Air Force defends use of Arrow system against Syrian missile
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'Our mission is to detect and deflect [the] threat [of incoming missiles], and that is exactly what happened'

Air Force defends use of Arrow system against Syrian missile

Head of military's air defense program says surface-to-air missile contained 'hundreds of kilograms' of explosives and was headed for Israel

Judah Ari Gross is The Times of Israel's military correspondent.

From right, Moshe Patel, head of the Defense Ministry's missile program, David Ivri, president of Boeing-Israel, Brig. Gen. Tzvika Haimovitch, head of the army's Aerial Defense Command, Boaz Levi, vice president of IAI's missile division, Danny Gold, the former head of the ministry's missile program, and Brig. Gen. William Cooley, of the US Air Force, stand in front of a Arrow 3 missile defense system that was delivered to the Israeli Air Force on January 18, 2017. (Defense Ministry)
From right, Moshe Patel, head of the Defense Ministry's missile program, David Ivri, president of Boeing-Israel, Brig. Gen. Tzvika Haimovitch, head of the army's Aerial Defense Command, Boaz Levi, vice president of IAI's missile division, Danny Gold, the former head of the ministry's missile program, and Brig. Gen. William Cooley, of the US Air Force, stand in front of a Arrow 3 missile defense system that was delivered to the Israeli Air Force on January 18, 2017. (Defense Ministry)

The head of the army’s Aerial Defense Command on Monday defended the military’s use of the Arrow defense system against a Syrian surface-to-air missile last week, saying the projectile “behaved like a ballistic threat.”

Early Friday morning, Israeli aircraft conducted several airstrikes against targets in Syria, the Israel Defense Forces said afterwards, in a rare acknowledgment of responsibility. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu later said the raids struck advanced Hezbollah weaponry.

On the planes’ return trip, Syrian President Bashar Assad’s military launched three surface-to-air missiles (SAMs) at them.

Two of the SAMs landed harmlessly, while the third was intercepted by an Arrow 2 missile.

Jordanians inspect the remains of a Syrian missile and an Israeli Arrow interceptor that fell in Jordan on March 17, 2017 (Jordanian government/Petra)
Jordanians inspect the remains of a Syrian missile and an Israeli Arrow interceptor that fell in Jordan on March 17, 2017 (Jordanian government/Petra)

“Our mission is to detect and deflect [the] threat [of incoming missiles], and that is exactly what happened,” said Brig. Gen. Tzvika Haimovitch, head of the army’s Aerial Defense Command.

The early Friday morning interception, which was the first reported operational use of the Arrow, has garnered skepticism, if not outright criticism, as it was not immediately clear why the system was used against a surface-to-air missile, which generally don’t pose a threat to those on the ground.

The general told reporters that the intercepted SAM contained “hundreds of kilograms” of explosive material and was headed toward the Jordan Valley.

The SAM could have posed a threat to people on the ground, which justified the use of an Arrow 2 missile, reported to cost nearly NIS 3 million (some $827,000).

“We need to defend the State of Israel. We will not save [money]. We will engage,” he said.

Archive: Former US National Security Advisor Susan Rice, views the Arrow 2 intercepting missile launcher at the Palmachim Israeli Air Force base in central Israel during her visit to the country on May 9, 2014. (Hadas Parush/Flash 90)
Archive: Former US National Security Advisor Susan Rice, views the Arrow 2 intercepting missile launcher at the Palmachim Israeli Air Force base in central Israel during her visit to the country on May 9, 2014. (Hadas Parush/Flash 90)

Haimovitch confirmed that the decision to launch the Arrow 2 was made by a person, not by a computer.

“Although it is a state of the art system,” he said, “a [person] should approve each target.”

During the conversation with reporters, the air force general also discussed the roll-out of the David’s Sling missile defense system, which is meant to complete Israel’s umbrella of protection against projectiles, from short-range rockets to intercontinental ballistic missiles.

The general denied reports that the Syrian missile had, in fact, been a Scud ballistic missile.

“As far as I know,” he said, the SAM was a Russian SA-5, also known as an S-200.

The air force general also said that only one Arrow 2 interceptor missile had been used in the incident, dismissing reports that multiple missiles were fired.

A long-range S-200 missile is fired in a military drill in the port city of Bushehr, on the northern coast of Persian Gulf, Iran, Dececember 29, 2016. (Amir Kholousi, of the semi-official Iranian Student News Agency (ISNA) via AP, File)
A long-range S-200 missile is fired in a military drill in the port city of Bushehr, on the northern coast of Persian Gulf, Iran, Dececember 29, 2016. (Amir Kholousi, of the semi-official Iranian Student News Agency (ISNA) via AP, File)

Asked if this use against a surface-to-air missile was revolutionary or a recent development, as the system is designed to specifically counter ballistic missiles, Haimovitch said: “It doesn’t matter the title, name or category of the threat, once it behaves like a ballistic trajectory target.”

Speaking on Syrian state TV on Sunday, Syria’s ambassador to the UN, Bashar al-Jaafari, said the Syrian response was “appropriate and in line with Israel’s terrorist operation,” and that Israel “will now think a million times [before striking again],” according to a translation cited in Ynet.

That threat has apparently not been a deterrent. Since Friday’s incident, foreign media has reported two more IAF strikes in Syria, one on Sunday and one on early Monday morning.

Israeli ambassador to the UN Danny Danon hit back at the Syrian envoy on Monday, calling him hypocritical for describing Israel’s airstrike Friday on a Hezbollah weapons convoy in Syrian territory as a “terrorist operation,” while boasting of Syria’s retaliatory missile attacks as a game-changer.

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