Ronald Reagan just saved Israel from Iran’s attack

In 1983, President Reagan in a televised speech proposed what he called the Strategic Defense Initiative.
In 1983, President Reagan in a televised speech proposed what he called the Strategic Defense Initiative.


In 1986, Sen. Joe Biden mocked as ‘reckless’ the idea of defending against ballistic missiles

Allow me to identify who saved the people of Israel last weekend from Iran’s missile barrage: Ronald Reagan.

In 1983, President Reagan in a televised speech proposed what he called the Strategic Defense Initiative. Its core idea was that the U.S. would build defense systems that could shoot down nuclear-armed ballistic missiles, then expected to be fired by the Soviet Union at the U.S. mainland.

Democrats and much of the defense establishment mocked the idea, with Sen. Ted Kennedy naming it “Star Wars." Sen. Joe Biden summed up the opposition in a 1986 speech to the National Press Club:

“Star Wars represents a fundamental assault on the concepts, alliances and arms-control agreements that have buttressed American security for several decades, and the president’s continued adherence to it constitutes one of the most reckless and irresponsible acts in the history of modern statecraft."

By universal acclamation, the hero of last weekend was Israel’s missile-defense systems. The world watched in real time Saturday night as Reagan’s commitment to shooting down missiles protected Israel’s population from the more than 300 drones and ballistic and cruise missiles fired by Iran and its proxies at cities across Israel.

No nation more quickly recognized the necessity of missile defenses than Israel, a small, population-packed country that couldn’t afford the conceit of some U.S. politicians, then and today, that the American landmass is somehow safe from missile attacks. Within two years of Reagan’s announcement, Israel signed a memorandum of understanding with the U.S. to develop missile defenses. The fruits of that four-decade partnership couldn’t be clearer.

Though the U.S. didn’t develop a space-based system, the technology has enabled an arsenal of ground-, air- and sea-based interceptors. Israel—with a capable scientific establishment dedicated to the country’s survival—developed a multilayered missile-defense system. Iron Dome protects from short-range missiles of the sort fired from Lebanon by Hezbollah, which reportedly possesses more than 100,000 missiles and rockets of Iranian, Russian and Chinese origin. David’s Sling protects from short- to medium-range missiles, while the Arrow 2 and Arrow 3 systems hit missiles at high altitudes.

Reagan’s experience with the Strategic Defense Initiative has lessons for the U.S. today, with the unmissable irony that ardent SDI foe Joe Biden is pocketing its political benefit this week.

Among the arguments against Reagan’s missile-defense plan was that it would “provoke a response" from the Soviets. SDI’s development got bogged down in the politics of arms-control negotiations between the U.S. and U.S.S.R. Reagan’s critics, including a virtual media consensus, said SDI would make our own nuclear-missile arsenal less vulnerable, increasing the Soviet Union’s incentive to launch a pre-emptive first strike. Reagan insisted he wasn’t trying to protect missiles but the U.S. population.

If we have learned anything the past three years, it is that Mr. Biden is saturated in the don’t-provoke-a-response school of foreign policy.

He says Israel should “take the win" because retaliation risks provoking a wider war. Shortly after Hamas’s Oct. 7 attack on Israel, Mr. Biden allowed the expiration of a 2015 United Nations Security Council resolution prohibiting Iran from exporting missile and drone technology. However symbolic the resolution, the mullahs couldn’t have missed Mr. Biden’s stand-back approach.

From the day Russia invaded Ukraine, Mr. Biden has slow-walked sending military technology to Kyiv—long-range missiles, Patriot air-defense systems, tanks, fighter jets—for fear it would provoke Vladimir Putin.

Mr. Biden said he’d provide Ukraine with “whatever it takes, as long as it takes." If he’d done that sooner than later, the technology-savvy Ukrainians could have avoided a frozen conflict and their support likely wouldn’t be stalled by Republican opposition in the House.

The Ukraine trench-war conflict, with Mr. Putin sacrificing Russian men on a massive scale, is likely an anomaly. More relevant to the future of war is the calculation by Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps that missiles will be the great equalizer, as Yemen’s ragtag Houthis have proved in the Red Sea.

By happenstance, the House Armed Services Committee held a hearing on U.S. missile defense Friday, hours before Iran launched its attack. The committee members, both Republicans and Democrats, had a prescient complaint, asking Pentagon officials about America’s underinvestment in its defense industrial base and why the Biden defense budget would cut some $400 million from the Missile Defense Agency. “I just don’t understand the rationale behind many of these cuts," Rep. Seth Moulton (D., Mass.) said. It’s harder to understand this week.

Reagan’s missile-defense legacy does have an important advocate: Donald Trump. As president in 2019, Mr. Trump revived the U.S. missile-defense program, and he restated that commitment, citing Reagan, during this year’s New Hampshire primary.

Mr. Biden deserves credit for helping Israel repel Iran’s missiles and drones. It’s clear, though, that the world has entered a new era of state-sponsored missile attacks—first Russia into Ukraine and now Iran’s swarmed assault on Israel. To meet that threat, Mr. Biden would have to admit Reagan was right. That isn’t going to happen.


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