Iran's Successful Missile Test Puts Israel Within Range

United States is `gravely concerned' by Shihab-3 ground-to-ground rocket

Iran has successfully tested a Shihab-3 missile, which has a range that can reach Israel. The launch last week was the most successful so far of the seven or eight tests of the missile over the last five years, and has increased worries in Washington - which spotted the test with its tracking mechanisms - and in Israel.

If the assessment proves to be true that the missile, which was launched from east to west, had an effective range beyond the 1,300-kilometer red line, meaning the range from western Iran to Israel, the Iranians could position the launching pads for the rocket deeper inside their country.

The Iranian threat will be one of the subjects under discussion when Chief of Staff Moshe Ya'alon visits the Pentagon and U.S. armed forces bases next week. Ya'alon's itinerary is supposed to include the Florida headquarters of two key commands: Centcom and Special Operations at MacDill air force base.

More data is now being collected and collated in the West about the missile test and about the progress being made in the Iranian missile program, which is based on North Korean missiles. In previous tests, when the rocket was powered by a North Korean engine, the tests were successful, but when the engines were Iranian-made, even with North Korean know-how, they tended to fail - despite statements by Iranian Defense Minister Ali Shakhmani in 2002 that Iran can "develop everything" and does not need help from foreign sources like China or Russia.

The report of the Shihab-3 test is an incentive for Israel equipping itself with more Arrow missiles made by the Israel Aircrafts Industries and soon to go into a joint production process with Boeing.

Israel is also concerned about the growing ties between Iran and Libya. Indeed, the Libyan threat is now the reason for a third Arrow battery even though the Iraqi threat is gone. One response to the Libyan threat would be an Arrow battery mounted on a naval vessel.

Western experts said that the 16-meter single-stage Shihab-3, which can carry up to a ton of explosives in its payload, is not very accurate, with the probability of hitting within three kilometers of any target it is launched at. But it is possible that has been improved over the past year. In any case, the missile range already includes Israel, Turkey, the Indian subcontinent and the American forces in the Gulf. Iran has plans for two longer-range missiles: a Shihab-4, with a 2,000-kilometer range and a Shihab-5, with a 5,500-kilometer range.

The last Shihab missile test resulted in a Bush administration statement expressing "serious concerns" about the Iranian missile project, which is a "threat to the region and U.S. interests."

The next commander of Centcom, Gen. John Abizaid, who replaces Tommy Franks on Monday, testified last week to a Senate committee that "Iran has the largest ballistic missile inventory in the Central Command region to include long-range weapons of mass destruction and delivery systems capable of reaching deployed U.S. forces in the theater." And he warned, "Iran's long-term ability to develop nuclear weapons remains a source of serious concern."

He told the committee that "Iran casts a shadow on security and stability in the Gulf region. Iran's military is second only to the United States. U.S. allies in the Gulf acknowledge Iran's increasingly proactive efforts to soften its image and appear less hegemonic; however, Iran's military poses a potential threat to neighboring countries."