Jerusalem (CNSNews.com) - Israel is 'very worried' that Iran now possesses a long-range missile capable of reaching Israel, even though experts say Israel's anti-missile system could defend the country against such an attack.
Although Iran has been testing the Shihab-3 missile for years, the country's Foreign Ministry announced on Monday that it had conducted a "final test" several weeks ago. This test was reportedly much more successful than previous trial firings.
The missile has a range of about 1,300 kilometers (some 780 miles) enabling it to reach Israel; U.S. troops based in Kuwait; and Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Turkey.
Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Hamid Reza Asefi said this was the last test "before delivering the missile to the armed forces."
The Iranian regime makes no secret of its hatred for Israel, openly calling for the destruction of the Jewish state.
Former Iranian President Hashemi Rafsanjani said in a speech 18 months ago that when the Islamic world obtains a nuclear bomb, "the strategy of the West will hit a dead-end - since a single atomic bomb has the power to completely destroy Israel."
Experts have estimated that Iran, part of President Bush's "axis of evil," may have nuclear capabilities within three to five years.
An Israeli official said that Israel is very concerned about the fact that the Iranians now possess a missile that can hit Israel.
"We are very worried about this new development, which is also a threat to all the region and to Europe," said the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity.
Israeli expert Dr. Dany Shoham, a researcher at the BESA Center for Strategic Studies in Tel Aviv, said what makes the Shihab-3 missile dangerous for Israel is not only the range but also the fact that it is designed to carry non-conventional warheads.
"The range is significantly more than the Shihab-2," said Shoham. "It would cover Israel even from a point somewhere in the depths of Iran."
"[There is also] the likelihood that the Shihab-3 is designed to carry non-conventional weapons," said Shoham, who worked in Israeli military intelligence for 20 years.
"[The missile] has already been field-tested several times. Apparently this was the most successful field test in terms of delivery and exceeding expected range," Shoham said. "Iran is very close to commencing serial production of the Shihab-3."
Israel has a double-tiered anti-missile system. The Arrow anti-missile system is the first layer, designed to intercept ballistic missiles above the atmosphere, destroying the incoming warhead so completely that even if it is carrying chemicals they will not reach the ground. Patriot missiles can also impact incoming missiles at a lower level.
But these "protective envelopes" of anti-missiles "do not undermine the significance of approaching serial production," Shoham said.
According to Shoham, as soon as the Iranians begin mass-producing and stockpiling the missiles, Israel would need to amplify and fortify its existing protective anti-missile envelopes "quantitatively, not qualitatively."
Because of the greater ranger, Shoham said it would also be more difficult for Israel to "monitor the deployment and employment of the missile."
Dr. Ephraim Kam, deputy head of the Jaffe Center for Strategic Studies in Tel Aviv, said Iran's ability to strike at targets inside Israel soon will be enhanced.
Kam noted that the missiles are not much different than other missiles such as those owned by Syria, but the fact that they are further away makes the difference.
"Israel will have to develop a better offensive capability to strike at Iran," Kam said.
For the time being, Kam said, the missiles can only carry non-conventional warheads but at a later stage they could be developed to carry non-conventional warheads, including nuclear.
Experts say that Iran has been in hot pursuit of nuclear weapons for years, but Iran has denied the charge and claimed that the development of nuclear reactors is only for civilian purposes.
The chief of the United Nations International Atomic Energy Agency Muhammed el-Baradei is due in Iran on Wednesday to try to persuade Tehran to come clean and provide answers to nagging questions about its nuclear program.
Israel bombed Iraq's French-built Osiraq nuclear reactor near Baghdad in 1981, shortly before it was due to be activated.
Both Shoham and Kam said that they believed Israel is considering all its options for defense when it comes to Iran, even including a similar attack.
According to Kam, it would be much more difficult to strike at Iran then Iraq because everyone learned their lessons from the Osirak strike.
"Other countries are protecting strategic sites much better than before," Kam said. "Iran is much more distant than Iraq." Nevertheless, he said, while it would be difficult it would not be impossible.
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