US says it gave Israel technical help in missile test
JERUSALEM — Tensions over Syria ratcheted up a notch on Tuesday after Israel tested an anti-missile system in the central Mediterranean with technical assistance from the United States.
Russia's Defense Ministry initially sounded an alarm by reporting that it had detected traces of ballistic "objects" launched from an area in the central Mediterranean and moving in an easterly direction.
After some initial confusion over who was responsible, the Israeli military said it was behind the launch and that it was carrying out a joint missile test with the United States.
Israel's Defense Ministry said in a statement the test of its "new version of the Sparrow target missile" was "successful."
Pentagon press secretary George Little, in a statement, acknowledged a U.S. role in the test, which he said was "long planned to help evaluate the Arrow Ballistic Missile Defense system's ability to detect, track, and communicate information about a simulated threat to Israel."
The Arrow anti-missile system, which was developed by the Israeli firm Rafael in conjunction with Boeing, detects and tracks a Sparrow target missile in such tests.
The Pentagon statement described the U.S. role in the test as providing "technical assistance and support" to Israel and "had nothing to do with United States consideration of military action to respond to Syria's chemical weapons attack."
Mordechai Kedar, previously of the Israel Defense Force's military intelligence wing, said the test was likely carried out "to signal to the Syrians that everybody knows what Syria is doing, and that the regime could pay a very high price" for these atrocities.
The development comes amid heightened tensions in the region as Congress prepares to hold a vote on whether the U.S. should take military action in Syria for the alleged use of chemical weapons by the regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.
"There is no doubt that this was a warning shot," Kedar said. "There is more military and intelligence cooperation and coordination between the U.S. and Israel than ever before."
Earlier, Russia's state-run Interfax news agency said the "targets fell into the sea" and the Russian embassy in Syria said there was no sign of a missile attack or explosions in Damascus. Moscow said the launch was detected at 10:16 a.m. local time (2:16 a.m. ET).
Sparrow constitutes one layer of Israel's four-layer anti-missile defense system, according to Israel's Hayom newspaper. The four layers are "the Iron Dome, David's Sling (currently in development), the Arrow 2 and the Arrow 3 (in development)," Hayom reported.
USA Today's Jim Michaels reported from Washington, Kim Hjelmgaard from London.