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Israel Tests Rocket Amid Talk of Strike on Iran

Jericho - 3 Israel Israel on Nov. 2 successfully tested what local media called a "ballistic missile" as speculation in the...

Jericho - 3 Israel

Israel on Nov. 2 successfully tested what local media called a "ballistic missile" as speculation in the Jewish state grew over the possibility of an attack on Iranian nuclear facilities.

A Defence Ministry official called the launch a "test firing of the rocket-propulsion system," which he said had long been scheduled. He did not give further details.

Haaretz newspaper, which, like public radio, described the weapon as a ballistic missile, quoted the ministry as saying the test was unrelated to a report that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was seeking cabinet support for a pre-emptive strike on Iran.

Defence Minister Ehud Barak praised the engineers and technicians behind the launch.

"This is an impressive technological achievement and an important step in Israel's progress in the area of missiles and space," he said in a statement before leaving on a visit to Britain.

Public radio reported the test was carried out at the Palmachim military base, south of Tel Aviv.

Citing foreign defense analysts, the radio said the system is capable of firing ballistic missiles with nuclear warheads.

The test came as local media speculation grew about the possibility of an Israeli strike on Iran.

Reports said a strike is opposed by a number of cabinet ministers and by the heads of the army and the intelligence services.

Barak on Oct. 31 was forced to deny media reports that he and Netanyahu had already decided to launch an attack against Iran over those objections.

Barak appeared to suggest in remarks to parliament Nov. 1 that Israel could be forced to act alone against Iran.

"A situation could be created in the Middle East in which Israel must defend its vital interests in an independent fashion, without necessarily having to reply on other forces, regional or otherwise," he said.

Haaretz said no decision had yet been taken on any military strike, and that a Nov. 8 report from the International Atomic Energy Agency nuclear watchdog would have a "decisive effect" on the decision-making process.

The newspaper also cited western specialists as saying any attack on Iran during the winter would be almost impossible because of thick cloud cover, raising questions about when any military action might be launched.

Israel and western governments fear that Iran's civil nuclear program masks a drive for an atomic weapon.

Iran denies any such ambition and insists its nuclear program is for power generation and medical purposes only.

In January 2008, Israel successfully test-fired a long-range ballistic missile, days after warning "all options" were open to prevent Iran from obtaining an atomic weapon.

Israel is thought to be developing a Jericho-3 ground-to-ground missile that can be equipped with a nuclear, chemical or biological warhead and could have a range of up to 4,500 kilometers (2,800 miles).

It is widely considered to be the Middle East's sole if undeclared nuclear power, with an estimated arsenal of 200 warheads.

In September, Newsweek magazine reported that Washington had secretly authorized the sale of 55 powerful bunker-busting bombs to Israel, although U.S. officials declined to comment on the report.

The 2,000-pound bombs are designed to destroy targets buried deep underground and could be used to strike well-protected Iranian nuclear facilities.





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