The Damaging Effect of the Arrow's Success

Conversations with Arab strategic experts indicate that, in their estimate, the Arrow defense system will be highly effective. The Arrow anti-missile defense system could generate a large-scale ballistic arms race in the Middle East.

The Arrow anti-missile missile defense system was successful even before it was used against a single enemy missile. However, its success could also turn the defense system Israel has developed into a source of serious concern.

At the last conference of the Arab League, it was resolved that the League's member-states "view with alarm the latest developments in Israel's anti-missile defense system, of which the Arrow missile, developed in that program's context, is considered to be the most advanced weapon of its kind in the world." It was also decided that a special committee would be created to study the Israeli defense system's features and its impact on the Middle East.

One would have thought that the fact that Israel's defense system has the Arab states so worried proves that Israel has attained the goal that was central in this system's development: an effective Israeli deterrent capability. According to the Arrow's proponents, countries that believe that prospects are high that their missiles will be intercepted will be deterred from using them against Israel.

Conversations with Arab strategic experts indicate that, in their estimate, the Arrow defense system will be highly effective. In a recent discussion at one academic conference, an Egyptian expert pointed out that his country fears that the Arrow's deployment could neutralize the Arab states' ballistic capability and could thus undermine the balance of power in the Middle East.

Paradoxically, one can deduce from the Arabs' appreciation of the Arrow's effectiveness that the defense system could have a negative impact on the region. The Arab states' ballistic missiles are the only element in their arsenal that can counterbalance what they perceive as Israel's nuclear superiority. The Arab states' unquestionable capacity to hit Israel's home front with these missiles is their own deterrent power vis-a-vis Israel's strategic might. It would be unrealistic to expect them to accept the loss of that deterrent capability. The stationing of Arrow missile batteries could lead them to develop cluster warheads for their missiles, decoys and other modern deception techniques that could reduce the Arrow's effectiveness.

Research at Washington's Heritage Foundation indicates that Syria is trying to arm its missiles with a cluster warhead in order to undermine the Arrow's effectiveness.

Israel's Arrow anti-missile defense system could generate a large-scale ballistic arms race in the Middle East. To increase the prospects of penetrating the Arrow's defense system, the Arab states might decide to increase the number of missiles in their arsenal creating a situation in which the Arrow would be unable to handle the many missile showers these states would launch.

Syria has about 80 launchers and about 1,000 missiles. Ironically, the Arrow provides no solution for the most tangible Syrian threat: the highly accurate SS-12 missiles. Their short range (about 80 kilometers) and their brief flying time do not give the Arrow enough time to intercept them.

Due to fears about the Arrow's effectiveness, states in the region will arm their missiles with a larger number of non-conventional warheads; thus, even a small number of missiles that have penetrated its defense system could inflict major damage on Israel. In this way, Israel's defense system could ironically provide an incentive to Israel's enemies to step up their move to non-conventional weapons. A major component in the Syrian missile program is the development of non-conventional warheads.

In a ballistic arms race, the aggressor always has the advantage. It is cheaper and simpler to develop or buy countermeasures and to increase your missile stockpile than to arm yourself with or develop defense systems. The Arrow's deployment could lead the Arab states to arm themselves with anti-missile defense systems. That development would, in turn, erode Israel's deterrent capability, which is largely based, according to foreign publications, on the ballistic missiles in Israel's possession.

In 1999, the United States authorized the sale to Egypt of three units of Patriot missiles. Apparently, other states in the region will follow suit, and Israel will thus be forced to arm itself with counter-measures.

Thus, the Arrow's very success could have negative consequences that could have a grave impact on the Middle East's strategic stability. It is doubtful whether the Arrow's developers have this kind of scenario in mind.