Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaks  during a visit to the Israel Aerospace Industries (IAI) MLM Division plant in Be'er Ya'akov, Israel, Tuesday, Jan. 22, 2019.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaks during a visit to the Israel Aerospace Industries (IAI) MLM Division plant in Be'er Ya'akov, Israel, Tuesday, Jan. 22, 2019.

Israel’s missile defense chief says his nation will soon use U.S. airspace for the first time to conduct a flight test of a system designed to protect the Jewish state from a long-range Iranian missile strike. 

Moshe Patel, director of the Israel Missile Defense Organization, spoke about the planned test of the Arrow 3 system at the annual AIPAC conference of American pro-Israel activists in Washington on Sunday. 

“Arrow 3 is too big for the state of Israel,” Patel told an audience at a panel discussion. “It is supposed to be good against nuclear threats that are coming from Iran. (But) we have limitations in our arena to conduct flight tests because of safety.” 

Israel developed Arrow 3, its most advanced system for intercepting long-range missiles, with U.S. aircraft maker Boeing and first deployed it in 2017. Arrow-3 interceptors are designed to hit long-range missiles in space at an altitude that would safely destroy any nuclear warheads. 

Patel said Israel has only a “very limited” ability to shut down air space over the adjacent Mediterranean Sea for Arrow 3 flight tests because that air space must be kept mostly open for daily commercial air travel between Europe and Africa. 

“This is the reason that, with a lot of help from the U.S. administration, Congress and of course, AIPAC, we succeeded to receive a budget to conduct a flight test in Alaska and the plan is to do it in the near future,” Patel said. He did not elaborate on the timing of that test.

Israel Missile Defense Organization director Moshe
Israel Missile Defense Organization director Moshe Patel (center) speaks at a panel discussion at the annual conference of American pro-Israel group AIPAC in Washington on March 24, 2019.

Israel has conducted a series of Arrow 3 tests over its Mediterranean coastal waters since last year, with the most recent test taking place in January. 

Israeli and U.S. missile defense agencies had planned to conduct a first Arrow 3 test over Alaska in the middle of 2018, but postponed it, saying they needed to improve the system’s readiness.

In 2017, then-U.S. Missile Defense Agency director Navy Vice Admiral James Syring told a congressional hearing that due to significant range constraints in the Mediterranean, “one of the better places to test (Arrow 3) is in Alaska, from Kodiak (Island).” Launching an Arrow 3 interceptor from Kodiak would enable it to fly over the more expansive waters of the Pacific. 

In recent years, Iran has repeatedly conducted tests of long-range missiles that Israel and the U.S. say are capable of carrying nuclear warheads and reaching Israeli territory. Iran insists its missiles are defensive and its nuclear program is peaceful. 

Israel also has expressed concern about what it says are long-running Iranian deliveries of rockets and other weapons to militant groups Hezbollah and Hamas, both sworn to Israel’s destruction. 

“We need to look at what our enemies are planning,” Patel said. “The Iranians are giving Hamas and Hezbollah … a lot of accurate weapons. So this is something we need to take into consideration: what will be the best (way) for (Israel’s missile defense) systems to intercept those kinds of threats. We have the abilities, but we are going to improve (them) in the future.” 

Arrow 3 is part of a multi-tiered Israeli missile defense network that also includes Iron Dome for intercepting short-range rockets and David’s Sling for hitting medium-range missiles. 

This article originated in VOA’s Persian Service.