Israel tests upgraded Arrow missile defence system

JERUSALEM - Israel and the United States on Monday staged the first test flight of their upgraded Arrow missile defence system, the Israeli defence ministry said.

"This is the first flight test of the Arrow 3 interceptor and was conducted at an Israeli test range over the Mediterranean Sea," it said. "Israel's Missile Defence Organisation and US Missile Defence Agency officials conducted the flight test."

The Arrow is a jointly-produced, cutting-edge system designed to counter long-range missile attacks, mainly from Israel's arch-foe Iran.

A senior Israeli defence ministry official, briefing journalists on condition of anonymity, said that unlike previous versions, the mark 3 Arrow was designed to intercept targets above the earth's atmosphere.

"The Arrow 3 is the upper tier for exo-atmospheric interceptions to provide the state of Israel additional opportunities for interception of incoming missiles from Iran or elsewhere."

Israel, along with the United States and much of the West, believes Iran is seeking a nuclear weapon, something Tehran strongly denies.

The Jewish state, the Middle East's sole, albeit undeclared, nuclear power, believes Iran must be prevented from reaching military nuclear capabilities at any cost and refuses to rule out military intervention to that end.

The Israeli official said that Monday's test was unrelated to growing regional tension.

"The test has nothing to do with the current political environment between Israel and elsewhere," he said, adding that he could not say when the system would become operational.

The Arrow 3, will operate alongside the existing lower-trajectory Arrow 2, the US-Israeli David's Sling medium-range defence system and the home-grown Iron Dome setup, which has already seen service against short-range attack.

In eight days of fighting between Israel and Palestinian militants in November the Israeli military said that Iron Dome brought down 421 of 1,354 rockets fired into Israel from the Gaza Strip.

Of those that landed, 58 hit urban areas while the rest fell in open fields, causing no damage.

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