Israeli anti-missile system passes test
Published: Monday, January 6, 2003 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Monday, January 6, 2003 at 12:50 a.m.
PALMACHIM, Israel - Israel carried out its most ambitious test yet of the Arrow anti-missile system Sunday, simulating the firing of several interceptors at once at incoming rockets in what was described as a dress rehearsal for a possible attack by Iraq.
Israel Radio reported that the test was successful, but Army Radio said the test results were still being evaluated.
During the test, a single missile contrail rose from the Palmachim air base, south of Tel Aviv, over the Mediterranean Sea. Israel TV's military correspondent said only one actual Arrow missile was launched, and three dummy missiles were fired in a test of the launchers.
Israel believes Iraq may try to attack the Jewish state with Scud missiles in response to an anticipated U.S. military campaign against Saddam - as Iraq did in the 1991 Gulf War, when it fired 39 Scud missiles with conventional explosive warheads at Israel, causing damage but few casualties.
The launch at the Palmachim Air Force Base south of Tel Aviv included the firing of several Arrow missiles at once over the Mediterranean to intercept a number of simulated targets, the report said.
Israelis have been displaying growing concern over the possibility of an Iraqi attack, and a successful Arrow test might help allay fears. A failure, however, could increase them.
Before the test, air force commander Maj. Gen. Dan Halutz told Army Radio that the Iraqi capability of hitting Israel is "limited, very limited." But, he added, "we have to be prepared for surprises, things we didn't think about."
The Arrow is the most advanced missile defense system of its kind in the world, and such a test has never been performed before, said Yitzhak Ben-Israel, who used to oversee the Arrow project at Israel's Defense Ministry.
"We want to test the ability of the system to fire many missiles at once against a barrage of Scud missiles," Ben-Israel told Israel Army Radio on Sunday. However, no actual target missiles were fired Sunday.
In response to the Gulf War, Israel and the United States invested US$2 billion in the Arrow project. The Arrow is designed to shoot down projectiles about 50 kilometers (31 miles) above ground.
In the coming days, Israel and the United States are to test Israel's entire missile defense system. As part of the drill, dozens of American soldiers will be manning several batteries of the U.S.-made Patriot missiles that have been deployed in recent months, Army Radio said.
The United States hopes that in beefing up Israel's defense, it will lower the probability of Israeli retaliation to a possible Iraqi attack. Israeli officials have said its response will depend on the casualties and damage caused by an Iraqi strike. An Israeli attack on Iraq could anger the Arab world and spark widespread opposition to a U.S. offensive in Iraq.
Former Israeli Defense Minister Binyamin Ben-Eliezer said Sunday that the United States is committed to targeting missile launching sites in western Iraq early in the campaign in an effort to stop Saddam from striking Israel.
"I say that everything is ready and in terms of the way in which the Americans are going to operate ... western Iraq as the threatening area is secured," Ben-Eliezer said. "If something abnormal happens, we still have our missile system."
The Arrow is a significant improvement, Israel says, over the U.S.-made Patriot missile, which intercepts missiles at a lower altitude. The Patriots used in Israel in 1991 were largely unsuccessful, but a more advanced version has been developed in recent years.
Israeli officials have said that they hope that any technical problems discovered in the test could be fixed before any Iraqi attack. Two Arrow batteries have already been deployed at different points in Israel.
Although Israeli officials say it is highly unlikely that Iraq will succeed in attacking Israel with chemical or biological weapons, authorities have been distributing gas masks in recent months. Israelis have also been stocking up on bottled water in case of such an attack.
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