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Misunderstanding Israeli Missile Defense

Despite the Israeli consensus on missile defense, the core of Israeli strategy remains an offensive deterrent posture, writes Jean-Loup Samaan.
An Arrow II missile interceptor is displayed in front of journalists at an Israeli air defence command in the Palmahim military base south of Tel Aviv May 12, 2011. An upgraded version of the Israeli air defence system, designed to blow up ballistic missiles in space, could be rushed into deployment before its 2014-2015 target date, a senior officer said on Thursday. REUTERS/ Nir Elias (ISRAEL - Tags: POLITICS MILITARY) - RTR2MBG1

On Feb. 25, the Israeli Defense Ministry announced a successful test of its upgraded Arrow interceptor system conceived to target long range ballistic missiles, in all likelihood from Iran. According to its proponents, the Arrow system had already proved a success in up to 90% of previous tests. The February test is the latest illustration of Israel’s new passion for missile defense, a topic that may have become one of the few topics left to bring consensus in Israeli politics.

The story of Israel’s missile defense enterprise dates back to the early eighties when the US administration of Ronald Reagan was looking for allies interested to cooperate on its ambitious Strategic Defense Initiative. In 1983, the Israeli government expressed its initial interest and three years later was signed a Memorandum of Understanding that led to the co-financing of the Arrow system. But contrary to the Reagan dream to build missile defense to render nuclear weapons obsolete, the Israeli calculus was driven by a mix of opportunism and pragmatism: all along the government faced tremendous scepticism from its military establishment that saw missile defense as strategically misleading.

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