U.S.-Israeli Laser Shoots Down Rockets In Test

By Julie Stahl | July 7, 2008 | 8:08 PM EDT

Jerusalem (CNSNews.com) - A high-powered laser weapon, which Israel plans to deploy along its northern border with Lebanon to combat guerrilla rocket attacks, successfully shot two artillery rockets out of the sky simultaneously, the U.S. Army said.

The test comes a week before the U.S. and Israel prepare to upgrade their strategic and security relations, according to a report in a leading Israeli newspaper.

The Tactical High-Energy Laser (THEL) shot down a single rocket in a test on June 6 but Monday's test firing at the White Sands Missile Range in New Mexico marks the first trial against more than one rocket, fired at the same time from different directions.

"We've just turned science fiction into reality," Lt. Gen. John Costello, head of the Huntsville, Ala.-based Army Space and Missile Defense Command, was quoted as saying. The SMDC has been responsible for overseeing the $250 million joint U.S.-Israeli development of the THEL over the past four years.

The10-foot-long, 122 mm Russian-built target rockets are similar to those used by Hizballah guerrillas in Lebanon against Israel's northern communities. According to the SMDC, the unguided artillery shells were flying at more than 1,000 feet per second when they were intercepted by the laser.

Additional testing against multiple-rocket attacks will be performed before the system is delivered to Israel.

Upgrading Relations

Meanwhile, the Ha'aretz daily reported Thursday that the promised upgrading of security relations between Israel and the U.S. would be announced after a meeting between President Clinton and Prime Minister Ehud Barak next week. The two will be in New York for the United Nations "millennium summit."

According to Ha'aretz, "the condition for the upgrade in relations will be an agreement . . . to tighten U.S. supervision over Israeli arms sales."

The Israeli Defense Ministry was unable to comment immediately on the report, and the U.S. Embassy in Tel Aviv declined to do so.

But Clinton and Barak first spoke about an upgrade in relations a year ago, shortly after Barak became prime minister.

In a televised address to the Israeli people after the Camp David summit, Clinton pledged to upgrade security relations with Israel even if an Israeli-PA accord did not materialize, because of what he termed the "courageous steps" Barak had taken at the summit and in pulling Israeli troops out of Lebanon.

Ha'aretz said the arrangement includes five separate agreements. One would designate Israel a U.S. "strategic ally," ensuring that Washington helps preserve its ability "to defend itself by itself" and maintain its deterrent capability.

An aid package would ensure that the Israeli army can cope with threats to be faced in the coming years. The amount will depend on progress in the talks with the Palestinian Authority.

There will also reportedly be a payment of $150 million to partially compensate Israel for its withdrawal from Lebanon three months ago, and a memorandum of understanding to seal U.S. military aid to Israel in coming years.

An additional agreement would allow the U.S. a consultative role in weapons deals that could pose a threat to U.S. interests or destabilize the region, particularly relating to agreements with Russia, China, India and Pakistan.

Washington and Jerusalem both want to avoid a replay of a recent row over an Israeli deal to sell China an airborne surveillance system for a quarter of a billion dollars.

The U.S. feared that the advanced radar system might be used against U.S. troops if tensions flared between China and U.S. ally Taiwan.

Barak, under heavy pressure from the Administration and Congress, eventually announced cancellation of the already-signed deal during the first days of the Camp David summit last month.