Israel test-fires ballistic missile after Iran warning
Jerusalem (AFP) Jan 17, 2008
Israel successfully test-fired a long-range ballistic missile on Thursday, a senior official told AFP, days after warning "all options" were open to prevent archfoe Iran from obtaining atomic weapons.
"We successfully test-fired a two-staged ballistic missile system today," a senior defence ministry official told AFP, speaking on condition of anonymity.
"This was a very important achievement for Israel's ballistic capabilities," he added, declining to provide further details on the test.
Witnesses reported seeing a trail of smoke rising from the reported launch site at the Palmachin air base south of Tel Aviv.
The official said that contrary to some media reports, the test-firing was not linked to Israel's development of a multi-layered defence system, dubbed the "Iron Dome" and aimed at intercepting rockets and missiles.
Israel has in recent years concentrated efforts on countering the threat of missile attacks from neighbouring Arab states and Iran, which has itself conducted several long-range missile tests.
Israel is currently thought to be developing the Jericho-3 ground-to-ground missile that can be equipped with a nuclear, chemical or biological warhead and could have a range of up to 4,500 kilometres (2,800 miles).
Widely considered to be the Middle East's sole if undeclared nuclear power with an estimated arsenal of 200 warheads, Israel accuses Iran of using its controversial nuclear programme as a cover for developing atomic weapons, a charge Tehran denies.
Thursday's test came two days after Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert warned that all options were on the table to prevent Tehran from acquiring nuclear weapons.
"We are not ruling out any option," a senior government official quoted him as telling parliament's foreign affairs and defence committee, echoing main ally Washington in ratcheting up the rhetoric against Tehran.
"Anything that can lead to preventing Iran from nuclear capability is part of the legitimate context when dealing with the problem," Olmert said.
The premier's comments came amid US President George W. Bush's Middle East trip that was largely devoted to bolstering his campaign to isolate Iran, which he repeatedly branded a "threat to world peace."
Iran figured prominently in Olmert's talks with Bush during his visit to Israel, officials said.
"The Iranians are continuing their ingrained efforts to produce non-conventional capabilities and therefore we should use all the available means to stop it," Olmert told the parliament committee.
"There are many options that should be applied wisely, with determination and consistence," he said. "We should continue international efforts on this issue and we have a strong basis to assume, in view of my talks with the president, that this activity will not stop."
A US intelligence report in December said that Iran halted a nuclear weapons programme in 2003, although Washington is still pushing for a new set of UN sanctions against the Islamic republic.
The UN's International Atomic Energy Agency, which has been investigating Iran's nuclear programme for several years, said on Sunday that Tehran has agreed to clear up remaining questions on its activities in four weeks.
Tensions were heightened following a confrontation in the strategic Strait of Hormuz between Iranian speedboats and US warships just days before Bush began his week-long tour of the region.
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The NATO Medium Extended Air Defense System (MEADS) Management Agency awarded a $66 million contract to incorporate the Lockheed Martin PAC-3 Missile Segment Enhancement (MSE) Missile as the baseline interceptor for the tri-national program. The new interceptor increases the system's range and lethality over the baseline PAC-3 Missile, which was selected as the primary missile for MEADS when the design and development program began in 2004.
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