The night of March 16th: Several Israeli jets fly into Syrian airspace. They head in the direction of Palmyra and then apparently rocket another truck convoy of advanced weaponry bound for Hezbollah in southern Lebanon. After destroying their targets, the Israeli aircraft then turn to fly back to Israel. On the way out, the Syrian army launches Russian-supplied SA-5 anti-aircraft missiles at them. They miss their target but one of the missiles flies off in the direction of Israel. Israel's Arrow 3 missile defense then kicks in. Arrow 3 is designed to intercept ballistic missiles in space but it also logs on to the errant Syrian missile headed for Israel. It could conceivably land in an Israeli community and so the decision is taken to intercept it with Arrow 3, which destroys it in mid-air. The boom is reportedly heard in Jerusalem, and parts of the SA-5, one of Russia's most advanced missiles, also land in neighboring Jordan.
Syria claims its rockets hit one of the Israeli jets, which is denied by the IDF spokesman. It is Israel's standing policy to interdict Iran's transport of 'game-changing' weapons via Syria to its proxy Hezbollah in southern Lebanon. (Hezbollah has already amassed an arsenal of over 100,000 rockets and missiles hidden underground in south Lebanese villages along the Israeli border). However, this was the first time Israel officially acknowledged an air strike, and the first time Syrian President Assad had ordered the launch of anti-aircraft missiles. Assad is apparently feeling his oats after Big Brother Vladimir Putin has kept him in power by sending in the Russian Air Force to carpet-bomb the rebel strongholds over the past two years.
'When we identity attempts to transport advanced weaponry to Hezbollah and when we have intelligence data and it is operationally feasible, we act to prevent it...'
Within hours in Moscow, the Russian Foreign Ministry Putin summoned the Israeli ambassador for an explanation of the Israeli raid carried out in Syrian air-space. Bibi and Vladimir had previously worked out a deal to prevent Israeli and Russian aircraft from clashing in Syrian air-space. No details were revealed of that meeting. However, the day after in Jerusalem, Prime Minister Netanyahu issued this statement, which the ambassador probably conveyed in Moscow:
'Our policy is very consistent. When we identity attempts to transport advanced weaponry to Hezbollah and when we have intelligence data and it is operationally feasible, we act to prevent it. That's how it was yesterday and that's how we shall continue to act. We are absolutely committed and the evidence of that is that we are acting. Everybody must take this into account - everybody'.
Bibi's statement falls in line with Israel's declared policy of preventing Iran from now expanding its sphere of influence in both southern Lebanon via Hezbollah or on the Golan Heights that borders on northern Israel. The Israeli leader has apparently presented Putin with a fait accompli - stay tuned.
More on that Arrow bullseye...
This was also the first time that Arrow 3 went operational, and it performed with flying colors. Arrow 3 is the top tier of Israel's unique and comprehensive missile defenses all the way from short range, such as the Qassam rockets from Gaza to ballistic missiles (with nuclear warheads) that Iran is now trying to develop. The versatile Arrow 3 has now proven it can not only knock out ballistic missiles in space but it can also destroy Russian anti-aircraft missiles.
Uzi Rubin, aged eighty and now retired, was the mastermind who headed the Arrow project. In an interview with the Israeli website Ynet, the exuberant Rubin gushed:
'I never had a doubt that Arrow 3 could intercept a much smaller anti-aircraft missile. It's a fact that we have become a world leader in the field and overcome many of the critics who opposed the Arrow project in the first place'.
Arrow 3 is equipped with an accelerator that propels the missile to a speed of nine times the speed of sound within a few seconds.
It began in 1988, as part of Israel's contribution to US President Ronald Reagan's 'Star Wars' project for intercepting ballistic missiles with nuclear warheads in space. And yes, Washington financed much of the project that went operational twelve years later. Rubin recalled that he and his team did pioneer research and development because there was no one to learn from. The Americans were also working on a similar THAD project, but, more often than not, the Israelis proceeded more quickly and this Rubin said was sometimes 'awkward', particularly when testifying before US Congressional committees. Rubin explained that Arrow 3 is equipped with an accelerator that propels the missile to a speed of nine times the speed of sound within a few seconds. The missile then streaks to the target and destroys it by detonating nearby.
So much for the critics who question where all that American aid to Israel is going. In fact, former US Defense Secretary Ashton Carter once said Israel contributes more to America's national security than do its Europeans allies. Interviewed by Atlantic Magazine, Carter explained:
'It's a two-way relationship - we really do get things from the Israelis in technology. If you're making comparisons to, say, the European legacy arms (industry), the guys who have made the tanks and planes in Europe, they've been very slow to come out of the industrial age. The Israelis you will find to be more clever and more innovative'.
Carter then gave another example. He revealed how an Israeli solution to 'IEDs' (improvised explosive devices) helped save US soldiers in Iraq after many of them had been previously killed and severely wounded:
'The Israelis were really quite ingenious in this area, and we got a lot from them. There's no question that American lives were saved because of their help'.
Mobileye's monster breakthrough…
First, my full disclosure - I installed the Mobileye car protection years ago and I can attest that it is incredible and does save lives. I was so impressed that I checked out the company's management record, and then invested a considerable sum in Mobileye on the stock market. Naturally I am delighted now. Never did I dream that it would become the biggest high-tech success for the start-up nation after being bought for an astounding $15 billion by Intel. At the time, my thinking was that so many people are killed and injured on Israel's congested roads that it would only be a matter of time before the government would make Mobileye systems compulsory, the same way that back-seat belts are today. Alas this never happened, although a Mobileye-type system is compulsory for trucks as of last November. (Aside from the appalling human suffering, one expert estimates traffic accidents cost the Israeli economy more than 12 billion shekels annually to the economy, that's well over $3 billion). Shaken out of his slumber, Transportation Minister Yisrael Katz has now announced that as of January 1, 2018, all new cars imported to Israel will also have to be equipped with a Mobileye type system, (there is a similar Israeli system called AWACs).
Unlike many other Israeli high-tech breakthroughs, Mobileye executives promise the company will maintain its base of operations in Israel. But in the lofty world of high-tech bonanzas there are also high risks - Ha'aretz today reports that 600 Israeli start-ups go bust every year.