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Israel tested a dual-stage missile yesterday that defense officials say will improve the country's power of deterrence. Channel 10 television said Israel was working on a missile with a range of 4,000 kilometers.

The country's main ballistic missile threat is from Iran, which has advanced missiles as well as a nuclear program that many in the West believe could produce weapons in the future.

"Everybody can do the math and understand that the significance is that we can reach with a rocket engine to every point in the world," weapons expert Isaac Ben-Israel, a retired army general and Tel Aviv University professor who is now a member of the Knesset, told Channel 2 TV.

But Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said he was less impressed.

"The Zionist regime ... would not dare attack Iran," Ahmadinejad told Al Jazeera television in remarks translated into Arabic. "The Iranian response would make them regret it, and they know this."

The missile was launched out to sea from the Palmachim base near the coast south of Tel Aviv. During its ascent it left a long white trail that could be seen clearly from many locations in the Dan, Shfela and Sharon regions.

According to one eyewitness, after the missile reached a high altitude and appeared to be losing momentum, a second propulsion system kicked in. Experts say this indicates a substantial breakthrough in extending the rocket's range.

Israeli media reported that people who saw the white contrail in the sky yesterday morning as far away as Jerusalem made frantic calls to the police, fearing a Palestinian rocket attack from the nearby West Bank.

The missile tested was one of a series of Jericho-type missiles in Israel's arsenal, according to foreign reports. The most advanced version of this missile is the Jericho-3, which is considered intercontinental.

Details of the missile were placed under strict military censorship, banning reporters from disclosing details.

Israel Radio reported that the missile can carry conventional or non-conventional warheads. There have also been reports that Israel maintains a base west of Beit Shemesh with no fewer than three Jericho squadrons.

Yesterday's test constitutes also a technological breakthrough for Israel Aerospace Industries, demonstrating that the missile can be equipped with a dual-stage engine, in contrast to the many single-stage missiles in existence. It followed successful tests of a dual-stage engine integrated into a smaller Barak missile, developed by IAA and the Rafael Armament Development Authority.

With an ordinary engine, once the fuel runs out, the missile begins to plummet toward its target area. The missiles in the possession of Arab countries are of this sort.