First test of Arrow 3 interceptor system intensifies speculation that Israel is planning for military confrontation with Iran
Israel is to test an advanced anti-ballistic missile system in the coming weeks, inevitably fuelling speculation about preparations for a possible military confrontation with Iran.
The announcement that the first test of the Arrow 3 interceptor system would be performed “in the near future” was made as Israeli prime minister Binyamin Netanyahu flew to North America ahead of a crucial meeting with President Barack Obama at which Iran will top the agenda. Netanyahu is expected to press for a clear US commitment to military action if diplomacy and sanctions fail.
The Arrow 3 test would confirm “the interceptor missile’s effectiveness”, said Itzhak Kaya, head of the Arrow missile programme at Israel Aerospace Industries (IAI) on Thursday. A number of different tests would be carried out within a short period to “establish its high level of reliability”.
The Arrow 3 was an “improved model of the Arrow system … more capable than ever to deal with future threats”, Kaya added. The test was being conducted as part of a long-term plan devised by Israel and its US partner on the Arrow missile programme, he said.
The unusual advance notification of the test follows an unannounced test in November of a long-range ballistic missile which intensified speculation that Israel was preparing for a military strike on Iran’s nuclear facilities.
However, Israel has come under intense pressure from US officials in recent weeks to refrain from military action. In a tactical shift, Israel now appears to be focused on extracting from the White House a clear pledge that the US will act militarily if sanctions and diplomacy fail to stop Iran’s nuclear programme.
Israel’s president, Shimon Peres, who is due to meet Obama on Sunday, told the New York Times: “We need a total and clear commitment that the catastrophe of Iran will not create an impossible situation … You have to be decisive. You have to make a choice.”
Netanyahu is expected to press the US to be more explicit about threatening military action when he meets Obama in Washington on Monday. Some analysts believe that Israel has deliberately talked up its threats of airstrikes on Iranian nuclear sites in order to push the US administration into raising its game – an approach that has already produced results on sanctions and may be succeed in producing a clearer US commitment to military action in the future.
In an interview with the Atlantic on Friday, Obama said: “When I say we’re not taking any option off the table, we mean it. I think that the Israeli government recognizes that, as president of the United States, I don’t bluff. I also don’t, as a matter of sound policy, go around advertising exactly what our intentions are. But I think both the Iranian and the Israeli governments recognize that when the United States says it is unacceptable for Iran to have a nuclear weapon, we mean what we say.”
Senior US military figures also appear to have made efforts in recent days to reassure Israel with a tougher message. Norton Schwartz, the air force chief of staff, said the US military had prepared options to strike Iranian nuclear sites in the event of a conflict. “What we can do, you wouldn’t want to be in the area,” he told reporters in Washington.
Martin Dempsey, the chairman of the joint chiefs of staff, softened his earlier comment that an Israeli strike would not be prudent when he told a Senate panel this week that his advice to Israel had been around “the issue of time”.
Israel would prefer the US to be a partner in any strike on Iran, not least because of its superior military capability.
Amos Yadlin, a former chief of Israeli military intelligence, wrote in the New York Times this week: “America could carry out an extensive air campaign using stealth technology and huge amounts of ammunition, dropping enormous payloads that are capable of hitting targets and penetrating to depths far beyond what Israel’s arsenal can achieve.”
Yadlin added his voice to those urging the US administration to give Israel a clear indication of its intentions. “It doesn’t help when American officials warn Israel against acting without clarifying what America intends to do once its own red lines are crossed … What is needed is an ironclad American assurance that if Israel refrains from acting in its own window of opportunity – and all other options have failed to halt Tehran’s nuclear quest – Washington will act to prevent a nuclear Iran while it is still within its power to do so.”
Ari Shavit, a columnist in the Israeli daily Haaretz, wrote: “If the US president wants to prevent a disaster, he must give Netanyahu iron-clad guarantees that the United States will stop Iran in any way necessary and at any price, after the 2012 elections. If Obama doesn’t do this, he will obligate Netanyahu to act before the 2012 elections.”
from Harriet Sherwood