U.S., Israel to test missile-defense system

By Jon Dougherty

The United States and Israel are planning joint exercises of the Jewish state’s two-tiered missile-defense system by the first part of the year, ahead of potential military action against Iraq, according to various reports.

The January exercises, says the Beirut, Lebanon, Daily Star newspaper, will involve a test of Israel’s two-tiered missile-defense system comprising the U.S.-made Patriot Advanced Capability, or PAC-III, anti-missile system and the longer-range Israeli Arrow system, which was developed by Israel with U.S. assistance.

Iraq recently has threatened to retaliate against Israel with its limited supply of SCUD ballistic missiles if attacked by the U.S. During the 1990-91 Gulf War, Baghdad launched 39 missiles at Israel; the early Patriot systems were unable to intercept most of them.

Israel is stepping up its missile-defense preparations in anticipation of conflict between Washington and Baghdad. Earlier this month, Israeli defense officials even gave a rare public demonstration of the Arrow system to international media, according to the Nov. 13 issue of Missile Defense Briefing Report, published by the American Foreign Policy Council.

Israel Defense Force officials told Reuters Nov. 7 that, together with the “lower tier” U.S. system, the Arrow gives the Jewish state “huge capability” to intercept incoming missiles.

The Pentagon did not return phone calls seeking comment.

PAC-III missile hits incoming target.

The PAC-III, according to the Federation of American Scientists, “is a high/medium advanced surface-to-air guided missile air defense system” and is a “major upgrade to the [original] Patriot system” first deployed in Israel during the Gulf War.

PAC-III batteries began arriving in Israel a few months ago, CNN reported.

The Pentagon did not return phone calls seeking comment.

Test of an Arrow 2 missile in 1996.

The Federation of American Scientists says that the Arrow system “is intended to satisfy the Israeli requirement for an interceptor for defense of military assets and population centers. …” FAS also said the missile was developed by Israel Aircraft Industries to “support U.S. technology base requirements for new advanced anti-tactical ballistic missile technologies that could be incorporated into the U.S. theater missile defense systems.”

In October, the Israel Defense Force’s top commander announced that the Arrow system had been online since the one-year anniversary of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks in the United States.

“In the years since the [Persian] Gulf War, we have developed the Arrow missile [shield], which is today a fully operational system and which provides us with an efficient system against missiles,” said then-Israeli Defense Minister Benjamin Ben-Eliezer in an Oct. 9 news conference.

Israeli officials have generally been tight-lipped about Arrow’s capabilities, but did say the systems were being deployed around the country in conjunction with the U.S. anti-missile batteries.

Meanwhile, the International Herald Tribune reports that U.S. war preparations against Iraq could take months. Included in the Bush administration’s plans are efforts to formalize roles allies would take in any new assault as well as discouraging enemies of Iraq from launching their own attacks separate from the main assault.

Also, the paper said, the administration may try to seek United Nations approval for any attack.

Baghdad agreed to new U.N.-mandated weapons inspections earlier this month and promised yesterday to meet a December deadline to disclose information about banned weapons.

Mohamed ElBaradei, head of the International Atomic Energy Agency, said Iraqi officials made the commitment during talks with chief U.N. weapons inspector Hans Blix after he and other team members arrived in Iraq on Monday.

Blix and his team have been unable to perform weapons inspections for four years after being expelled by Baghdad.