Israel's Anti-Missile System Can Defend against Chemical Attack

By Julie Stahl | July 7, 2008 | 8:12 PM EDT

Jerusalem ( - Israel's Arrow anti-missile missile system is able to destroy incoming missiles high enough to avoid fallout from chemical weapons warheads, the former head of Israel's missile defense program said on Monday.

Experts believe that Iraq could retaliate against a U.S.-led strike by firing missiles at Israel like it did in the 1991 Gulf War, but this time, they could be tipped with chemical warheads.

Nevertheless, Uzi Rubin, who oversaw the development of Israel's Arrow-Homa Anti-Missile Defense Program, said that the Arrow missiles can effectively act against the threat of missiles with chemical warheads.

"The Arrow system, like the Patriot system, like any other system, doesn't distinguish between missile and missile," Rubin told a briefing of diplomats and journalists at the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs on Monday.

"All missiles look the same. Whatever is in the warhead cannot be seen from your defensive point because they are all designed to work the same... The missile behaves exactly the same."

Therefore, the defense system has to be designed to take that into account, Rubin said.

"In order to do that, you build your defensive system with a very strong warhead of its put a lot of smack into the incoming missile and [destroy] it completely, and second, we try to do it as high as possible.

"I can disclose that we did a test to find out whether the chemical agents will reach the ground or not after our interception, and we came to the total conclusion, absolute conclusion, proof that nothing comes down on the ground," Rubin said.

In addition, the warhead is destroyed at such an altitude that it is above the jet stream "so everything that falls down will go in the jet stream and go back to the sender," he added.

According to Rubin, the consensus among most experts is that Iraq has a "very limited" capability, if any at all, to fire missiles of any kind at Israel and, even if they have the capability, most analysts believe Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein will not use it.

"If the Iraqis were to fire the first ballistic missile towards anywhere, [it] justifies the whole war against them," Rubin said. "That [would] justify all the efforts of the Bush administration to take Saddam out."

But, he conceded, Iraq is "very adept at hiding their secrets," and Israel could always be surprised.

There are plenty of other missile threats in the region. Egypt, Syria and Iran all have missiles that can already strike Israel and, along with Libya, are all involved in acquiring longer-range capabilities.

"I see a trend toward longer- and longer-range missiles," Rubin said. "First, it's projecting power toward Israel; and second, it is projecting power toward Europe."

A third interpretation of the development, Rubin added, is that by investing in longer-range missiles, countries in the region can strike at Israel from further away, outside of Israel's "pre-emptive range."

According to Rubin, who served as head of Israel's Missile Defense Organization from 1991 to 1999, Israel became aware of the growing missile threat during missile battles between Iran and Iraq in 1988.

But Israel decided against developing a missile defense system until Iraqi scuds slammed into Israel during the 1991 Gulf War.

Several years earlier, Israel and the U.S. had signed a contract for an experimental short-range anti-missile defense system, which was eventually developed into the Arrow system.

"[The] Arrow was designed to work with [American] Patriot missiles," Rubin said. "Part of the program...was what is called interoperability.

"The requirement by the American government [was] that the Arrow would be designed in order to work together and be able to operate and talk together with Patriot, and we implemented that," he said.

Patriot batteries, which were rushed here during the 1991 Gulf war, were largely ineffective against incoming scuds, but they have now been improved.

Nevertheless, Rubin noted that only eight out of approximately 40 incoming scuds did damage or caused casualties.

Several hundred American soldiers are currently in Israel for joint exercises testing the ability of Israel's Arrow missile system to work together with American Patriot batteries.

Although the exercise was planned two years ago, developments in Iraq have made the drill appear much more relevant. Media reports have suggested that the American servicemen manning the Patriots may stay until the end of any U.S. action against Iraq.

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