Haaretz Daily Newspaper - English Internet Edition
Wednesday, May 3, 2000
Israeli missile test too close for U.S. Navy cruiser's comfort

Scientists think Israel has long-range ballistic arms

By Amnon Barzilai
Ha'aretz Defense Correspondent

An Israeli "Jericho" surface-to-surface ballistic missile landed near a U.S. Navy Aegis cruiser in the eastern Mediterranean last month, according to a Washington Post report. During most of its flight, the missile appeared on the cruiser's air-warning sensors as aiming for the U.S. ship. However, the missile landed some 65 kilometers away from the USS Anzio, which was cruising 350 kilometers west of the Israeli coast.

According to the U.S. Department of Defense, the incident occured when Israel carried out a test launch of a Jericho-1 medium-range missile on April 6. The USN Aegis cruiser, a dedicated air-defense ship, was at the time accompanying the aircraft carrier USS Eisenhower and another cruiser on their way to conducting joint exercises with Israeli forces. One Defense Department official said that the customary "Notice to Aviators and Mariners" was not given prior to the test. According to the Americans, this marked the third time that no such warning was given to a U.S. warship during the last two years.

While the matter is being handled through diplomatic channels, relations between Israel and the U.S. Navy have not been good since the sinking of the USN Liberty during the Six-Day War by Israeli aircraft and gunboats. Israel paid compensation to the families of the 205 casualties.

Israel has never made available any information on the development and production of the Jericho missile. According to foreign publications, the Jericho comes in two basic forms: Jericho-1, like the one test fired in April, carries conventional and nonconventional warheads over distances as long as 750 kilometers; and its big brother, Jericho-2B, has a much longer range and higher accuracy.

The missiles were developed with French help during the 1960s at the peak of close ties between Israel and France. The firing of an Egyptian-made surface-to-surface missile in 1962 is estimated to have been the catalyst for the decision to develop the weapons.

The new version of the Jericho-2 missile reportedly includes most neighboring countries in its range, and its accuracy is considered to be very good. The U.S. National Security Agency has monitored the test program of the Jericho-2 and has recorded several test firings over the Mediterranean. According to the Federation of American Scientists, test firings of the missile at ranges in excess of 1300 kilometers have been conducted in South Africa.

According to the organization, the capability of Israel's ballistic missiles has been estimated to be far greater. Based on calculations derived from the Shavit rockets carrying the Ofek satellites, Israel's ballistic missiles are capable of carrying a nuclear payload across ranges in excess of 5,300 kilometers. But experts at the Pentagon estimate that an Israeli missile with a 7,200-kilometer range is possible. Another estimate was given in July 1990 by University of Maryland physicist Steve Peter, who calculated that the Shavit rocket has a range of 4,000 kilometers with a maximum payload of 775 kilograms. All these assessments place the whole of the Middle East within the range of Israel's ballistic missiles.

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