OCCUPIED JERUSALEM: Israel Tuesday launched a missile over the Mediterranean in a joint exercise with the U.S. that came as Washington mulls punitive airstrikes on Syria.
Speculation mounted after the missile firing at 0615 GMT, with Russia’s Defense Ministry saying its early warning system had detected two ballistic missile launches from the central Mediterranean sea fired toward the eastern coastline.
But the Pentagon said the exercise had no connection to possible attacks against the Syrian regime, and that it was a standard drill designed to assess Israel’s missile defenses.
“This test had nothing to do with United States consideration of military action to respond to Syria’s chemical weapons attack,” Pentagon spokesman George Little said.
U.S. President Barack Obama said earlier that he was confident of winning congressional approval for military action against Syria that would involve cruise missile strikes launched from American warships in the Mediterranean.
Only after the Russian reports did Israel’s Defense Ministry announce it had carried out the missile test.
“The Israeli Defense Ministry and the American MDA [Missile Defense Agency] Tuesday morning at 9:15 [0615 GMT] successfully launched an Ankor-type radar missile,” it said in a statement.
“The test was launched from the Mediterranean and directed from an army base in the center of Israel.”
The Defense Ministry statement mentioned only one missile.
The test involved a new version of the Ankor missile “and was concluded at ... a test range over the Mediterranean Sea,” a separate Israeli Defense Ministry statement said.
The launch was to test missile tracking capabilities, local media reported.
Defense Minister Moshe Yaalon downplayed the significance of the test’s timing, saying on a visit to a military base that the “exercise was planned a long time ago.”
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu lauded Israel’s missile defense capabilities.
“Our security depends on Iron Dome [the country’s vaunted missile defense system], and our will of iron, which are the things that will give us the power to defend ourselves,” he said at the opening of a technology park in central Israel. “Those thinking of attacking us must know that it’s not in their interest.”Russian news agencies said Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu had reported to President Vladimir Putin about the event, which comes amid growing expectations of Western military action in Syria.
Putin, a vocal critic of the West’s policies on Syria, has expressed strong doubt that Syrian President Bashar Assad was behind an alleged chemical attack on Aug. 21 that has prompted calls for military action.
Obama’s decision Saturday to ask Congress to authorize military action against Syria lifted the threat last week of immediate strikes.
Netanyahu said Sunday Israel was prepared for “every possible scenario” in Syria, as Israelis rushed to collect gas masks, fearing possible reprisals against the Jewish state for U.S.-led military action against a hostile neighbor.
But President Shimon Peres ruled out Israeli involvement in any intervention. “It is not for Israel to decide on Syria, we are in a unique position, for varying reasons there is consensus against Israeli involvement. We did not create the Syrian situation,” he said.