appointed by the chief of staff. Even though at the start of the war, the Israel Defense Forces, with a great deal of media fanfare, deployed the Arrow system in Safed and Haifa, not a single actual attempt to intercept Hezbollah missiles was made. Since the war, no one has asked any member of the senior IDF command why no effort was made to intercept the missiles fired at Haifa and Hadera. Incidentally, the answer is obvious: The Arrow system is unable to counter these missiles effectively - a well-known fact in the air force, which is responsible for the system's operation. Nonetheless, the missiles and their launchers were driven to Safed, accompanied by television cameras, in an effort to give the public a misleading sense of security.

If the Arrow is ineffective against the threats from the north (the system, its developers admit, is also unable to shoot down Syria's SS-21 missiles, whose extreme accuracy makes them a serious threat), and the Iraqi ballistic missile threat no longer exists - what do we need it for? The answer of the IDF and the defense establishment is that the Arrow is intended to intercept Iran's nuclear-tipped ballistic missiles, if these come into use. Indeed, this is a worthy goal, since the nuclear threat is an existential one.

The problem, however, is that the nuclear ballistic threat cannot be dealt with using a missile defense system. In order to successfully stave off an Iranian nuclear threat, it is necessary to intercept all Iranian missiles fired against Israel, because the price of a single nuclear missile striking the Dan region, for example, is unacceptable from this country's point of view. However, even at its best, the Arrow system will still not be able to seal the skies, and some nuclear-tipped missiles will penetrate the defense screen.

In the absence of professional public discourse outside the defense establishment, this strategic issue is not being discussed. Within that establishment, they completely ignore the need to offer a solution to the fundamental strategic failure of the policy they offer to counter nuclear ballistic missiles. Just as the IDF is not being asked to explain why it failed to intercept Hezbollah missiles, it is also relieved of its obligation to explain its flawed preparations in retaliating against Iran's missiles.

And this brings us back to the interest expressed by the defense establishment in the American missile defense systems, because if the Arrow system is so effective and successful, why should we be asking for information on U.S. systems? Do we not trust the ability of the Arrow to counter, on its own, the Iranian threat, and do we need American assistance at the moment of truth? This is no more than an attempt by those responsible for defending Israel against the Iranian ballistic threat to prepare an alibi in case the Arrow, as is expected, is unable to strike back at the Iranian threat with the necessary effectiveness. If American systems are also deployed here and they also, as is expected, fail in the task, then it will be impossible to complain to the IDF. After all, even the Americans are not successful! The problem is, of course, that if it is necessary to use this alibi, it will be only after we have paid the unbearable price of a nuclear strike.

If indeed the defense establishment is only seeking data on the performance of the U.S. systems, and there is no intention to share with the Americans the responsibility for failing to intercept Iranian missiles, the chances that the Americans will respond to our request are low, since data on the performance of U.S. anti-ballistic missile systems is classified.

By the way, one of the American systems that is being talked about is the Theater High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD), which will only be operational in 2012. Of course it may be that all that is being said at the top is only an assessment, and that those responsible for our defense against Iranian missiles have full confidence in the Arrow. Nonetheless, if indeed the state comptroller intends to investigate the decision-making process with respect to the Arrow project, it is worthwhile for him to ask why all of a sudden the IDF and the defense establishment are interested in the deployment of U.S. missile defense systems in Israel.