Israeli system needs only seconds to destroy incoming missile

Friday, February 28, 2003

TEL AVIV Defense is the top priority of Israel's new government which has retained its defense chief in his position while overseeing the deployment of an upgraded missile defense system. Officials said the new system can destroy an attacking missile with less than a minute's notice.

Lt. Col. Yariv Shnapp, responsible for the Patriot and Hawk systems in northern and central Israel, cited a range of software and hardware improvements to the PAC-2 system over the last decade. He said the interceptor has a faster communications link to Patriot radar and can destroy a missile at an altitude twice that of systems deployed in 1991.

Shnapp said the PAC-2 systems obtained by Israel can destroy an incoming ballistic missile within one minute's notice. "One minute is enough to intercept this target," he said.

In Jerusalem, Shaul Mofaz was sworn in on Thursday as Israel's defense minister, Middle East Newsline reported. Mofaz was appointed last year under the previous government led by Prime Minister Ariel Sharon. The Knesset approved the new Cabinet on early Friday.

Mofaz is a former chief of staff and has advocated a drive to defeat the Palestinian Authority and end the more than two-year insurgency war. Over the past two weeks, Mofaz has ordered a campaign against leading insurgents of Hamas and Islamic Jihad, which have claimed responsibility for most of the suicide attacks against Israeli targets.

Officials said Mofaz's key responsibilities will continue to focus on the war against the Palestinians and preparing for the U.S.-led war against Iraq. The defense minister will seek to maintain military readiness amid a government decision to cut the defense budget by $1.7 billion in fiscal 2003.

Mofaz was one of the few ministers to retain his post. Silvan Shalom, finance minister in Sharon's last government, was named foreign minister. Former prime minister and foreign minister Binyamin Netanyahu was named finance minister.

Meanwhile, Israel is close to completion of an effort to deploy seven PAC-2 anti-missile batteries.

Israeli officials said the batteries include those obtained from Germany and the United States and comprise an improved missile defense system. They said the batteries received from Germany and the United States are superior to the ones employed in the 1991 Gulf war.

"The warhead is larger and the impact at interception point will be stronger," Shnapp said.

The Israel Air Force briefed journalists on Thursday on the country's Patriot systems at the Hafetz Haim base south of Tel Aviv. Officers provided no figures and little technical information, but said six PAC-2 batteries have become operational and the seventh will join them in another few weeks.

The air force said Israel has received PAC-2 interceptors with a far greater range and response than those employed in the 1991 Gulf war.

Officers said the PAC-2 and Hawk systems have been integrated to provide an effective air defense umbrella. Both the Hawk and Patriot are U.S. systems.

The Hawk has a range of 42 kilometers and the PAC-2 is said to be capable of intercepting ballistic missiles at a range of 20 kilometers. Officers said the two systems have been linked to two Arrow-2 missile defense batteries.

Sharon said the priority of his new government will be the restoration of the economy. He told Israel's parliament on Thursday that the next priority will be a peace settlement based on a U.S. plan that will include a Palestinian state.

Israel has requested $12 billion in economic and military aid. Most of the military aid was requested as part of a $4 billion grant from Washington. The rest has been requested as part of loan guarantees.

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