Israeli legislators of all political stripes are pressing for faster deployment of antimissile defenses, warning that democracies everywhere face a `new world order' of dictatorships increasingly equipped with mass destruction warheads and the missiles to deliver them.
In an impassioned plea last week to their counterparts on Capitol Hill, four members of the Israeli Knesset called for a re-thinking of strategic preparedness in light of the accelerating spread of nuclear, chemical and biological weapons of mass destruction (WMD).
Recent Iranian and North Korean tests suggest their missiles might have longer ranges than previously thought. Israel suspects North Korea of assisting Syria in developing an indigenous missile manufacturing capacity. Tel Aviv also suspects the Damascus government is working on nerve gas warheads on its ballistic missiles date back at least to mid-1997, according to the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.
Israeli lawmakers want to expand on many years of bilateral cooperation with the U.S., particularly in the interoperability of ballistic missile defense (BMD) systems designed for theater warfare. Israel successfully tested its Arrow anti-ballistic missile again last week and might eventually join in the U.S. Theater High Altitude Area Defense (Thaad) program, if varied problems that have dogged it for years are finally overcome. Modifications to the program might be announced by the Pentagon this week, one U.S. lawmaker said.
At the first meeting of the American/Israeli Interparliamentary Commission on National Security, a joint caucus of legislators who are ardent missile defense advocates, the Israelis sought to stoke up support for their long-held advocacy of multilayered BMD deployment. They placed heavy emphasis on boost-phase intercepts--striking enemy missiles right after launch so the warheads fall back on the attacker. This is considered essential with the advent of chemical and biological warheads in the possessions of regional military powers. Tel Aviv suspects Iraq, Iran and Syria have chemical warheads and probably biological warheads as well.
But boost-phase intercept capability presents major technical challenges and almost certainly will not be deployable in the next few years, a period the Israelis consider crucial lead time if theater BMD deployments are to be ready when they are needed to counter the emerging Middle Eastern threat. Israel's plan for a multiple-layer missile defense had its inception in 1988 in a joint program with Washington, begun under the now-defunct Strategy Defense Initiative (SDI) of the Reagan Administration.
The Israelis also met with high-ranking U.S. military officials last week, including Lt. Gen. Lester L. Lyles, director of the Pentagon's Ballistic Missile Defense Organization. It succeeded the SDI office.
Beyond expanded bilateral cooperation, Israeli legislators urged regional BMD cooperation with Turkey and Jordan, and proposed that the U.S. lead world democracies in an initiative to head off a global mass weapons capability while there is still time.
`Jordanian officials are interested in this kind of cooperation, which we intend to pursue' when the congressional half of the Interparliamentary Commission makes a reciprocal visit to Israel, possibly in December, said Sen. Jon Kyl (R-Ariz), a commission member.
As for the presumed global potential of the threat, countries that have never had WMD `can have it tomorrow because [the technology]' is so readily available; `it's more than a theater-specific issue,' said former Israeli Finance Minister Dan Meridor of the ruling Likud coalition.
Israeli lawmakers stressed there was no time to lose, claiming that terrorist states such as Iran are developing offensive ballistic missiles faster than the U.S. and Israel are developing defense against them.
`They are ahead of us--we must face this very clearly,' warned Brig. Gen. Ephraim Sneh of Israel's opposition Labor party. `Their ability to hit Israel and U.S. troops in the Middle East is far ahead of what we can do to contain it. Active defenses, like the Arrow and Thaad, are indispensable, but they are not enough. We must have as well the capacity for preemptive defense--whatever that may mean.' Sneh appeared to be referring to preemptive Israeli strikes against emerging WMD capabilities, but did not elaborate.
`We're now very close to a thousand missiles surrounding the state of Israel,' added Ran Cohen of the Meretz party.
`And we don't have Canadians as neighbors,' rejoined Uzi Landau, Likud chairman of the Knesset's foreign affairs and defense committee.
Arab nations have protested for years, however, that Israel is a de facto nuclear power, has nuclear-capable Jericho ballistic missiles, is pursuing unmanned aerial vehicles and cruise missile development and is collaborating with the U.S. on the Tactical High-Energy Laser (Thel) system (AW&ST Aug. 12, 1996, p. 31).
Landau outlined the latest Israeli estimates of the missile threat:
Neighboring Syria is believed to have hundreds of very short-range Frog 7 and SS-21s, plus hundreds of Scud B and tens of Scud Cs with a range `basically covering the entirety of Israel,' The Scud Cs are imported from North Korea, which is assisting the development of Syria's independent manufacture of those missiles, Landau alleged. `Tens of warheads with these missiles can be equipped with chemical gases, and with respect to this, a project is now underway in Syria for development of a new, more advanced lethal nerve gas of the VX type.'
Iran has 300-plus Scud B missiles and 60 Scud Cs. Landau called Iran's development of its 800-mi. range Shahab-3 missile `vigorous, done with the active involvement of North Korea, and above it, Russia. Our assessment is that without Russian assistance, [the Iranians] would not have been as successful as they were [in the Shahab-3 test in July] and they need [Russian aid] critically for the successful completion of this project.' The Shahab would enable Iran to target Israel.
Iraq retains the know-how to reconstitute much of its previous WMD capability, once U.N. sanctions and weapons inspections are lifted, according to Landau `It will not take much time for Iraq not only to come back to what it used to be, but to be much more
of a threatening force in the region.' Following Iraq's defeat in the 1991 Persian Gulf war, the International Atomic Energy Agency discovered that Baghdad had been secretly pursuing a multibillion dollar nuclear weapons program, code-named `Petrochemical 3,' employing thousands of people at numerous sites. The regime of Saddam Hussein has sought steadfastly to limit or thwart U.N. inspections of its WMD capability, which includes chemical and biological weapons and materials.
The Middle East threat is unusually acute, Landau argued, owing to three factors. First, the outlaw regimes procuring WMD capabilities have far-reaching, radical political objectives, among them supplanting Western culture. In other words, they are zealots. Second, the attempts to acquire WMD capability are being fostered with active foreign involvement, namely Russia. Third, there are no treaty or arms control constraints on outlaw regimes to prevent them from using WMD to promote their strategic goals.
`When dictators of very poor countries, particularly in the Middle East region, invest scarce resources in such projects, they do not do so for exhibition purposes,' Landau asserted. `They are prepared to use [them]--they mean business. Such a Middle East threatens other moderate countries in the region like Turkey, like Jordan, like other countries friendly to the U.S., such as Egypt, the Persian Gulf emirates, Saudi Arabia. Such a Middle East poses a threat to the heart of Europe in a few years to come--and beyond the European continent, not later than the first decade of the next millennium.'
Reliable deterrence cannot be assured by a single solution, technologically or otherwise, Meridor cautioned. Intelligence, diplomacy, economic sanctions, boost-phase intercept capability--all avenues of deterrence will have to be pursued. Seeking to dramatize the urgency of the issue, he added: `If we don't deter [the threat] in time, with the whole range of political and defense capabilities, we will find ourselves in a very dangerous situation. It takes time to develop [missile defenses], it takes time to test, it takes time to produce, to deploy and to train, and we are in the last hour or minute.'