The Washington Times - August 19, 2004


By Louis Rene Beres

The core of Israel's active defense plan is the Arrow anti-ballistic missile program. On July 29, an Arrow ABM successfully intercepted and destroyed its target at a test range in California. This was the 12th Arrow intercept test and the seventh test of the complete Arrow system. According to Israel's Ministry of Defense, "The target trajectory demonstrated an operational scenario and all the Arrow system components performed successfully in their full operational configuration."

These test results are significant. They indicate not only continuing close cooperation between Washington and Tel Aviv, but also the intrinsic technical promise of Israel's ballistic-missile defense. But now very serious decisions need to be made. Still, faced with a steadily nuclearizing Iran, Israel must consider whether it can rely upon a suitable combination of deterrence and active defenses or whether it must also prepare for pre-emption.

On its face, it would now appear that Israel's pre-emption option is substantially less urgent. If the Arrow is truly efficient in its reliability of intercept, even an irrational Iranian adversary armed with nuclear and/or biological weapons could be dealt with effectively. If Israel's nuclear deterrent were immobilized by an enemy state willing to risk a massive "countervalue" Israeli reprisal, that state's ensuing firststrike could still be blocked by Arrow. So, why pre-empt?

The answer lies in untenable assumptions. Ballistic-missile defense cannot be appraised simply as "reliable" or "unreliable." Operational reliability of intercept is a continuous variable, and any ballistic-missile defense system -- however successful in its tests -- will always have "leakage." Whether or not such leakage would fall within acceptable levels would depend primarily upon the kinds of warheads fitted upon the enemy's incoming missiles. Moreover, the Arrow's recent success in intercepting a Scud might not be as easily replicated with faster and more advanced Iranian targets. In evaluating its pre-emption option vis-a-vis Iran, Israeli planners will need to consider the expected "leakage rate" of the Arrow.

A very small number of enemy missiles penetrating Arrow defenses could be acceptable if their warheads contained only conventional high explosives or even chemical high explosives. But if the incoming warheads were nuclear and/or biological, even an extremely low rate of leakage would be unacceptable. A fully zero leakage rate would be necessary to protect Israel adequately against nuclear and/or biological warheads, and such a zero leakagerate is unattainable. This means that Israel cannot depend entirely upon its antiballistic missiles to defend against any future WMD attack from Iran, and that even a very promising Arrow system would not obviate Israel's pre-emption option.

A rational adversary will need to calculate that Israel's secondstrike forces are substantially invulnerable to first-strike aggressions. And this adversary will now require many more missiles for an assuredly destructive firststrike against Israel than would be the case without Arrow. Israel's Arrow will at least compel a rational adversary to delay any intended first-strike attack until this adversary can deploy a fully robust nuclear and/or biological offensive missile force.

Israel still faces a number of state enemies whose undisguised preparations for the Jewish state are authentically genocidal. Nowhere is it written that Israel must sit back passively and simply respond after a nuclear and/or biological attack has been inflicted upon its civilian populations. Israel has the same right accorded to all states in world politics to act pre-emptively when facing certain forms of existential assault. Known formally as "anticipatory self defense," this general right is strongly affirmed in the national security strategy of the United States, issued by President Bush on Sept. 20, 2002.

Israel must continue to develop, test and implement an interception capability to match the growing threat dictated by enemy ballistic-missile capabilities. Simultaneously, it must continue to prepare for possible preemptions and to enhance the credibility of its nuclear deterrent. Regarding such enhanced credibility, Israel must fully operationalize a robust secondstrike force, sufficiently hardened and dispersed, and optimtized to inflict a decisive retaliatory salvo against high-value targets.

Arrow is necessary for Israeli security, but it is not sufficient To achieve a maximum level of security, Israel also will have to take appropriate preparations for pre-emption and deterrence. Together with the United States, Israel exists in the crosshairs of a far-reaching Arab/Islamist jihad that is profoundly theological and that will not conform predictably to relevant rules of international law.

Under no circumstances can Israel and the United States now afford to allow this seventh-century view of the world to be combined with 21st-century weapons of mass destruction. It must be a matter of highest priority for the president of the United States to recognize and reaffirm this country's fully overlapping security interest with the state of Israel.

Contrary to the advice given in a recent report issued by the Council on Foreign Relations, this presidential imperative should extend to any lawful and presumptively effective acts of anticipatory self-defense that Israel would need to undertake for its national survival.

Louis Rene Beres is professor of International Law at Purdue University and chairman of Project Daniel. He is also the academic advisor to the Freeman Center For Strategic Studies.