'The difference is not in the warhead'

Yuval Steinitz talks to the 'Post' about the 'arrow'.

Steinitz at post 298.88 (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski )
Steinitz at post 298.88
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski )
When MK Yuval Steinitz was head of the Knesset's Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee, he was credited with turning it into one of the most serious and influential bodies in the Knesset. With the Likud's defeat in the last year's elections, his role was downsized to a member of the committee, but his interest in national security remains high. Steinitz discussed with The Jerusalem Post this week the recent test of the Arrow missile defense system and its implications. How do you gauge the success of the Arrow test earlier this week? This was the fifth or sixth test that I have participated in, and this time I was really overwhelmed by the success. In the beginning, two years ago, I was quite skeptical about whether or not this system could really work. This test was really the first time that I became convinced that the Arrow missile defense could intercept Iranian missiles. Originally it was developed to intercept missiles from Iraq; those missiles had a reach of about 600 kilometers. At that time, it was totally unclear that the Arrow system would be able to intercept longer range missiles. This new system is completely different. What about intercepting nuclear weapons? The great difference is not in the warhead. Unfortunately, on TV everyone was saying that the Arrow could stop nuclear weapons. But you don't intercept the bomb, you intercept the missiles. The cargo doesn't matter. It's like intercepting a Boeing 747 airplane. It doesn't matter if there is cargo inside or passengers. You are intercepting the airplane. This notion that now the Arrow can intercept nuclear missiles is wrong because the issue is not to intercept the bomb, but to intercept the missile with the bomb. Much of the data is secret. But the real issue is the projectile. A Scud missile has a short trajectory. The problem with the Shihab missiles is that they have much longer ranges, go higher and fall back down to Earth with greater velocity. Some say they have a range of 2000 or 2500 km. Missiles that are coming from 2000 km will go much higher - to outer space. When coming back into the atmosphere, they can have double the velocity. In last Sunday's test, the Arrow proved to be extremely efficient against such missiles, those that are coming at a much higher velocity. What about nuclear fallout? It was disclosed in some initial tests that it is safe as long as warheads are detonated above a certain height at which, even if you have a nuclear explosion, even if hits the missiles, there will be no fallout. If you hit a primitive nuclear bomb, you might get a nuclear explosion, but it's very improbable. A nuclear device is ultra-sophisticated. If you hit it from outside, all the nuclear material would have to collide at the same time in order to have a critical mass. Even if this does happen, if it is above the necessary height there will be no effect. If the Iranians shoot Shihab-3 missiles, the interception will happen far from Israel's borders, possibly still in Syria. What was important to prove this time was the ability to intercept at higher velocities and in difficult conditions. The intention is always total destruction. But this time it was more convincing than ever. The other thing I want to mention, which I am proud of, is where the money for the Arrow 2, which was created by Israel Aircraft Industries and Boeing, came from. Three years ago, I spoke to my friends in Washington and convinced them to add $120 million for the development of the Arrow 2. During the most recent test, there were some Americans there from the Pentagon and from Boeing. It was clear to them, too, that now, at this point in the game, Israel is clearly leading the world in missile defense. We possess here technology that no other power, not even the United States, has. This is really amazing. Are we dependent on American intelligence in order to use the Arrow missile defense system? It is always better to have intelligence. The test system is based on radars. But we are not dependent on America. What is going on is that because America has satellites, their system can give us earlier warning. Because of the curvature of the Earth, our radars can detect enough to give us several minutes of warning. The American satellites can add another period of warning time. It is clear now that the Arrow will be able to intercept any of the current missiles, including the next generations of Shihab missiles. Even if the Iranians are able to produce the next generation, we will be prepared. We can be very proud of the Arrow, but against nuclear weapons it is not enough. Because if the Iranians have nuclear weapons, they will have many. Even if you can intercept 95 percent, one or two would hit Israel and the damage would be severe. In the beginning, Iran might have only a few weapons, and we can defend against those. They know that their chances of getting through are very slim. But in five or 10 years, they can produce many many missiles, and then it is very dangerous. A full interview with Steinitz will appear in Tuesday's Jerusalem Post.