Jerusalem (CNSNews.com) - With ballistic missiles a growing threat in the region, Israel on Thursday successfully tested its Arrow anti-missile system against a live Scud missile for the first time off the coast of California.
Israel began developing the anti-missile system 12 years ago after U.S.-made Patriot missiles - designed to intercept aircraft rather than missiles - were largely ineffective in stopping Iraqi Scud missiles during the 1991 Gulf War. At least 39 Iraqi Scud missiles slammed into Israel in the first Gulf War.
The estimated $2 billion, one-of-a-kind Arrow anti-missile system is being developed jointly by the Israel and the United States. It is estimated that the U.S. will have contributed about half the development costs when the project is complete.
"The success of this test is an important step in proving the system's operational ability and its response to the existing and growing threat of ballistic missiles in our region," Israel's Ministry of Defense said in a statement.
Thursday's test also highlights U.S.-Israeli cooperation in ballistic missile defense, it said.
A Scud missile, reportedly brought to the U.S. from Iraq, was fired from a maritime platform in the Pacific. The Arrow missile successfully intercepted and destroyed the Scud missile in the first such test at Point Magu Sea Range in California, the
Ministry of Defense said.
"We are in an age of uncertainty," Israeli Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz said after the test.
"Countries in the third sphere [around Israel] are continuing in their efforts to get non-conventional weapons and the capability to launch them from long ranges," Mofaz said in a statement. "The Arrow missile strengthens the deterrence of Israel."
Syria has the Scud D missile and Iran has the Shihab-3 - both capable of striking Israel. Just this week, Iran's Revolutionary Guard repeated an oft-stated regime threat to wipe Israel off the map.
Diplomats also revealed this week that Iran has broken into sealed equipment and started assembling centrifuges that could be used to enrich uranium to make atomic bombs. Iran's Shihab-3 is designed to carry non-conventional warheads.
Some Israeli analysts have questioned whether the Arrow would be fast enough to intercept incoming Iranian missiles, which travel at a much greater speed than Scuds.
But Arieh Herzog, director of Homa, the Israeli Missile Defense Organization, said that Israel is continuing to advance the system to combat developing threats.
"We need all the time to continue to develop the system so we will have the ability in time that new threats [become operational] we will be ready with the solution. This is at the heart of our continuing development," Herzog said in a radio interview.
When asked if the Arrow is effective against the atomic threat, Herzog replied, "The Arrow is good against every kind of threat."
The Arrow system, which includes three components, became operational in 2000.
A radar system detects the incoming missile and directs the Arrow to it. Interception happens above the atmosphere.
According to the Ministry of Defense, Thursday's test, which represented a realistic scenario of a regional threat, could not be carried out in Israel "due to test-field safety restrictions."
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