JERUSALEM — The delivery of an upgraded interceptor currently being installed on Israel’s Arrow anti-missile batteries will ramp up Israel’s ability to cope with threats from Syria and Iran, defense experts say.
“Block 4 is being installed on already existing Arrow batteries,” a security source told AFP, referring to the latest upgrade of its cutting-edge missile interception program that began as a joint project with the United States in the 1980s.
The Block 4 upgrade incorporates a new generation of radar and other technologies which will be synchronized with U.S. systems which are already in use in the region.
“If an Iranian missile is fired towards Israel, it will first be identified by an observation satellite and by U.S. radars deployed in the Gulf,” said Yair Ramati, director of the Israel Missile Defence Organization.
“This synchronization of systems will allow for better tracking of an enemy missile or salvo of missiles fired at our territory.”
One of the most advanced anti-ballistic missile systems in the world, the Arrow 2 was developed in the mid-1990s to counter regional missile threats coming from Syria, Saudi Arabia and Iraq.
But with rising tensions over Iran’s nuclear program and nearly 18 months of bloody unrest in Syria, the focus has shifted.
“With Block 4, the Arrow 2 responds more effectively to the threat posed by (Syrian) Scud D missiles and (Iranian) Shihab missiles,” Ramati told AFP.
In February, Israel and the U.S. carried out a final test of the system before delivery of Block 4, which the defense ministry said would be a “major milestone” in the development of the Arrow.
Work on the Arrow system began in 1988 during the now-defunct Star Wars program and was stepped up after Israel was hit by 39 Iraqi Scud missiles during the 1991 Gulf War.
Development of the system is half-funded by the United States.
Since the system became operational just over a decade ago, it has undergone numerous improvements, to the point where its interception rate currently stands at between 80 and 90 percent.
Although the upgrade was delivered as tensions rise over Syria and Iran, experts say the timing is fortuitous.
“The Arrow program began well before the emergence of the Iranian threat and has since been adapted accordingly,” said reserve Brigadier General Uzi Rubin, who was responsible for Israel’s anti-missile defense system between 1991-1999.
From his perspective, Block 4 is “an evolution and not a revolution.”
“Today, there is a threat which is at least as important as that posed by Iranian missiles — and that is the chemical weapons held by the Syrian regime,” he told AFP.
With spiraling violence across Syria, Israel has raised concerns about the fate of Damascus’s stockpile of advanced weaponry, which includes surface-to-surface missiles and chemical weapons.
Last month, Defense Minister Ehud Barak warned that Israel would not tolerate the transfer of any such arms to Lebanon’s Hezbollah, suggesting it could spark an Israeli military response.