BMD Watch: Olmert backs Iron Dome

By MARTIN SIEFF, UPI Senior News Analyst  |  Jan. 25, 2008 at 1:52 AM
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WASHINGTON, Jan. 25 (UPI) -- Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert signaled his strong support for his country's ballistic missile defense development program Tuesday when he took a trip to Rafael Advanced Industries and received an update there on the nation's two premier BMD systems.

Olmert's government a year ago "decided to invest in the development of a multi-layered defensive system to protect Israel's skies from various types of conventional and non-conventional missiles that are liable to strike at population centers," the Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs, or MFA, said in a statement Tuesday.

Israel already has its own famous Arrow interceptor to defend against intermediate-range ballistic missiles, or IRBMs, which is built by Israel Aerospace Industries and Boeing. Israel also has the excellent Lockheed Martin Patriot Advanced Capability-3, or PAC-3 to intercept incoming ballistic missiles at lower altitudes. But the new programs are designed to defend the country against much more numerous missiles of far shorter range.

"Just over one year ago, Prime Minister Olmert and then Defense Minister Amir Peretz approved the Iron Dome and Magic Wand anti-missile systems. The latter is designed to defend against 40-250 kilometer-range -- 24 miles to 150 miles range -- missiles. When it is operational, it will protect Israeli citizens against missiles such as the Fajr and Zilzal. Iron Dome is designed to intercept 4-70 kilometer-range rockets such as the Qassam, Grad and Katyusha," the Israeli statement said.

The MFA said Olmert "was briefed by Rafael Chairman of the Board Maj.-Gen. (ret.) Ilan Biran and Rafael Director-General Maj.-Gen. (ret.) Yedidya Yaari regarding the development of the aforementioned systems, which are among the most advanced in the world."

"The prime minister also inspected the Stunner missile, which will be used in the Magic Wand system, and the missile that will be used in the Iron Dome system. The (Israeli) Defense Ministry has requested that the Iron Dome system be prepared for deployment as soon as possible. It is currently due to be operational by early 2010, when it will be deployed in the south of the country," the MFA said.

However, the statement also noted, "The Rafael directors emphasized that no system currently in use, including those incorporating lasers, are able to provide a solution to Qassams." Qassams are extremely short range and inculcate rockets assembled in Gaza, which is controlled by Hamas, the Islamic Resistance Movement, and which Hamas uses to continually bombard the Israeli town of Sderot, just across the border within Israel itself.

"Prime Minister Olmert asked the Rafael directors to make every effort to accelerate the development of the Iron Dome system, which will be used -- first and foremost -- to protect residents of the south against Qassam rockets from the Gaza Strip," the statement said.

"My government was the first to decide on the development and deployment of defensive systems against the short-range missiles that threaten the Israeli home front. I am proud of the ability of our defense industries to respond to the challenge set by the government. I ask you to develop the Iron Dome system as quickly as possible and to provide us the possibility of deploying as many Iron Dome systems as possible," Olmert said.

Romania urges BMD for Balkans

Romania's pro-Western government wants U.S. ballistic missile defense systems in Europe to cover it and neighboring Bulgaria,. But it wants Russia included as a partner in the program too.

Romanian Prime Minister Colin Popescu Tariceanu spelled out Bucharest's position Tuesday when he traveled to Prague for talks with Czech Prime Minister Mirek Topolanek, the Czech CTK news agency reported.

The Czech Republic is due to host an advanced radar array base to track intermediate-range and intercontinental ballistic missiles that could be fired from a so-called "rogue states" such as Iran and that might be fired at Western European nations or the United States. But opposition to the program, fanned by Russia, is widespread in the Czech Republic. And neighboring Poland under its new prime minister, Donald Tusk, has been sending signals it may refuse to host a base for 10 U.S. anti-ballistic missile interceptors, or ABMs that the Bush administration wants to build there.

CTK said the U.S. plans for the two BMD bases in Central Europe are to be a major subject for discussion at the next NATO summit scheduled for Bucharest in April.

Tariceanu said extending BMD systems to protect his country and Bulgaria would strengthen security in southeastern Europe, the report said.

However, the Romania prime minister warned that the program had to include Russia. He also urged that the United States should work to develop BMD defenses in Europe not only through the U.S.-led North Atlantic Treaty Organization but also through the Brussels-based, 25-nation European Union.

CTK noted that Czech Ambassador to NATO Stefan Fuele warned in March 2007 that deploying the 10 ABM interceptors in Poland would leave Bulgaria, Greece, Turkey and Romania out outside their effective range.

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