Israel explains Arrow intercept of Syrian SAM
By: Barbara Opall-Rome, March 20, 2017
TEL AVIV — A senior Israeli Air Force officer on Monday provided operational
context to the unusual March 17 Arrow intercept of a Syrian SA-5
surface-to-air missile, which the jointly developed U.S.-Israel
anti-ballistic missile system was not designed to fight.
Briefing reporters here, the officer said the Syrian SAM launched against
Israeli fighter aircraft following a bombing mission in Syria “behaved like
a ballistic threat” with “an altitude, range and ballistic trajectory” that
mimicked the Scud-class targets the Arrow 2 interceptor was designed to
“It wasn’t a Scud-class ballistic threat. But from our perspective, it doesn’t
matter if it was a SAM. Once it behaved like a ballistic missile weighing
tons and with a warhead of hundreds of kilograms, we couldn’t allow it to
threaten our cities and towns,” the officer said.
When asked to identify the specific threat, the officer confirmed that the
Arrow 2 had indeed scored its first operational intercept against a Syrian
“In this case, it behaved just like a ballistic missile,” he added.
Another military officer later explained that in the aftermath of the March
17 attack, Syria launched several SA-5s in a southwestern direction toward
Israel as Israeli F-15Is were returning home from “a successful strike
mission against high-value assets” destined for Hezbollah arsenals across
the border in Lebanon.
Contrary to criticism leveled over the weekend by former Israeli Prime
Minister and Defense Minister Ehud Barak, who suggested that Israel should
not have launched Arrow in order to preserve the country’s longstanding
policy of ambiguity regarding periodic strike operations in Syria, the
senior Israeli Air Force officer said Israeli air defenders didn’t think
twice about acting against the approaching threat.
“No doubt about it, our mission is to detect and engage this threat, and
that’s exactly what we did Friday morning. The mission of our air defense
forces, under my responsibility, is to defend the people of Israel. And that
was the case last week when Syria launched a missile that was seen as a
ballistic threat to Israel,” the officer said.
Experts on Friday had surmised that since Arrow was not designed to
intercept SAMs, and since such anti-air missiles are not part of the system’s
database that automatically tracks trajectories and predicts impact points
of incoming ballistic missiles, that the target of the early morning March
17 interception could have been a Scud-class missile.
Based on scant information available at the time, experts wondered why
Israel would launch Arrow against a SAM that ostensibly should have posed no
threat to the homeland, given that it aimed to shoot down Israeli fighters
operating hundreds of kilometers away. They noted that the SA-5 is designed
to either hit enemy aircraft or self-explode after a few seconds of engine
burn, rather than proceed flying intact along a flight profile that matches
that of Scud-class targets.
But given the officer’s explanation, one expert here noted that the
Syrian-launched SA-5 could have been very old, and thus did not
self-destruct as designed.
“It should have destroyed itself. But it’s an old missile and it probably
remained in one piece. And in that case, if it didn’t self-destruct after a
certain time, all the weight was in the front and it represented a stable
body, large wings and a tail … all the characteristics of a ballistic
missile trajectory,” said Uzi Rubin, a former director of Israel Missile
“Now it all makes perfect sense. … Apparently the software of the Arrow
system is such that is flexible enough to cope with unexpected situations,"
“It’s an impressive achievement for which we all should be very proud.”