Monday, February 25, 2013

From Iron Dome to the Arrow 3

Last November, as delineated in a past article, Israel launched a military operation targeting Islamist militants--chiefly Hamas--and their capacity to fire rockets into mainland Israel. Operation Pillar of Defense, as it was called, debuted the Jewish state's Iron Dome missile defense system, which intercepted just under a third of the missiles launched from Gaza. The Iron Dome was an important step forward for Israel's "multilayered defense system" and adds extra missile defense capacity along with the existing David's Sling and Arrow 2 missile defense systems. The new missile defense system--dubbed the Arrow 3--is designed to target Iranian Shihab 3 missiles and other long-range rockets. The joint Israeli-American project was tested today with remarkable success, and it's set to be fully operational by 2016.

A diagram of the Arrow 3 defense system. From JPost.

Arrow 3 and the rest of Israel's anti-missile defense strategy have important implications for Israeli and Middle East regional security. Israel and the United States, along with many other nations, view Iran's pursuit of uranium enrichment as evidence of it's intention to secure nuclear weapons capability, despite Iran's insistence that its nuclear program is peaceful. Underscored by Iran's sporadic overtures to Israel's destruction, Israel has sounded the loudest alarms concerning Iran's centrifuges, and the United States has joined it to launch a very public economic war and private cyberwar. Despite these strategies, Iran trucks on with uranium enrichment, prompting Israel to threaten preemptive military strikes and pursue sophisticated missile defense systems like the Arrow 3. These dual policies are paradoxical on the surface but likely mirror the lack of exact intelligence data on the extent of Iran's level of uranium enrichment. The new missile defense system will allow Israel to account for this uncertainty should Iran actually weaponize uranium to critical levels, let alone develop the systems needed for launching an attack. For the US policymakers, any efforts to prevent the United States from getting dragged into a regional war are worth pursuing, and this certainly fits the bill.

Missile defense systems such as Iron Dome and the new Arrow 3 don't reduce the incentive to build nuclear weapons systems or the consequences for deploying such weapons. But they do ensure some levels of human, domestic, regional and global security. Ultimately, the joint Israeli-American Arrow 3 project will support Israel's right to defend itself and likely ease tensions between the co-developers, as the United States does not have the public support for nor the financial capacity to get involved in a regional nuclear war.

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