U.S., Israel in live missile defense test

Wednesday, February 5, 2003

TEL AVIV Israel and the United States have launched a live-fire missile defense test in the last stage of a three-week exercise of interceptor systems against an attack by a salvo of Iraqi Scud missiles.

In Israel's southern Negev desert, loud explosions were heard Tuesday as six live Patriot missiles were fired in the exercise.

Israeli military sources said the exercise would see the firing of up to 14 PAC-2 interceptors, deployed by the two countries, toward mock enemy missile and aircraft targets. The exercise is called Juniper Cobra.

An Israeli military announcement did not say whether Israel's Arrow-2 batteries would participate in the exercise. The Arrow-2 batteries are located south of Tel Aviv and in northern Israel, Middle East Newsline reported.

Officials have said there was only a low chance Baghdad would launch Scuds at Israel, as it did during the 1991 Gulf War when Iraq rained 39 ballistic missiles down on the Jewish state.

But taking no chances, Israel's Home-Front Command began distributing a 52-page booklet Tuesday, explaining how to use gas masks, build protective rooms and the need to stockpile food in case of a chemical or biological weapons attack.

"At the moment we are not suggesting building sealed rooms," Colonel Uri Buchbinder told Israel Radio.

In December, the U.S. Army transferred three PAC-2 Gem+ batteries to Israel for Juniper Cobra. The exercise comprised three stages a simulated Arrow-2 defense against a salvo of Scud-class missiles, interoperability tests between the medium-tier Arrow-2 and the lower-tier PAC-2 and the operation of the Aegis-class Spy-1 radar, meant to detect the firing of medium-range enemy missiles.

The Gem+ battery is an improvement of the PAC-2 model used in the 1991 Gulf war. The U.S. Army plans to fire the Gem+ interceptor in a test at White Sands Missile Range in New Mexico later this week.

Israeli officials said the U.S. Army will withdraw the PAC-2 batteries from the Jewish state later this week when Juniper Cobra concludes. The batteries are expected to be transferred to neighboring Jordan to help the Hashemite kingdom repel any Iraqi missile attacks.

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