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Israel Passes the Missile Test By: P. David Hornik
FrontPageMagazine.com | Monday, April 13, 2009

Last week Israeli TV showed a group of engineers breaking into wild exultation as an upgraded Arrow 2 missile neared a Blue Sparrow missile and then knocked it out of the sky.

The Arrow is a missile interception system being jointly developed by Israel and the United States. The Blue Sparrow was specially developed to mimic an Iranian Shihab-3 missile—capable of carrying a nuclear warhead—and was fired from an F-15 fighter jet over the Mediterranean before the Arrow 2 succeeded in downing it in poor visibility.

The test—a collaboration between the Israeli Air Force and the U.S. Missile Defense Agency, making use of American X-Band Radar—also showed that the enhanced Arrow 2 is capable of intercepting Iranian missiles running on solid fuel, which increases accuracy and launch speed. Iran first successfully tested a solid-fuel missile last November.

Israeli defense minister Ehud Barak watched the test from a helicopter hovering near the Palmahim air base, from which the Arrow 2 was launched, and later praised the results to the press.

The Israeli daily Haaretz reports that the successful test has bolstered Israeli defense officials’ hopes that the U.S. will keep funding the Arrow, which is also designed to counter Syrian missiles. Israel is “concerned that cuts in the U.S. defense budget, along with Pentagon unwillingness to fund a project that does not employ American workers, could harm the future of the Arrow.”

These worries come at a time when the even more sophisticated Arrow 3 is under development. The Arrow 3 is being designed to intercept ballistic missiles at an earlier stage of their flight paths, allowing for repeated attempts at interception if the first one fails. Reports differ on whether continued work on the Arrow 3 is dependent on U.S. funding.

Haaretz reports more optimistically, however, that “in recent weeks top Israeli defense officials have been informed by their American counterparts that there are no plans underway to cut funding for the Arrow system.”

A more discordant note, however, was struck on Tuesday by Vice-President Joe Biden, who told CNN that Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu’s new government would be “ill-advised” to attack Iran. Biden added that “I don’t believe that Prime Minister Netanyahu would do that” and that “My level of concern is no different than it was a year ago”—apparently referring to U.S. concerns that the previous Olmert government, too, was contemplating a strike on Iran’s nuclear program.

Biden’s words come at a time when the U.S. is also planning to phase out the F22 bomber aircraft, much coveted by Israel. The vice-president’s statement also contrasts with Netanyahu’s statement a week ago, when presenting his new government to the Knesset, that “The biggest danger to humanity and to Israel comes from the possibility of a radical regime armed with nuclear weapons”—clearly alluding to Iran.

Missile defense is indeed a central element of Israeli strategy and Barak is a major proponent of it. Israel is also developing the Magic Wand system against medium-range missiles, and the Iron Dome system against low-range projectiles like the kind fired from Gaza. Barak’s great hesitation to use force in Gaza—Operation Cast Lead having been launched only after thousands of hits on Israel—apparently stems in part from his belief that the Iron Dome, once in place, can significantly reduce the threat.

Barak, however, was Netanyahu’s preferred choice for defense minister partly because of a reportedly shared belief that Iranian nuclearization is intolerable. Creating the perfect shield against all kinds of incoming missiles is utopian. Apart from the inevitable imperfection of even the most advanced interceptors, a nuclearized Iran could transfer nukes to terrorists on the ground.

Although the profound level of U.S.-Israeli cooperation on the Arrow and other projects may be encouraging, when it comes to the Obama administration’s hopes of making friends with Tehran, and relaxed timeline on the issue, Israel is on a different frequency.

P. David Hornik is a freelance writer and translator living in Beersheva. He blogs at http://pdavidhornik.typepad.com/. He can be reached at pdavidh2001@yahoo.com.

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