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March 20, 2003
 
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(AP Photo)
Israel Air Defense Goes on Highest Alert
Israeli Air Defense Units Go on Highest Alert, Prepare to Intercept Iraqi Missiles

The Associated Press


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PALMACHIM AIR FORCE BASE, Israel March 20

Israel's air defense units are on highest alert, prepared to intercept incoming Iraqi missiles with conventional or non-conventional warheads, an Israeli general said Thursday.

Brig. Gen. Yair Dori, in charge of Israel's air defenses, said his units have been on highest alert since Tuesday morning, even though Israeli officials say chances are slim that Iraq will fire missiles at Israel in retaliation for the U.S. strike on Baghdad.

Israel has called up 11,000 reservists in the past 48 hours, including those serving those manning Arrow and Patriot anti-missile batteries.

Speaking at an Israeli air force base, Dori said Israel couldn't take chances, despite the low probability of being attacked. "A very low risk with 500 kilograms of warheads I'm not sure that I would be willing to stand in open space and say that's not a threat," Dori said.

During the 1991 Gulf War, 39 Iraqi Scud missiles landed in Israel, causing damage and panic but few casualties. At the time, Israel did not have the proper air defense systems to combat the threat, relying on seven Patriot missile batteries to intercept the incoming Scuds.

Now, Israel has the Arrow anti-missile system made jointly with the United States to intercept missiles at a higher altitude than the U.S.-made Patriots.

With a two-tiered approach the Arrow working at a higher altitude and the Patriot operating at a lower one Israel hopes to combat any Iraqi threat, he said.

At the base, reporters on Thursday were shown five Arrow missile batteries, each able to hold six missiles. They rose from shrub-covered sand dunes not far from Israel's coastal city of Rishon Lezion. Patriot missile batteries are scattered throughout the country, as are Hawk anti-aircraft systems.

The Arrow is designed to intercept an Iraqi missile over the Syrian-Jordanian border, a military official said. The interception would occur at such a high altitude that if the warhead contained chemical or biological agents they would dissipate in the atmosphere and not harm anyone on the ground, the official added.

Dori said the Arrow missile system has undergone 11 tests each one examining a different part of the system. Although it has never been tested in a war situation, Dori said he was confident it would operate properly.

"If we need to cope, if we need to launch a missile, I hope it will work," Dori told reporters. "We will do our best to intercept."


photo credit and caption:
Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon speaks during a special Cabinet meeting in Jerusalem Wednesday March 19, 2003. Israel is "100 percent" prepared for the remote possibility of an Iraqi attack, Prime Minister Ariel Sharon told a special Cabinet meeting Wednesday, as the military completed the callup of 11,000 reservists and civilians sealed rooms in their homes against chemical or biological weapons. (AP Photo/Gil Cohen Magen, Pool)

Copyright 2003 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

 
 
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