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Friday, 9 August, 2002, 18:53 GMT 19:53 UK
Israel readies missile defences
Arrow missile fire by Israel in 2000
Israel already has some anti-missile protection
Israel appears to be stepping up its defences against any attack by Iraq if the US launches military action to oust Saddam Hussein.

The Israeli military has confirmed that a second Arrow II anti-ballistic missile system is to be deployed in the centre of Israel, near the town of Hadera. A similar installation already exists in southern Israel.


We must be constantly prepared for a threat coming from the east, the threat of Iraqi missiles

Israeli minister Matan Vilnai
Military analysts believe that if Iraq is attacked by the US it is likely to retaliate by launching missiles against Israel.

During the Gulf War in 1991, Israel was struck by 39 Iraqi Scud missiles, most of which hit the Tel Aviv area.

The deployment of the second anti-missile base has been delayed by strong opposition by local residents, but Israeli newspaper Yediot Ahronot reports that the radar system has already been installed and the missiles are to follow.

In its statement, the military said the Arrow system was being deployed as part of a "test programme" and made no reference to US-Iraq tensions.

Strategic interest

Government minister Matan Vilnai, speaking on Israeli army radio, said plans for the second anti-missile battery were not new but added: "We must be constantly prepared for a threat coming from the east, the threat of Iraqi missiles.

"Israel is interested that Saddam will disappear - this is certainly a strategic Israeli interest.

"Within this framework, we must do everything necessary if the Americans attack, and if they will I assume we will have some prior information about it."

Israel finished work on its first anti-missile battery at Palmachim air base near Yavne in the south in March 2000.

The second battery was intended to be operational by summer 2002 to safeguard the centre and north of Israel - not only from Iraq but also from a possible attack by Iran.

Yediot Ahronot reported that the Israeli air force is also drawing up plans to launch counter-attacks against targets in Iraq, including missile launchers.

During the Gulf War, Israel bowed to intense US pressure not to retaliate when attacked by the Iraqi missiles. The US believed that an Israeli counter-strike could break up its coalition, which included Arab states.

The Scuds contained conventional warheads but Israel defence chiefs are concerned that they could carry chemical or biological components.

Washington talks

A Palestinian delegation is currently in the US and held talks with Secretary of State Colin Powell on Thursday.

Interior Minister Abdel Razak Yehiyeh is due to meet CIA Director George Tenet in Washington on Saturday to discuss how to improve Palestinian security operations.

Israel is insisting that the Palestinian leadership stop attacks by militants as a condition for a phased withdrawal from occupied areas in the Gaza Strip and the West Bank.

In further violence on Friday, a Palestinian man was killed by Israeli troops in the West Bank town of Tulkarm. Witnesses said soldiers were firing at people breaking a curfew but the army said its troops had returned fire.

Palestinian security sources in the nearby town of Qalqiliya said Israeli troops had arrested a senior member of the Islamic militant group Hamas.

Reports said the man had been shot and injured in the shoulders.


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