Wall Street Journal: Israeli and U.S. military officials this week aborted a test of a missile-defense shield under development by the two countries, raising questions about the reliability of Israel's defenses against a potential Iranian attack.
The Wall Street Journal
By MARGARET COKER and JOSH MITNICK
TEL AVIV — Israeli and U.S. military officials this week aborted a test of a missile-defense shield under development by the two countries, raising questions about the reliability of Israel's defenses against a potential Iranian attack.
The news, which military officials were careful not to characterize as a failure of the Israeli missile-defense program, comes amid heightened tensions in the Middle East over the strengthening of Iranian hawks loyal to Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.
Mr. Ahmadinejad's recent electoral victory has fueled renewed debate in Washington and European capitals about whether to rely on continued diplomacy to curb what the U.S. and Israel see as Iran's intention to build nuclear weapons. Iran says its nuclear program is for peaceful purposes.
The Obama administration has said it is keeping open all options, including a military strike, to prevent Iran from developing nuclear weapons. On Wednesday, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton raised eyebrows when she said that the U.S. could extend a "defense umbrella" in the Middle East if Iran succeeds in obtaining nuclear capability.
U.S. military officials confirmed that the joint test was partially scrapped. They reported success on the part of the exercise meant to test how well the Arrow antimissile system would function with other elements of the U.S. ballistic-missile network, including the Terminal High Altitude Area Program, the defensive system recently moved to Hawaii in preparation for a possible North Korean missile launch.
Wednesday's aborted Arrow II missile test raises questions about what kind of defensive strategies could effectively contain or counter an Iranian attack.
In the past year, Gulf Arab allies of the U.S. have signed several-billion-dollar contracts to buy upgraded Patriot military missile-defense systems from Raytheon Co., based in Waltham, Mass., as a potential deterrent to an Iranian attack.
Iran's military capabilities include the Shihab III ballistic missile, which has a range of about 1,200 miles and has the capability of carrying a nuclear warhead.
Israel has spent more than a decade developing a homegrown missile-defense solution after the failure of the U.S. military's Patriot missiles to intercept Iraqi Scud rockets aimed at Israel in the 1991 Gulf War.
The Arrow II interceptor is being jointly developed by Israel Aerospace Industries Ltd. and Chicago-based Boeing Co. Israel already has deployed at least two Arrow II batteries at unknown locations in the country.
Boeing says in a fact sheet about the Arrow system that it passed two successful test flights in 2007. Israeli media have reported that the military has tested the Arrow at least 17 times and that 90% of those tests have been successful. However, it is unclear how many of those tests included a simulated missile interception, which was the goal of Wednesday's test, according to the U.S. Missile Defense Agency.
The Pentagon agency said that during the initial stage of the test, Arrow's radar identified a dummy enemy missile fired from a C-17 aircraft. But the interceptor missile wasn't launched because "not all test conditions to launch the Arrow Interceptor were met," the agency said in a statement.
An Israeli Defense Ministry spokesman said the launch was aborted due to a "glitch," but declined to clarify what that meant. "It's not a failure," Defense Ministry spokesman Schlomo Dror said. "Part of it was a success, and part of it was not executed."
U.S. military officials confirmed that the joint test was partially scrapped.
Israeli military analysts debated the impact of Wednesday's developments. Some noted that weapons systems often run into trouble during the development phase and said Israel couldn't afford to stop research on the program, given the perceived threat that Iran poses.
Yossi Melman, a political commentator, was more critical, calling the Arrow's substandard performance a "psychological blow." In the Ha'aretz newspaper, he wrote "the goal of the test is not to assess various data systems that could be checked without launching the missile, but to launch the interceptor missile at the oncoming target."