To Launch an Arrow Into the Air

11 Dec 95 p B1

[FBIS Translated Text] Yitzhaq Rabin's murder created a situation in which the formulation of the IDF [Israel Defense Forces] multiyear plan, Mirqam [Composite] 2000, ended between defense ministers. The plan, which constitute a framework for the army's activities in the coming five years and serve as a loose framework for the coming decade, was designed by the Planning Branch based on guidelines that Rabin approved. The end product, however, is being presented to Shim'on Peres. The prime minister is preoccupied with promoting the peace process with Syria and implementing the Oslo agreement, hence there is a fear that he might miss the opportunity to deal with some aspects of Mirqam 2000.

At least two elements of the plan deserve a thorough examination by the new defense minister. These two would cost so much that their completion and procurement might seriously harm the procurement of other essentials. At a time when cuts in the defense budget are a must, one cannot be indifferent to costly development plans whose operational and strategic value is doubtful.

This concerns two elements that the multiyear plan presents as an answer to threats from faraway countries: The Arrow antiballistic missile defense system and the Ofeq [Horizon] spy satellite. Although these two development projects are based on spearheading international technology and are a source of much national pride -- they are simply redundant, too costly, and too small a benefit.

The Arrow system is supposed to defend Israel's rear area and strategic military targets from ballistic missiles. Nevertheless, the continued development of these systems are inconsistent with the basic assumptions of Mirqam 2000. It has been decided that the Arrow is one answer to threats from faraway countries such as Iran and Iraq. According to the intelligence assessments presented in the introduction of the Mirqam 2000 outline, these two countries (or at least Iran) might posses nuclear weapons within a decade. The two will also have ballistic missiles whose range might reach Israel and which can be equipped with nuclear warheads.

But, if Iran and Iraq have nuclear missiles, no Israeli policymaker would dare base Israel's defense on an active defense system like the Arrow because no defense system is hermetic. Establishing Israel's defense on an active defense system would be an unforgivable strategic mistake: After all, the situation in Israel is such that a nuclear strike in the heart of the Dan District would be unbearable.

Stationing the Arrow system in Israel would clearly signal to our enemies: We know you have nuclear missiles, and we are prepared to intercept them with our defense system. In practice, it is asking the enemy to launch its missiles. Israel's policy must be different, and its message should be: We know you have nuclear missiles, and we are not preparing to intercept them; but, if a single missile is launched at Israel, our automatic response will be very painful for you. Iranian leaders will then have a strategic choice: Does harming Israel warrant a severe blow to Iran? Considering Iran's strategic goals, the answer will probably be no.

And indeed, another component of Mirqam 2000 is deterrence, which, according to the Planning Branch definition, is based on Israel's image in the eyes of countries in the region and on a strong air force that can act over long distances. The problem is that deterrence and the Arrow project are contradictory. The contradiction between intelligence assessments and their meanings and the continued development of an active defense system calls for a reexamination of the Arrow plan guidelines. Not to mention technological obstacles (and the Gulf War proved just how difficult it is to intercept ballistic missiles, even if they are primitive Iraqi Scuds), the economic aspect (Israel will have to invest billions of dollars in development and procurement), or the opposition of the top IDF and air force brass to the continued development of the Arrow.

Launching a spy satellite of the Ofeq series is, undoubtedly, an impressive and honorable Israeli success. It would, however, be a grave mistake to be blinded by this technological achievement and translate it into a network of spy satellites. Billions of dollars will be invested in a project that will yield quite marginal strategic benefits.

The Ofeq satellites orbit the earth at a low altitude, hence they collect information from a given area for only a few minutes every 24 hours. This is not enough for continuity of intelligence information in times of crisis, and certainly will not suffice for battlefield information gathering. For example, such satellites will not help locate missile launchers in Iran or Iraq. If a launcher is moved after the satellite spots it, we would not know it. In addition, a satellite's life expectancy is measured in months, after which it has to be replaced with a new one.

Israel has another option which is much cheaper and much more effective: unmanned aerial vehicles [UAV]. Israel can develop, with a relatively low investment, long-range UAV's that can spend long durations above targets, use stealth technology, and provide constantly updated information. Why should Israel invest billions in the construction of a spy satellite network whose effectiveness is only partial, when it can build a large fleet of cheap UAV's that can provide much better information?

In the absence of real parliamentary supervision of the IDF work plan, a deeper involvement by the defense minister is called for during the approval process for the new IDF multiyear plan. Peres had better ask the Planning Branch officers for some explanations before he approves Mirqam 2000.