TELEVISION viewers around the world were misled by live broadcasts during the Gulf war apparently showing the American Patriot defence system destroying Iraqi Scud missiles.
But there is no evidence that the Patriots made more than one successful intercept, according to Moshe Arens, Israel's defence minister during the 1991 war. This devastating assessment is the first criticism to come from such a highly placed figure, one who had access to all military data throughout the conflict.
The Patriot's effectiveness was 'minuscule and, in fact, meaningless,' Mr Arens said yesterday. Far from destroying the attacking Scuds there was no certain evidence of a single successful intercept. At best, there was one possible hit.
Mr Arens revealed that he had told George Bush in February 1991 that Patriot was useless - but four days later the President went to the factory where the missiles were made and claimed they had destroyed 41 out of 42 incoming Scuds.
Despite criticism within the United States, the Department of Defense continues to praise the Patriot. The government last year scaled back initial claims of a 96 per cent success rate, but still maintains it was around 60 per cent overall.
Under Secretary of Defense, John Deutch, said in July this year that his department was 'convinced that the Patriot air defence system performed in an exemplary fashion'.
The manufacturer, Raytheon, is trying to sell Patriot- based systems to other Middle Eastern countries. According to Mr Arens - who has a degree in aeronautics from Massachusetts Institute of Technology - Israeli intelligence knew before the war that 'the chances that the Patriot could intercept a missile such as the Scud were very low'. The decision to deploy them in Israel was made when 'the myth' of successful intercepts in Saudi Arabia grew - a decision taken for psychological benefits.
The former defence minister's comments, made during an Israeli television interview, were endorsed by Dan Shomron, chief of staff of the Israel Defence Force during the Gulf war. 'The legend was stronger than reality,' Mr Shomron said. 'From the minute the Saudi myth was created - that Scud missiles were being destroyed by Patriots - it was our estimate that it was a mistake.'Reuse content