Israel launched four Arrow missile interceptors high over the Mediterranean on Sunday in what it called a successful first performance test against a simulated incoming salvo of missiles akin to Iraqi Scuds.
Shocked by the failure of U.S. Patriot missiles to down 39 Iraqi Scuds fired at it during the 1991 Persian Gulf War, Israel has conceived its own custom-designed antiballistic missile as the U.S. gears up for a possible repeat campaign against Baghdad.
Reporters on a Mediterranean beach saw an Arrow soar from the Palmachim air base into the sky and arc over the sea before vanishing. Three others blasted off within seconds.
"This was the first of a series of tests intended to evaluate the system's performance against the next generation of incoming threats. It was successful," a Defense Ministry statement said.
Four computer-simulated targets resembling Scuds were plotted by the Arrow's radar and all were intercepted, it said.
Iraq fired the Scuds with conventional warheads at Israel, causing one death and damaging neighborhoods on the Mediterranean coast. Israel fears Iraq could equip Scuds with biological or chemical agents this time.
Israeli media have said Israel will go on alert from Jan. 15 in anticipation that hostilities may start sometime after Jan. 27, the day U.N. inspectors are to submit their report on Iraq.
Sunday's test was the 10th for the Arrow, a $2.2-billion system half funded by the U.S. The slender, 23-foot-long Arrow is tailored to detect, track and destroy a missile in less than three minutes at altitudes of more than 30 miles, its designers say.
They say the Arrow marks a quantum advance from the Patriot, an antiaircraft system that was imperfectly adapted to down missiles. About 1,000 U.S. troops are expected to hold exercises in Israel soon involving upgraded Patriot missiles.