- The Washington Times - Sunday, March 18, 2007

To defend against Iranian missiles fitted with nuclear warheads, Israel continues to advance the Arrow. In fact, recent test results of this enduring anti-ballistic missile program have been very strong. It would seem, therefore, that Israel’s pertinent military technologies remain up to the growing existential challenge. It also seems that the mutual benefits of continuing strategic cooperation between Washington and Jerusalem remain incontestable.

But the multiple security threats facing Israel are enormously complex. Jerusalem must soon decide if it can depend upon some combination of deterrence and active defense, or whether it must now also prepare for certain defensive first strikes against selected hard targets in Iran.

On its face, Israel’s pre-emption option should now be less critical. “The Arrow’s success proves that Israel is prepared to deal with a nuclear missile attack,” Col. Moshe Petael, head of the Israeli Defense Ministry’s Homa Missile Defense Agency, said on Feb. 12. He made this statement only one day after the Israel Air Force had successfully tested the Arrow for the 15th time in its first nighttime exercise against a missile mocking Iran’s Shehab-3.

If the Arrow were truly efficient in its expected reliability of intercept, even an irrational Iranian adversary armed with nuclear and/or biological weapons could be controlled. If Israel’s nuclear deterrent were ignored by an enemy state willing to risk a massive “counter-city” Israeli retaliation, that country’s first-strike aggression could still be stopped by the Arrow. Speaking about the same recent Arrow test as Col. Petael, Likud Knesset member Yuval Steinitz commented on Feb. 12: “The test yesterday was exceptional. It proved that the Arrow can bring down any kind of ballistic missile, a capability no power in the world possesses.”

Ballistic missile defense cannot be appraised simply as “reliable” or “unreliable.” No missile-defense system — however successful in testing — can ever be “leak-proof.” Whether or not leakage would be tolerable will depend upon the precise kinds of incoming enemy missile warheads. “Even if Iran or Syria were to develop more sophisticated missiles than they now have,” said Mr. Steinitz, “Israel is one step ahead.” Perhaps. But the Arrow’s test successes might not be replicated in real-world Israeli confrontations with more advanced enemy missiles.

In evaluating its disappearing pre-emption option vis-a-vis Iran, Israeli planners will need to calculate the Arrow’s expected leakage rate. In principle, a small number of enemy missiles penetrating Arrow defenses might still be “tolerable.” But if the incoming warheads were nuclear and/or biological, no rate of leakage could be acceptable. A fully zero leakage rate would be necessary to adequately protect Israel against nuclear and/or biological warheads, and such a rate is unattainable.

There is another serious problem with placing too great a reliance on ballistic missile defense. Iran would not necessarily have to deliver its nuclear bomb via Shehab-3 or other missile. Instead, it could simply enlist its various proxies in the Middle East, especially Hezbollah. Using a ship or car to explode a nuclear device, such a surrogate operation would leave no identifiable Iranian signature. This means that Israel cannot depend upon the Arrow to fully defend against any future WMD attack from Iran, and that even a very capable defensive system would not obviate Israel’s pre-emption option.

To be deterred, a rational enemy will always need to calculate that Israel’s second-strike forces are substantially invulnerable. This enemy will now require many more missiles for an assuredly destructive first strike against Israel than would be the case without Arrow. Israel’s anti-missile defense, therefore, will compel a rational adversary to delay any intended first-strike missile attack until that enemy country can deploy a more robust nuclear and/or biological missile force.

This is partially good news. But Israel still faces a number of state enemies whose undisguised preparations for attacking the Jewish state are literally genocidal, and who may not always be rational. Nowhere is it written that Israel must now simply sit back passively and respond only after a nuclear and/or biological attack has already been absorbed. Israel has the very same right granted to all states to act pre-emptively when facing an existential assault. Known formally as “anticipatory self-defense,” this right is affirmed in general international law, and in the Sept. 20, 2002, American policy codification, the National Security Strategy of the United States of America.

To be sure, even though there are also proxy terror threats to consider, Israel must continue to develop, test and implement a ballistic-missile interception capability. Simultaneously, it must prepare for certain possible pre-emptions and to enhance the credibility of its nuclear deterrent. To deter WMD aggressions, Israel must deploy a recognizable second-strike force, sufficiently hardened, dispersed and able to inflict a decisive retaliatory salvo against enemy cities.

Israel needs to coordinate its preparations for pre-emption and deterrence. Together with the United States, Israel exists in the crosshairs of a determined jihad that is profoundly theological and will not conform to rules of international law. Under no circumstances can Israel and the United States afford to allow this seventh-century view of the world to be combined with 21st-century weapons of mass destruction.

Louis Rene Beres is professor of international law at Purdue University and chairman of Project Daniel. Maj. Gen. Isaac Ben-Israel is professor of security studies at Tel Aviv University and chairman of the Israel Space Agency.

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