Jerusalem (CNSNews.com) - Israel test-fired the Arrow anti-ballistic missile system on Thursday, successfully blowing up a missile similar to those launched by Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein against Israel and US and allied troops in the 1991 Gulf War.
The Arrow, jointly funded by the US and Israel, succeeded in intercepting a "Black Sparrow" missile, launched from an F-15 fighter plane over the Mediterranean Sea toward Israel's shore simulating a ground-to-ground ballistic missile attack from an enemy nation hundreds of miles away.
"Initial results indicate that all components of the weapon system...performed as planned," a Defense Ministry statement said. "All the test objectives were achieved and the target was destroyed."
The Arrow's radar system picked up the incoming target, transferred the information to the Citron III fire control center, processed the information and decided where and when to send the interceptor missile, according to Dr Dan Peretz, head of the Arrow project at Israel Aircraft Industries.
At the appropriate time, the launch command was given, and the Arrow missile intercepted the target, completely destroying it, Peretz said in a radio interview.
Israeli Prime Minister and Defense Minister Ehud Barak hailed the successful test as a "badge of honor for Israel's advanced scientific and technological abilities," a statement from his office said.
Barak said it represented a "vital component" to Israel's deterrent capabilities and made a "significant contribution" to Israel's "military and strategic strength."
The Arrow project is considered one of the showpieces of US-Israeli strategic relations. Begun in 1988, it is one of the most
advanced missile defense systems in the world.
The Arrow, capable of reaching a speed of nine times the speed of sound and a height of 30 miles, should be able to intercept an enemy missile carrying weapons of mass destruction high enough so that it will not be detonated over Israel.
Israel originally planned to deploy two Arrow missile batteries, but later the US pledged to fund a third battery. The overall cost of the continuing project is expected to reach about $2 billion with the US providing more than half the cost.
The first Arrow anti-missile battery was deployed in March of 2000. US Ambassdor to Israel Martin Indyk said at the time that the missiles not only provided security for Israel but represented a "two-way street" that Israel and the US enjoy when working on such joint projects.
"The United States has benefited from the data that has been collected as well as the lessons learned from the integration and the testing of this system," Indyk said.
"Because it is similar in mission to the United States Theater Missile Defense Systems that are in development, the differences and similarities that are gleaned from the cooperative endeavor help us in our technical design system integration and test procedures," Indyk added.
The test launch comes at a time of heightened readiness in the region against possible offensive moves on the part of Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein.
The Pentagon said earlier this week that it was closely monitoring the Iraqi late summer field maneuvers because Saddam has a history of attacking his neighbors and his own people at this time of the year.
The Pentagon said that there had not been any increase in the size of the US forces in the region and that it was carrying out its normal rotation of aircraft that monitor the Iraqi skies.
US and British fighter planes have been patrolling the northern and southern Iraqi skies since shortly after the end of the Gulf War in 1991.
However, Secretary of State Madeleine Albright delivered a thinly veiled threat to the Iraqi leader, without mentioning him by name, during a speech to a Jewish group on Wednesday. She said that the US would use vigorous diplomacy backed up by a threat of force to maintain stability in the Middle East and the Persian Gulf.
Earlier, in her last official speech to the UN, she urged the nations of the world to "stand up to the campaign launched by Baghdad against the UN's authority and international law."
Saddam has refused to allow a new UN weapons' inspection team to begin its work searching for secret weapons of mass destruction.