By Bilal Y. Saab – Tests to confirm the effectiveness of Israel’s Arrow 3 system’s interceptor missile are in the works. The Arrow 3 system will serve as the long-range, high-altitude interceptor component of Israel’s overall missile defense system. The other parts of the system include the Iron Dome (short range rockets), David’s Sling (short range missile interceptors), and the Arrow 2 and Patriot systems (intermediate range ballistic missiles).
According to reports, the Arrow 3 test will only be a flight test and will not include an actual interception. The interception testing phase is expected to take place next year.
Both Israeli and US officials have stressed the importance of Israel’s missile and rocket defense systems. The end-goal is to protect Israeli population centers from potential Iranian missile strikes or rockets launched from Lebanon by Hezbollah and/or Gaza by Hamas. I have discussed the problems and challenges that are associated with missile defenses elsewhere, so there is no need to repeat here. With regard to the Israeli context, Nicholas Blanford and I analye Israel’s missile defense assets and argue that they are no solution to Hezbollah’s weapons. Here is the link to THE NEXT WAR.
But here is what is so interesting about this story. It’s not really that Israel is actually conducting these tests but the fact that the Israeli government decided to publicly announce it. Is this a signal to Iran? Maybe. A good or bad signal? Probbaly both. Good in the sense that it is better to do these tests and announce them in advance as opposed to doing them in secret and Iran finding out about them and coming to the wrong conclusions (or maybe right conclusion that Israel is preparing itself for Iranian retaliation to an Israeli strike). That’s essentially arms control, right?, messages to reassure, to decrease the chances of war, to minimize misperceptions, etc…. Bad in the sense that no matter what Israel does or says, Iran is likely to interpret Israeli words and actions in the worst possible ways.
Also it is foolish to deny the objective reality that missile defense are not excatly systems that contribute to strategic stability. Just ask the Russians, their faces turned blue during strategic arms control negotiations with the US trying to convince the Americans to give up on SDI (also, the Russians always believed that the Americans were better than them in missile defense technology, which is why they pushed for the ABM Treaty of 1972 in the first place).
At any rate, the operational effectiveness of Israel’s rocket/missile defense system will be a key factor in the decision on whether or not to strike Iran’s nuclear facilities. Israel’s willingness to publicly announce the testing of the Arrow 3 system may signal something far more ominous than a warning.
Seth Smith, Scoville Fellow at CNS, contributed to this post.
Photo: San Francisco Sentinel.