Tim Butcher /The London Telegraph – 2008-01-19 23:30:59
JERUSALEM (January 19, 2008) — Israel has carried out the successful test launch of a long-range, ballistic missile capable of carrying a nuclear warhead, in what was intended as a clear show of strength to Iran.
While Iranian military chiefs carry out regular test firings of their own missiles, events that are often shown on state television, in Israel things are done with less fuss.
The lack of public awareness caused a flap when the contrail from the test firing was seen in the skies over Jerusalem causing many Israelis to call the emergency services fearing attack by Palestinian militants.
It was launched from the top-secret Palmachim air base south of Tel Aviv, home to a number of highly sensitive Israeli weapon systems including the Arrow anti-missile defence battery.
Israeli officials declined to comment publicly about the launching, but unnamed officials quoted in the Israeli press expressed satisfaction at both the launch and its impact across the region.
“There was great joy after the results of the test became clear,” one security source said. “Whoever is watching what is happening in Israel will understand what he has to understand.”
Regional defence experts said Israel has begun a programme to extend the range of its existing Jericho-2 ground attack missiles.
The Jericho-3 is planned to have a range of 2,500 miles which brings all of Iran within range.
Iran is currently under international sanctions for failing to comply with inspectors into its developing nuclear programme. America, Israel and much of the international community suspect Iran is trying to develop nuclear weapons.
While Israel has never confirmed it has nuclear weapons, it is the worst kept secret in the Middle East that the Jewish State acquired them years ago.
A recent article in the Israeli newspaper Haaretz said American intelligence concluded as early as 1974 Israel had stockpiled nuclear weapons, and that the early Jericho ground-to-ground missile system was designed for nuclear warheads.
“Everybody can do the math and understand that the significance is that we can reach with a rocket engine to every point in the world,” Isaac Ben-Israel, a retired army general and Tel Aviv University professor who is now an MP, said.
Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, Iran’s president, often hints at the destruction of Israel and in his latest speech, given before news of the test launch, he again attacked the Jewish state.
“The Zionist regime … would not dare attack Iran,” he said, “The Iranian response would make them regret it, and they know this.”
The Israeli test was regarded as a technological breakthrough for Israel Aerospace Industries, manufactures of the missile system, as it showed the missile could be fitted with a dual-stage engine.
One Israeli commentator suggested the launch was ordered by the government to detract worsening public criticism of its inability to stop rockets hitting Israel fired by Palestinian militants inside Gaza.
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