Israel missile test comes amid Syria tensions

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Israel has admitted it fired two missiles in the Mediterranean. It initially denied any knowledge of missiles being fired.

It was the Russian Defence Ministry that first reported two 'ballistic objects' being fired from the Central Mediterranean to the East, towards Syria.

Israel now says it was part of a joint test with the United States. Israel says it was testing an "experimental" system, the cutting edge Sparrow missile, part of the Hetz-2 system. The US navy did not fire any missiles from its ships.

But the two allies may have been testing other things.

A RIM-7 Sparrow missile. Credit: Reuters/Stringer

The Russians were very quick to announce that their radar systems had detected missiles. Russia's radar system is linked to Syria's. The Russians supplied Syria's coastal defences, including the Yakhont anti ship missile system. We know Israel took direct action against that just weeks ago.

In the early hours of July 5th, Israel bombed a weapons depot on the Syrian coast, near Latakia. Its target was dozens of Yakhont missiles, which Russia had supplied over the past two years. It was one of four strikes Israel has undertaken against Syria this year.

The Sparrow missile is loaded below a Sidewinder missile on this F-14. Credit: Reuters

The first was in January against a weapons convoy. Two followed in May, one targeting missiles supplied by Iran and based at Damascus International Airport. July was the fourth time Israel has hit, each time from outside Syrian airspace.

In the event of an American strike on Syria, in retaliation for what it says was Syria's use of chemical weapons against its own people, US ships in the Mediterranean would be vulnerable to a retaliatory strike by Syria, using Yakhont missiles designed to hit ships. Israel would itself be vulnerable to strikes.

So testing the readiness of Syrian -and Russian -systems is in the interests of both Israel and the US, as the clock ticks closer to an American vote on whether the strikes should go ahead.