arrow launch 224 88 iai.
(photo credit: IAI [file])
Israel's Arrow 2 anti-ballistic missile system is capable of intercepting and destroying any Iranian missiles, even were they to carry nuclear warheads, a high-ranking IDF officer told The Jerusalem Post on Thursday.
While Iran is Israel's most serious strategic and existential threat, the country, he said confidently, was sufficiently protected by the Arrow, which plays a major role in maintaining Israel's protective envelope.
"We will shoot all of [Iran's missiles] down," he told the Post. "The Arrow knows how to intercept the Shihab missile."
Just last year that wasn't the case.
Appearing before the Knesset's Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee, Brig.-Gen. Ilan Bitton - head of Israel's Air Defense Forces - said that, while the Arrow was highly effective against the Scud missiles that make up most of Syria's arsenal, it "needed improvement" to face the challenges posed by Iran's Shihab-3.
Improvements were recently made to the Arrow, the officer said, explaining the new confidence, and it was now able to detect even a missile carrying a split warhead and armed with decoys meant to fool the anti-missile system.
Asked about the danger of the Arrow taking out a non-conventional or nuclear missile over Israel, the officer said that the incoming missile would be destroyed at such a high altitude that it would disperse and destroy its payload without causing any casualties.
"There is constant pressure to always stay a step ahead of our adversaries," the officer said. "They developed decoys on their missiles and we developed ways to detect the decoys and to be able to accurately strike the incoming threat."
The Arrow 2 was last tested in December and succeeded in intercepting an incoming rocket simulating an Iranian Shihab at an altitude higher than ever before tested in the previous 13 Arrow launches. While the Arrow was Israel's first line of defense against an Iranian-launched missile, air force Patriot batteries - known for their action during the first Gulf War - also followed incoming missiles and served as the country's back-up interception system.
Israel has at least two operational Arrow batteries, with reportedly hundreds of missiles for each battery. One is stationed at Palmahim to protect Tel Aviv and the other is at Ein Shemer near Hadera in the north.
The Iranian threat, the officer said, was not only felt by Israel but also prompted European countries that fall within the Shihab's long range to begin development of or negotiations to purchase anti-missile defense systems similar to the Arrow. Turkey was recently mentioned in the media as interested in purchasing the Arrow missile defense system in an effort to improve its aerial defense in light of Iran's procurement of the deadly Shihab.
"Europe has noticed the threat and is becoming a bigger player in the development of active [missile] defense systems," the officer said. "They are busy developing, researching and waking up."
Israel, the officer said, was constantly improving its capabilities in the face of the growing threats from its Arab neighbors. "The threats from the other side have become deadlier," the officer said. "But we have also been in the process of development and updating so we can always be a step ahead of them."
The Arrow project began over 12 years ago to address the threat posed by relatively crude Scud missiles, like the ones Iraq fired into Israel during the Gulf War. But as the project developed, the defense establishment was determined not to focus on past wars but to look ahead to future threats, including faster rockets launched from farther away, possibly with multiple warheads. Nearly $2.5 billion has already been invested in the missile defense system, with two-thirds of the funding coming from the US Missile Defense Agency.
But while Israel was protected from the Shihab by the Arrow, cities were left vulnerable and unprotected from Katyusha rockets - several thousand of which are in the hands of Hizbullah in Southern Lebanon - and Palestinian-developed Kassam rockets. While the technology to intercept and destroy these low-tech rockets was in existence, the officer claimed that the funding to develop systems to do so was not. The Arrow is irrelevant as regards missiles with a range of less than 60-70 km.
"There are constant efforts to develop a system," the officer said. "There will be a solution one day, since the technology exists and the problem is the financing."