Israel and the U.S. conducted a joint missile test in the Mediterranean on Tuesday, raising already heightened tensions in the region as the Obama administration seeks congressional approval for military action against the Syrian regime of Bashar al-Assad.
The unannounced test was performed jointly by Israel’s Ministry of Defense and the U.S. Missile Defense Agency. A Sparrow missile was successfully detected and tracked by the Arrow missile defense system, according to the Defense Ministry. ”The experiment tested enhanced capabilities of a new type of target missile from the Sparrow series,” the Ministry of Defense said. “Arrow anti-missile defense systems, including radars and a command and control system, were also tested.”
While Israel’s Defense Ministry insists that the tests were planned well in advance, the timing suggests it was as much a display of military prowess, to discourage the Assad regime from retaliating against Israel for U.S. action — something Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu nodded to in remarks Tuesday.
Calling the anti-missile system a “wall of iron,” Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said in a speech Tuesday, “These things give us the power to protect ourselves, and anyone who considers harming us would do best not to.”
Arrow designer Uzi Rabin claimed the tests are planned “long, long in advance” and a matter of routine are typically unnoticed. “What apparently made the difference today is the high state of tension over Syria and Russia’s unusual vigilance,” he told Reuters.
Israel currently has four layers of missile defense in various stages of development: Iron Dome system for short and medium range rockets; David’s Sling for medium and long-range rockets; the Arrow 2 anti-ballistic shield, which intercepts projectiles in the upper atmosphere; and the Arrow 3 system, which operates in space and can intercept long range ballistic missiles at high altitude.
Boeing and Israel Aerospace Industries partnered on the joint development of the Arrow system in 2002 and the Arrow 3 in 2008.
The Arrow 3 is designed to carry out several swift maneuvers to lock onto its target, then surging toward the incoming projectile to destroy its target. During tests, the Arrow 3 has achieved hypersonic speed and reached an altitude of 62 miles with the capability of intercepting ballistic missiles and more than five missiles in a 30 second period, according to the Israel Defense Forces.
Col. Aviram Hasson, head of the Arrow 3 project, told the Aerial Threats in the Modern Age conference at the Institute of National Security Studies in June that the motivation for the Arrow 3 was the prospects of a nuclear threat, presumably from Iran.
“Arrow 3 is in the process of advanced development and passed tests with unprecedented success. It expands the scope of interception, far from Israel, with great capabilities,” Hasson said. “It can fix errors. It can break down loads and streamline the battle.”
Earlier this year, Israel’s Ministry of Defense and the U.S. Missile Defense Agency completed an initial round of tests of the Arrow 3: