Michael Lipin — Voice of America Feb 21, 2018
Israel and its U.S. ally say they have successfully tested an anti-missile system that would protect the Jewish state from a potential long-range missile attack by its regional rival, Iran.
Monday’s test of the Arrow 3 interceptor comes eight days after Iran displayed what it called a new version of a Ghadr missile with a 2,000-kilometer range that would put Israeli territory within reach.
The Ghadr is part of a missile program that Tehran has vowed to continue, despite calls by Israel and the U.S. for a halt to such activity as part of their push for a new deal to curb Iran’s nuclear development.
Israel and the U.S. oppose Iran’s development of long-range ballistic missiles because they say Tehran eventually could mount nuclear warheads on them, threatening Israeli and U.S. targets or their allies.
Iran says its nuclear program is peaceful and its missiles are defensive.
Those assurances have found few believers in Israel’s security establishment, which has been debating how far the Israeli government should go to protect the nation from Iranian missiles.
Israel has been developing multiple layers of defenses against long, medium and short-range rockets for decades.
Arrow 2, the first operational system, debuted in 2000. Its function is to intercept long-range missiles as they move within the Earth’s atmosphere.
In recent months, Israel has focused on enhancing the Arrow 3, a U.S. and Israeli-developed system that went online last year. Its interceptor is designed to destroy long-range missiles as they travel outside of the atmosphere.
After two aborted tests in December and January, U.S. and Israeli missile defense officials said the Arrow 3 interceptor launched on Monday from central Israel reached its simulated target. They said it would have struck the target had it been a real missile.
Pros and cons of preemptive strike
In a recent exclusive interview with VOA’s Persian Service in Tel Aviv, Efraim Halevy, who led Israel’s Mossad intelligence agency from 1998 to 2002, said he is satisfied with Israel’s defensive capabilities.
“As far as the offensive side is concerned, if an all-out war is declared or evolves, we are able to strike at Iran in such a manner that Iran would not be in a position to continue the war,” Halevy said.
Also speaking to VOA Persian at his home in the central Israeli town of Ra’anana, Yaakov Amidror, a former national security adviser to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, said Israel should consider a preemptive strike against Iran, even at the risk of triggering retaliation by Iranian ally Hezbollah, a Lebanese militant group.
“Logically, you should take care of the snake, not only his poison but his whole command and control and brain,” Amidror said. “Hezbollah’s brain and its command and control are sitting in Tehran, not in [the Lebanese capital] Beirut.”
In another VOA Persian interview in the central Israeli town of Gedera, Uzi Rubin, founder of Israel’s missile defense organization, said he worried Israel would destabilize the region by intervening directly in Iran’s missile activities.
“Iran has its missile program,” Rubin said. “I had hoped it could be stopped or at least toned down. But we also see the positive side of the Iranian missile threat, because it actually is causing a very strange backlash that throws Sunni Arabs and Israel together in the same bed, and creates a lot of cooperation, as we hear in the papers, between Israel and Arab states.”
The Israeli government has called for an indefinite ban on Iranian development of long-range missiles as part of a diplomatic campaign with the U.S. to toughen the 2015 Iran nuclear deal.
France, one of the deal’s signatories, has said Iran’s missile program should be put under international surveillance to ensure that it does not endanger regional security.
Two other signatories, Britain and Germany, have said they are willing to address concerns about Iranian missiles. But Iran has said those missiles are non-negotiable.
This report was produced in collaboration with VOA’s Persian Service.