Israel said it carried out a joint missile test with the U.S. in the Mediterranean Sea, raising regional tensions already heightened by the Syria crisis and sending international markets tumbling.
“Today, the Israel missile defense organization and the U.S. missile defense agency completed a successful flight test” of the new version of the Sparrow target missile, the Israeli army said in an e-mailed statement. “This is the first flight out test of this new version of the Sparrow, and was conducted at Israeli test range over the Mediterranean Sea.”
The test was launched at 9:15 a.m. Israeli time, the army said. Russia’s state-run news service RIA Novosti first reported the detection of a ballistic missile launch in the Mediterranean more than an hour before Israel acknowledged the test. Brent crude climbed and European stocks fell after the Russian media report.
The Pentagon said it provided “technical assistance and support.” The test “had nothing to do with United States consideration of military action to respond to Syria’s chemical weapons attack,” Pentagon Press Secretary George Little said in an e-mailed statement.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said that Israel’s defense is built on an “iron wall, iron dome and iron will.” Iron Dome is the name of an Israeli missile-defense system.
“These are the things that give us the strength to defend ourselves, and to anyone who is thinking to attack us -- it’s not worthwhile,” Netanyahu said.
The Israeli military said the Sparrow launch was done in coordination with a test of its Arrow anti-missile defense system, which successfully detected and tracked the target.
The Sparrow is designed to simulate ballistic missiles for use in testing missile-defense systems, and that’s what probably misled the Russians, said retired Brigadier-General Shlomo Brom, former head of the Israeli military’s Strategic Planning Division.
“This kind of test wouldn’t necessarily be publicly announced, so Israel was probably forced to do so by the Russian reports,” Brom, now senior research fellow at the Institute for National Security Studies at Tel Aviv University, said in a phone interview.
Russia’s goal in announcing its detection of the missile launch was to signal its ability to monitor any attack on Syria, said Ivan Safranchuk, deputy director of the Moscow-based Institute of Contemporary International Studies, part of the Russian Foreign Ministry’s Diplomatic Academy.
“The Russian government wants to let it be known that it’s closely following the military situation in the region and any countries that think that they can do something secretly had better think again,” Safranchuk said by phone.
Israel’s defense capabilities depend on new technology systems that must be tested, Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon said in remarks broadcast on Army Radio. Today’s missile test was successful, he added.
“Nobody tests a missile system in the middle of an environment like this without being aware of it being interpreted as a message or signal,” Aaron David Miller, a vice president and scholar at the Woodrow Wilson Center for International Scholars in Washington, said in an interview. “The Israelis don’t like sitting on the sidelines passively, particularly when they’re worried about security issues,”
Uzi Rubin, a former director of Israel’s missile defense program, said the timing of the test was not politically motivated.
“To prepare such a test takes years, it is very complicated and you do the test whenever you are ready,” he said by phone. “It costs too much money to delay, so you cannot be flexible for political situations.”
The main contractor for the development of the Sparrow is Israel’s Rafael Advanced Defense Systems Ltd. The principal contractor of the Arrow is Israel Aerospace Industries Ltd., together with Boeing Co. of the U.S., the Israeli army said.