Missile Test / Launched From Palmachim, Heard in Tehran

First, the facts: A successful test of a new dual-stage missile was carried out at the Palmachim air base at 8:45 A.M. yesterday. Every part of the system, including the launcher and the missile itself, functioned properly, and can thus be considered operational. This success can be credited to Israel Aerospace Industries; to the other firms involved in the project; and to the Israel Air Force.

The timetable for the test was not dictated by Tehran. The government and the defense establishment are always happy when these tests succeed, but the pace of development, including the schedule of tests, generally depends on the technology rather than on external events.

But foreign experts will surely issue lengthy analyses explaining how Israel is maintaining its deterrence, especially vis-a-vis Iran, by openly testing a missile without officially saying a word about the missile's significance. Those wily Israelis are reminding everyone what ammunition they have available, the pundits will say. Some will also comment on the exquisite timing: while U.S. President George W. Bush is visiting the region and Israel's foreign minister is in Moscow trying to persuade the Russians to take action on Iran's nuclear program.

These explanations are enticing, but unfortunately far from the gray reality. Israel never intended to publicize yesterday's test; it did so only under heavy pressure from the media, and even then only because the evidence was obvious to anyone who happened to be watching the sky over central Israel at the right moment, and had even been captured on camera.

Until noon, the defense establishment had hoped it could get away with the mandatory but uninformative announcement to aviators that the country's air space would be closed to traffic for a few hours. But since Israel lacks isolated deserts or islands to use as testing grounds, the test was doomed to discovery.