JERUSALEM (AFP) – Israel on Tuesday launched a missile over the Mediterranean Sea in a joint exercise with the United States which came as Washington mulls long-range strikes against Syria.
Speculation mounted after the missile firing at 1:15AM EST, with Russia’s defense ministry, quoted by news agencies, saying its early warning system had detected the launch of two ballistic missiles from the central Mediterranean fired towards the sea’s eastern coastline, on which Syria lies.
US President Barack Obama said on Tuesday he was confident he will win Congressional approval for military action against Syria, which would involve cruise missile strikes launched from US warships in the Mediterranean.
Only after the Russian reports did Israel’s defense ministry announce it had carried out the missile test.
“The Israeli defense ministry and the American MDA (Missile Defense Agency) Tuesday morning at 9:15 (0615 GMT) successfully launched an Ankor-type radar missile,” it said in a statement.
“The test was launched from the Mediterranean and directed from an army base in the center of Israel,” it said.
The defense ministry statement mentioned only one missile.
The test involved a new version of the Ankor (Sparrow) missile “and was concluded at… a test range over the Mediterranean Sea,” a separate Israeli defense ministry statement said.
The missile was to test missile tracking capabilities, local media reported.
Defense Minister Moshe Yaalon downplayed the significance of the test’s timing, saying on a visit to a military base that the “exercise was planned a long time ago.
“The army will continue to supply itself with these types of system,” he said.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu lauded Israel’s missile defense capabilities.
“Our security depends on Iron Dome (the country’s vaunted missile defense system), and our will of iron, which are the things that will give us the power to defend ourselves,” he said at the opening of a technology park in central Israel.
“Those thinking of attacking us must know that it’s not in their interest.”
Russian news agencies said Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu had reported to President Vladimir Putin about the event, which comes amid growing expectations of Western military action in Syria.
“The trajectory of the targets in question was from the central part of the Mediterranean Sea towards the eastern part of the Mediterranean coastline,” the Interfax news agency quoted the defense ministry as saying.
Putin, a vocal critic of the West’s policies on Syria, has expressed strong doubt that Syrian President Bashar al-Assad was behind an alleged chemical attack on August 21 that has prompted calls for military action.
Obama’s decision on Saturday to ask Congress to authorize military action against Syria lifted the threat last week of immediate strikes against Assad’s government.
Netanyahu said on Sunday Israel was prepared for “every possible scenario” in Syria, as Israelis rushed to collect gas masks, fearing possible reprisals against the Jewish state for Western military action against a hostile neighbor.
But President Shimon Peres ruled out Israeli involvement in any intervention.
“It is not for Israel to decide on Syria, we are in a unique position, for varying reasons there is consensus against Israeli involvement. We did not create the Syrian situation,” he said.