Israel successfully tests long-range ballistic missile


ISRAEL HAS successfully tested a ballistic missile, believed to be a long-range Jericho 3, capable of carrying a nuclear warhead.

Yesterday’s test, carried out at the Palmahim air force base, was seen by tens of thousands of Israelis in the centre of the country. Many, believing the missile was an incoming projectile, called the emergency services and radio stations in panic. Defence minister Ehud Barak welcomed the successful ballistic missile test-fire. “This is an impressive technological achievement and an important step in Israel’s progress in the missile and space field,” he said

The Israeli military also announced yesterday that air force jets recently concluded a lengthy exercise over Sardinia, Italy, which included long-distance attacks and mid-air refuelling. The exercise involved 17 Israeli jet fighters, and was conducted together with Italian and Dutch planes. The destination enabled the jets to drill a 2,400km flight, including mid-air refuelling; impossible in Israel’s limited air space.

Today a drill will be held in central Israel simulating a rocket attack with multiple casualties.

The flurry of activity coincides with mounting speculation in the Israeli media that prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu and defence Mr Barak have decided in favour of a pre-emptive strike against Iran to stop Teheran obtaining a nuclear bomb.

Mr Netanyahu told the Knesset parliament this week that a nuclear Iran would pose a “grave and immediate threat” to Israel. Mr Barak, without specifically mentioning Iran, warned that Israel may have to act unilaterally.

“A situation could be created in which the state of Israel must act to defend its interests and stand up for the things that are vital to its strength without necessarily leaning on regional or other forces to help us.”

Within hours of the test Iran’s chairman of the joint chiefs of staff Hassan Fairouz Abadi warned Tehran would retaliate with a “surprising punishment” if Israel “pursued such a mistake”. He said Iran was taking the threat seriously, even though the likelihood of such an attack was low, and he warned their retaliation would target the US as well as Israel.

Israeli jets destroyed Iraq’s nuclear reactor in 1981, and in 2007 a similar attack destroyed a secret Syrian nuclear facility. Foreign media reports have already linked Israel with assassinations of Iranian nuclear officials and the Stuxnet cyber worm that damaged Iranian nuclear plants.

US officials have made it clear that they oppose a unilateral military strike by Israel.

Under a decades-old policy of “nuclear ambiguity”, Israel has never confirmed or denied possessing atomic weapons, maintaining the country “will not be the first to introduce nuclear weapons in the Middle East”.

According to foreign media reports, the Jewish state is widely believed to possess several hundred nuclear warheads, as well as the means to deliver them. Four years ago, former US president Jimmy Carter claimed Israel had “150 or more” nuclear weapons.

Deputy prime minister and intelligence affairs minister Dan Meridor warned yesterday that the public debate in Israel about the possibility of attacking Iran was more damaging to Israel’s security than the leaks by Anat Kam, the former soldier who was sentenced to a four and a half year jail term this week for transferring secret army documents to a journalist.

Meanwhile, the EU has expressed deep concern over Israel’s decision to speed up settlement activity in response to the Palestinian accession to the United Nations cultural agency UNESCO.

EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton called on Israel to reverse the decision to expedite the construction of 2,000 West Bank homes and freeze the transfer of funds to the Palestinian Authority. A US official also expressed deep disappointment over the move, which the Palestinians warned would “speed up the destruction of the peace process”.