Thursday, February 2nd | 11 Shevat 5783

January 25, 2019 10:27 am

Missile Defense Is Not Enough — We Must Counter the Iranian Threat

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avatar by Gabi Avital /


The launch of an Arrow 3 interceptor. Photo: US Missile Defense Agency via Wikimedia Commons. Back in the late 1960s, the common perception in the United States was that America could only be attacked from large distances — for example, the distance between Moscow and Washington.

The main concern at the time focused on intercontinental ballistic missiles armed with nuclear warheads. Americans prepared themselves accordingly, even going so far as to build atomic fallout shelters across the country. As a direct consequence of this defense doctrine, decision-makers weren’t given access to short-range missiles, whose only purpose, it was believed, was to counter charging enemy tanks.

Former President Ronald Reagan launched his “Star Wars” initiative to intercept Soviet ICBMs with laser beams and other means of “science fiction.”

Israel joined this initiative in 1985 with its plan to develop a surface-to-air missile system capable of intercepting ICBMs. The project was named “Arrow.”

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From a budgetary perspective, most of the funding for Arrow — around 80 percent — came from America. Still, Israel has invested heavily in the system and some argued that the price was too steep. That debate essentially ended around two decades ago.

The Arrow 2 missile paved the way to the Arrow 3, with the Arrow 4 already in advanced stages of development.

In the 1990s, one argument raised by detractors of the Arrow project was that it would trigger an arms race in the Middle East. This concern has indeed materialized, as evidenced by the massive missile arsenals in the hands of Iran, Syria, and terrorist groups such as Hezbollah and Hamas. Let’s put aside the chicken-or-the-egg question for a moment. From a practical standpoint, Israel developed its missile and rocket defense array methodically, and today it consists of several layers of defense.

Decision-makers and defense experts have long argued over the meaning “deterrence.” Is it best achieved through offensive or defensive measures?

The answer often lies in the worldview of the beholder, but it also depends a lot on timing. Because if, for example, a successful Arrow 3 test occurs on the same exact day a surface-to-surface missile fired by Iranian forces in Syria is intercepted, a few birds have been killed with a single stone.

The heavy cost of developing such a system shouldn’t be downplayed. But when America’s political and military leadership is so fundamentally in step with Israeli defense policy, the joint effort is bound to bear fruit — not necessarily in terms of procurement costs, but in the profound understanding that Iran is the key to Middle East instability.

It is no catchphrase to say that Iran is a threat to world peace.

With all due respect to the threat posed by North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un, the Iranians have declared intentions of to instill Islamic hegemony in our region — and perhaps in other parts of the world. This ambition has motivated the current arms race, particularly efforts to acquire missiles capable of carrying nuclear payloads.

Defense missiles are not a luxury; they are a necessary pillar of Israel’s national security. But they do not provide hermetic defense. The risk of even one Iranian missile slipping through the cracks requires additional offensive measures. The development of Iranian nuclear weapons must be prevented in any way possible, even by military force; and in conjunction with the friendly US administration as far as possible.

All signs point to Israel’s missile defenses adding another significant layer: Arab countries’ rapprochement with Israel. Endless patience and painstaking work have gone into these diplomatic inroads, and they should be enhanced along with our missiles.

Gabi Avital is an aeronautical and space engineering expert.

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