JERUSALEM (Aug. 1)
Israelis are breathing easier after the country’s groundbreaking missile-defense system passed its first live test. The Arrow-2 shot down an incoming Scud off the coast of California on Thursday, in the culmination of an Israeli-U.S. project aimed at protecting the Jewish state from long-range missile attack.
Work on the $2.2 billion system began in the 1980s, when Israel found itself facing Soviet-supplied Scuds in a swathe of surrounding Arab nations. Now Iran, with its intercontinental missiles and burgeoning atomic program, is the main menace.
“The execution was perfect,” Arrow-2 project chief Arieh Herzog told Israeli television after the test. “We will continue developing to achieve our capabilities against future threats such as those emerging from Iran.”
According to security sources, a U.S. naval unit fired the Scud — its warhead removed — from an island off California, and the projectile was picked up by the Arr! ow-2′s advanced Green Pine radar, which had been stationed near Los Angeles.
An Arrow-2 missile, fired from another island and flying at nine times the speed of sound, struck the Scud in mid-air.
“Bull’s-eye!” cried the leading Israeli daily Yediot Achronot in a banner headline Friday.
Teheran, whose leaders regularly vow to destroy Israel, affected disdain. “Iran is not threatened by the Zionist entity’s tactical moves,” Iranian Air Defense Minister Ali Simhani said.
But in what could signal a new round of brinkmanship, Iran announced Saturday it had resumed building nuclear centrifuges, reneging on a pledge it had made to international mediators seeking to limit the Islamic Republic’s ability to make an atom bomb.
The Arrow-2′s unique design allows it to detect and destroy incoming threats in under three minutes at altitudes of more than 30 miles, high enough for fallout from an unconventional warhead to disperse harmlessly.
Independent experts say th! e system is 95 percent reliable but some doubt it could perform agains t the Shihab-3, Iran’s most advanced missile.
“The Shihab-3 travels at about three miles per second — roughly four times the speed of Scuds and twice the speed of targets the original Arrow was designed to handle,” said Jerusalem Post military correspondent Arieh O’Sullivan.
But Defense Ministry officials insist the system is always being improved, and that its current deployment — at least 200 Arrow missiles at two Israeli air bases — makes for a more than adequate protective “umbrella.”
Although Israel has hinted it could take preemptive action against Iran’s nuclear program, akin to its 1981 air strike on the Osirak reactor in Iraq, there are those who welcome the Arrow-2 as a less confrontational security measure.
“The events of recent years suggest that a country that bases its strength solely on its offensive capabilities is exposed to those who refuse to play by the rules of its own logic, such as Saddam in 1991 and the suicide terrorists since 2000,! ” said Amir Oren of Ha’aretz.
“Exposing a civilian population on the basis of the assumption that the enemy will be deterred by a response to a missile or terrorist attack is not responsible policy.”