At Sunday morning's cabinet meeting, Israel's Prime Minister Ariel Sharon told his ministers to stop talking about the possible upcoming U.S. attack on Iraq.
According to Sharon, the Americans have pressed Israel on the subject several times and that Israeli remarks impede U.S. efforts. The Israeli leader added that each minister should concentrate solely on his portfolio.
Meanwhile, according to the New York Times in its Sunday edition, Israel has deployed an operational missile defense and is prepared to use it to protect the coastal city of Tel Aviv and other major population centers if they come under fire from Iraq's Scud missiles arsenal.
Known as the Arrow, the system is designed to avoid the pitfalls of the US Patriot system, which Israelis claim had little success in stopping Iraqi Scud missile attacks in the course of the 1991 Persian Gulf war.
The program, which is to cost over $2 billion, is partly financed by the United States. One battery is already deployed in an Israeli air force base, and when the final interceptors and radars are installed some two years from now, Israel will be the first country in the world to have a nationwide missile defense system, the newspaper reported.
If the US administration follows through with its threats to launch a strike against Baghdad, and Iraqi President Saddam Hussein attacks Israel, the Arrow could be put to the test in what would be considered a significant trial of antimissile technology.
"It would be the first time in history that an interceptor that was developed strictly to shoot down incoming missiles is used," according to a Pentagon official. "The Patriot used in 1991 was designed to shoot down airplanes and modified to give it some kind of antimissile capability. But from the start, the Arrow was built to intercept ballistic missiles. The whole world will be watching to see what happens, and we will be watching."
© 2002 Al Bawaba (www.albawaba.com )