A U.S.-Israeli test of a missile defense system Tuesday involved the
launch of a long range missile and speculation that a message is being
sent to Syria and Russia over a possible attack.
By Joshua Mitnick
Israel and the U.S. carried out a missile test over the
Mediterranean Sea on Tuesday morning that was detected by Russian
surveillance systems, adding to regional tension as President Barack
Obama campaigns for a U.S.-led attack on Syria.
The launch of an eastward bound missile from the Mediterranean was
initially reported in Russian media, spooking financial markets as
there was speculation that an attack on Syria had begun, Reuters
reported. Both the U.S. and Russia — one of the chief backers of
Syrian President Assad — have been building up their presence in the
Mediterranean, raising concern about a clash between superpowers.
“Tensions are high. Everybody is waiting for an American attack,” says
Ephraim Inbar, a political science professor at Bar Ilan University.
Israel’s defense ministry eventually said that a Sparrow rocket had
been fired to simulate a ballistic missile attack on the Jewish state
to test the Arrow interceptor system. The Arrow — which wasn’t fired
Tuesday — has been developed to defend against long range rockets
primarily from Iran, a main patron of the Syrian regime.
Later on Tuesday, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu seemed to
allude to the exercise as he spoke on Israel’s missile defense systems
at the inauguration of a high tech park.
“We are building an iron wall, an Iron Dome, and an iron will,” he
said referring to the Iron Dome, a different interceptor system for
short range missiles. “These are the things that give us the power to
defend ourselves and whoever thinks about striking us — it’s not
A spokesman for the prime minister declined to say if Mr. Netanyahu
was referring to the test launch, or even if he was aware of it.
One Israeli expert said the incident could be seen as muscle flexing
by the U.S. and Israel. Officials in Syria and Iran have threatened to
attack Israel should the U.S. decide to order reprisals for the
alleged use of chemical weapons by the regime two weeks ago.
“You could say perhaps its show of strength to Syria and its Iranian
ally — that Israel has a range of options at its disposal. And to
place pressure on Assad and Iran that Israel takes [retaliation
threats] seriously,” says Meir Javedanfar, a lecturer on Iranian
politics at the Herzliya Interdisciplinary Center. “Through Israel,
Obama is also possibly sending a message to Assad — that if the
Congress doesn’t approve an attack against Syria, then America might
protect its interests in the region through Israel.”
Over the weekend, President Barack Obama accused Syria of using
chemical weapons and spoke in favor of using U.S. military power to
punish the regime. The test launch comes as the administration is
trying to convince members of Congress to approve a resolution
authorizing the president to order the attacks.
Arieh Herzog, a former Israeli missile defense director, says that the
Sparrow missile is developed to simulate “the worst threats” in the
region so Israel can hone the capabilities of the Arrow III missile
interceptor. He speculated that the launch Tuesday was done at a
considerably long range.
Mr. Herzog says that although the missile testing with the U.S. is
planned months in advance, they are sometimes postponed due to
geopolitical tension. However, he denied the test was timed to send a
message to Israel’s enemies. “We need to develop the systems as fast
as possible to get better defenses,” he says.