JERUSALEM (AP) - Israel successfully tested an anti-missile
system designed to protect the country against Iranian attack, the
Defense Ministry said, perfecting technology developed in response
to failures of similar systems during the 1991 Gulf War.
The intercept of a dummy missile was the 17th test of the Arrow
system, a U.S.-Israeli joint venture. Israeli defense officials
said the interceptor was an upgraded Arrow II, designed to counter
Iran's Shahab ballistic missile.
Israel has identified Iran as its biggest threat, citing the
country's nuclear program and its development of long-range
ballistic missiles. Those fears have been compounded by Iranian
President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's repeated calls for the destruction
of the Jewish state.
Israel believes Iran is developing nuclear weapons that could
pose a threat to its existence. Iran denies that and says its
nuclear work is for peaceful purposes such as energy production.
Israel has threatened military action, and Iran has said it would
strike back, warning last month that Israel's own nuclear
facilities were within missile range.
Iran's Shahab-3 missiles have a range of up to 1,250 miles
(2,000 kilometers), putting Israel well within striking distance.
Iranian officials were not available for comment on the Israeli
In a statement, the Defense Ministry said the interceptor shot
down "a missile simulating a ballistic threat in especially
challenging conditions." It called the test "an important step in
the development program and the development of operational
abilities to counter the growing threat of ballistic missiles in
Defense Minister Ehud Barak watched Tuesday's intercept from a
military helicopter, the ministry said. According to the Israeli
Embassy in Washington, Pentagon representatives also were present.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who has made the Iranian
threat a top priority of his administration, congratulated defense
officials for the successful test. "While we are for peace, we
will know how to defend ourselves," he said.
In an interview Tuesday with CNN, U.S. Vice President Joe Biden
was asked how worried he is that Israel, under Netanyahu, will
launch a strike to take out Iran's nuclear facilities.
"I don't believe that Prime Minister Netanyahu would do that,"
Biden said. "I think he would be ill-advised to do that. And so my
level of concern is no different than it was a year ago."
The Arrow project is being developed by Israel Aerospace
Industries Ltd. and Chicago-based Boeing Co. at a cost of more than
$1 billion. It was spurred largely by the failure of the U.S.
military's Patriot missiles to intercept Iraqi Scud rockets that
struck Israel in the 1991 Gulf War.
Several batteries of Arrow missiles are already operational. But
Israel has been working to perfect the system to deal with
increasingly complicated threats, such as missiles that strike at
extremely high speeds from high altitudes and could split apart as
they approach their targets.
Iran has worked hard to increase the accuracy of its missiles.
In November, it successfully test-fired the Sajjil, a solid fuel
high-speed missile with a range 1,250 miles (2,000 kilometers).
Solid fuel is considered a significant breakthrough because it
Rick Lehner, spokesman for the Pentagon's Missile Defense
Agency, said the Arrow is meant to intercept short- and
medium-range ballistic missiles.
"This was the most advanced version of the Arrow weapons system
in terms of the ability to perform the type of intercept that would
be necessary to destroy a ballistic missile target," he said. He
said that in conjunction with Patriot missiles, which strike at a
lower altitude, Israel has "deployed a layered defense."
Israel is also developing a system to counter short and medium
range rockets of the kind possessed by Palestinian and Lebanese
militants. The system, called the Iron Dome, is set to be deployed
The U.S. military has conducted separate tests in recent years
of different components of the defensive shield, which is slated to
include Patriot air defense batteries, anti-ballistic missiles
launched from Navy ships and lasers mounted in planes designed to
shoot down incoming missiles.
Last month, the U.S. military's ground-based mobile missile
defense system successfully shot down a medium-range ballistic
missile during a test in Hawaii.
It was the first time the military fired two interceptors at one
target using the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense system, a
program designed to shoot down ballistic missiles in their last
stage of flight.
The drill followed up on a test that was planned for last
September but had to be aborted when the target malfunctioned
shortly after launch.