California Dreaming

Maybe not every Arrow will knock down every Scud, but the person launching the Scud can't be sure of that.

The primordial fear that eventually gave birth to the anti-missile missile that killed a Scud northwest of Los Angeles last week is documented by a small plaque near Dizengoff Center in Tel Aviv. It is a list of 130 residents, including seven Arabs and four unknown people, including one in an Australian army uniform, who were victims of an aerial raid on September 9, 1940. The planes came suddenly out of the west, flying up Bograshov St. from the beach strafing and bombing innocent civilians who had nothing to do with the Israeli-Arab conflict. They were Italian planes, sent as part of the Axis Mediterranean campaign against Britain.

Bombing populations to spread fear and undermine the regime's ability to conduct a war effort was one of the tangible results of the theories of Giulio Douhet, the Italian considered the prophet of air power. Douhet is one of the three heroes of Israel Air Force commander Eliezer Shekady. A second is Bill Mitchell, an American contemporary of Douhet, who shared his ideas.

The third hero, David Ben-Gurion, went through similar and far worse bombings in London, during the same period as the Italian planes striking Tel Aviv. The fear of civilian populations being exposed to the Egyptian Air Force's Tupelovs made Ben-Gurion condition Israel's participation in the French-British conspiracy against Egypt in the Suez Campaign on the positioning of a French battle squadron at IAF bases to shoot down attackers. It eventually led to his request for U.S. Hawk anti-aircraft missiles.

There is no difference in principal between a balloon, a manned aircraft, a missile - whether surface to surface, air to ground, ballistic or cruise - and an unmanned aircraft: they all circumvent defense from above. Ever since the Yom Kippur War, the Arabs have recognized Israel's superiority in a mobile war, so they chose a stationary war, without moving large corps to the border. They use two kinds of violence: pressure (terror) and crushing (missiles that could be used to deliver biological, chemical and nuclear warheads). The Arrow is a vital - but partial - solution to the crushing violence weapon.

In the war of minds that has gone on beginning with the frightening Tupelov of 1956 to the first Iraqi Scud landing in metropolitan Tel Aviv in 1991, Israel believed the enemy would be deterred by the inevitable consequences of Israel being attacked. Saddam revealed to all that the results are not so inevitable because reality is more complex. A similar revelation struck Ehud Barak in October 2000 on the day three soldiers were kidnapped at Mount Dov, when the warnings of a sharp retaliation against Hezbollah if it dare harm Israel after the withdrawal from Lebanon were left empty.

The Arrow creates a turning point in the war of the minds: It leaves the burden of the gamble of a payoff to the other side, if the other side is considering a missile attack. Maybe not every Arrow will knock down every Scud, but the person launching the Scud can't be sure of that, meaning he risks the punishment of counter-retaliation without any gain.

Without the billions of dollars from the American budget, Israel would not have been able to afford developing Homa, the control center for the Arrow. The budget can be credited to Ronald Reagan's ambitious Strategic Defense Initiative, much of which has faded compared with its pretensions. The current American president sees the connection between the initiative by one of his favorite presidents, and the Arrow. In "Hit to Kill" by Bradley Graham about missile defense, George Bush recalls that during his visit to Israel in 1998 he saw a film that ended with a promise from his briefer, Uzi Rubin, then head of the Homa project, that the Arrow would be effective and precise. True or not, said Bush, that was the line to take, for the sake of deterrence. In the California experiment, reality imitated the film.