Israel's first harsh experience of a ballistic missile threat was during the Yom Kippur War in 1973 when Egypt fired SS-1 Scud short range missiles at Israeli targets. The Scud, in the guise of the Iraqi Al Hussein, also featured prominently in the 1991 Gulf War, with numerous launches against Israel.

The Al Hussein typifies one type of short range ballistic missiles arrayed against the Israeli state: the level of accuracy, or rather the lack thereof, denies it a conventional military efficacy. It remains, however, an effective terror weapon, especially given the threat of its use as a chemical, biological, or nuclear delivery system. Syria and Libya deploy the 9M79 Tochka (SS-21 Scarab) battlefield ballistic missile, which, with a circular error probable of 30m (10ft), clearly has a conventional military applicabilty.

The only known regionally deployed intermediate range ballistic missile - a missile with a range in excess of 2,400km (1,490 miles) but less than 5,499km - is Saudi Arabia's Chinese-sourced CSS-2.

Israel is of course itself the possessor of at least two types of medium range ballistic missiles: the Jericho 1 and Jericho 2. A further longer range variant , the Jericho 3, is also reputed to be in development. Given this, it is in the nature of the region that other states are also vigorously pursuing a medium range ballistic missile capability.

Iran, Iraq, and Syria are all actively attempting to develop or procure medium range ballistic weaponry. Iran has turned to North Korea for assistance, and is reported to have provided financial support for the latter's No Dong, 1000km range, ballistic missile programme. External political pressure, may for the moment, have stymied Iran's North Korean missile ambitions, but its ambition remains clear.

Iraq, despite the attentions of the United Nations, also continues to harbour ballistic ambitions. Some sources suggest that it is looking to Russia for missile expertise.

The Israeli response

It is against this background that Israel is working on ballistic missile defence systems, the most widely known of which is the Israel Aircraft Industries Arrow (Chetz) programme.

Israel is working toward initial deployment of an Arrow system in 1999, with a series of test firings having begun in 1990. Alongside the Arrow deployment, the Israel Defense Forces are also likely to deploy the Raytheon Patriot PAC-3 as part of any counter to a ballistic missile threat.

While the threat remains the focus of public attention, some senior Israeli officials believe that the ongoing proliferation of cruise missile technology is likely to pose a similar - if not greater - threat. Acquiring cruise missile capability is also less expensive than the cost of ballistic weaponry.

Iran has been working for several years on extended range variants of the Chinese HY-1 (CSSC-2 Silkworm), with the weapon having a projected launch range of up to 400km. Iraq has also looked to develop cruise missile applicable technologies, although UN resolutions will have at least shackled, if not halted, these efforts.

Russia offered conventional variants of its Kh-55 (AS-15 Kent) into the region in the early 1990s, although US pressure is believed to have led to this system being withdrawn. Given. however, the parlous state of the Russian economy, and defence manufacturers struggling for business, it will be of little surprise if cruise missiles and their associated technologies resurface in the region.

Source: Flight International