Sunday, January 20, 2008

Israel tests a new (?) missile

On Thursday, January 17, Israel carried out a missile test. Initially, the official side was very reluctant to come up with information and the Defense Ministry only confirmed the launch but refused to provide details concerning the type of missile and the purpose it served.

Soon various rumors spread. Some sources assumed that the missile was an advanced Jericho-2. Iranian media even regarded the missile to be an advanced version of the Jericho-3. This perception was – in an unusual consent – shared by Israeli radio. Others referred to Western military experts which reported that the new system can propel the missile to any point on earth – thereby granting the new missile system an intercontinental capability. A similar statement was made by weapons expert Isaac Ben-Israel, a retired army general and Tel Aviv University professor who is now a member of the Israeli parliament, who said: "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”. Defense officials, speaking on condition of anonymity due to the sensitivity of the project, said that the new missile can reach "extremely long distances," without elaborating.

A statement made by a senior Defense Ministry official took one option off the table: contrary to some media reports, the test-firing was not linked to Israel's development of a multi-layered defense system, dubbed the "Iron Dome" and aimed at intercepting rockets and missiles.

Later on the Israeli Defense Ministry explained that the launch was a successful test of a new rocket propulsion system coupled with a test missile of a two-staged ballistic missile. Because the Jericho-3 is believed to have a three-stage solid propellant, the missile tested on Thursday must have been a different type than Jericho-3. The Jericho-2 missile is – in contrast to the Jericho-3 – a two-stage missile.

The Jericho-2 is commonly reported to have a maximum range of 1,500 km (some reports claim there are two separate missile systems, the Jericho-2 with a 800 km range and the Jericho-2B with an extended 1,500 km range). However, it is often mentioned that the missile is designed in a way that it could reach far greater distances, up to 3,500 or even 4,000 km.

This leads to the assumption, that the Jericho-2 missile has been upgraded with a more powerful propulsion system that pushes the maxim range of the missile from the 1,500 km closer to the limit given by its design. This would also explain the statement of the defense official, because if the range of a missile is more than doubled, one can indeed speak of an “extremely long distance” (in comparison to the former range). However, the statement by the member of the Knesset must still be seen as euphemistic. Even if Israel was now in possession of a missile with a range up to 4,000 km, the missile would still be well below that of an ICBM. Regardless of the question whether the new (version of the) missile deserves the label ICBM or not, if it has a range of over 3,000 km it is suited to hit any place in Iran. This might serve both as deterrence of potential Iranian attacks and as an option to launch a missile strike against the Iranian nuclear facilities (for an assessment of Israel’s capabilities to destroy Iranian nuclear facilities see: Osirak Redux).

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