Security and Defense: A larger calling

For ex-Homa Missile Defense Agency head Herzog, protecting Israel from Iran about preventing another Holocaust.

Arrow missile defense system 390 (photo credit: Israel Aerospace Industries/Reuters)
Arrow missile defense system 390
(photo credit: Israel Aerospace Industries/Reuters)
Two years after the invasion of Poland, Arieh Herzog was born. It was the height of World War II, and his father was killed a short time later. Fearing a similar fate, Herzog’s mother took her son, both disguised as Christian peasants, and fled to Hungary where they spent the duration of the war.
Last month, 71 years later, Herzog stepped down after a 12-year term as head of the Defense Ministry’s Homa Missile Defense Agency, the division responsible for developing the missile defense systems that Israel depends on to protect its population centers in a future war, possibly sparked by an attack against Iran.
“I always knew that this was not like any other job, but was part of a larger calling,” Herzog told The Jerusalem Post in an interview marking his retirement. “After seeing what can happen to our people, you understand the importance of ensuring that it doesn’t happen again.”
And that is exactly what Herzog has tried to do for the past 12 years. When he took up the post in 1999, Israel was just beginning to become aware of Iran’s nuclear and ballistic missile programs, and was moving away from the perception that Iraq was its primary existential threat. Today, Iran is at the top of Israel’s concerns.
Israel’s first foray into the development of missile- defense systems was made in 1985, two years after US president Ronald Reagan launched his Star Wars missile-defense initiative. Then, Israel Aerospace Industries (IAI) began developing a missile defense system called Arrow, intended to defend against Saddam Hussein’s Scud missiles, like the 39 that were fired into Israel during the First Gulf War.
A year after his appointment, Herzog oversaw the delivery of the Arrow to the Israel Air Force and the declaration that it was operational, the first such system in the world to achieve such a status.
“One of the first things I did was conduct a review of the various threats Israel faced at the time to make sure that we were developing the right system,” Herzog recalls. A few weeks later, he convened a forum of top officers from Military Intelligence and missile experts to try and predict which direction the Iranians were heading in, and what their missile plans were for the future.
“The Arrow was a robust system but it was initially developed to intercept Scud missiles,” Herzog said. “We needed to make some modifications and improvements to make sure that it would also be relevant for the Shahab-3 that Iran was developing.”
In 2004, Herzog initiated the development of another missile-defense system called “David’s Sling.” Working on intelligence information obtained by Israel about the delivery of Iranian Zelzal and Fajr medium-range missiles to Hezbollah in Lebanon, Herzog understood that this was a threat Israel could not ignore.
The beginning was slow, and it was difficult recruiting supporters within the defense establishment – especially at a time when a possible war was considered slim. But then, Israel got a slap in the face with the Second Lebanon War and understood that the home front was vulnerable.
While David’s Sling received a boost in its development budget, the government – following the firing of 4,000 Katyushas during the war – decided to put a short-range rocket defense system at the top of its list of priorities. That is how the Iron Dome was born.
Before his appointment as head of Homa, Herzog worked for a number of years at IAI. He says that the combination of Israeli resourcefulness, correct analysis of the threat, and unbelievable technological capabilities is what has turned Israel into a missile- defense powerhouse, leading the world in the development of such systems.
“After their failures on the battlefield, Israel’s enemies understood that they could not take on the IDF with conventional means and decided to invest in missiles,” he explains. “The missile defense systems not only provide protection, but also grant a government greater maneuverability in its calculations of how to respond to attacks.”
The missile threat to Israel varies, but the IDF estimates there are about 200,000 rockets and missiles pointed in its direction from Iran, Syria, Hezbollah and Hamas.
The primary threat which Israel is focused on is naturally from Iran, as it continues to develop a nuclear weapon. According to current intelligence assessments, Iran will be able to develop a nuclear device within a year of making a decision to do so.
It would take another year or two to manufacture a war-head that can be installed on one of its long-range Shahab or Sajil ballistic missiles.
Israel is also currently concerned with the possibility of an attack from Syria. One scenario under consideration is that President Bashar Assad will try to divert attention away from his brutal onslaught against the Syrian people by sparking a confrontation with Israel. In such an event, the possibility that Scud missiles will be fired is not considered impossible.
Herzog says that the Arrow has the ability to intercept barrages of missiles that could be launched in a future war. Tehran is also believed to have developed warheads that can split in flight as part of an effort to deceive the Arrow and lead it to miss the war-head.
In addition to the Shahab and the Sajil, the Islamic Republic is believed to be working on creating a domestic-production line for the BM25 long-range missile it purchased from North Korea in 2005. The BM25 has a range of more than 3,500 kilometers.
Iran is also believed to be developing cruise missiles.
“The Iranians have the ability to launch barrages, and that is an important part of their capabilities,” he said. “But we are prepared and have the ability to intercept those barrages if they are launched.”
However, Herzog is concerned that the government is not increasing the defense budget – money that is needed for the continued development and procurement of missile-defense systems.
“If we don’t give money for the programs, the US will legitimately ask why it should continue giving,” he said in reference to the over $100 million Israel receives annually for missile defense, in addition to the $3 billion it receives in foreign-military financing.