Why Would Israel Reportedly Have Missiles That Reach Beyond Iran

Last Friday, Israel’s Defense Ministry laconically announced that it had carried a test launch of a “rocket engine propulsion system.” 

Foreign reports claimed that the test was of a surface-to-surface Jericho missile. Though the Defense Ministry said that the test was planned in advance, it was hard to ignore the timing and not to interpret it as a warning and threat directed at Iran. Indeed, its foreign minister, Javad Zarif, complained in a tweet that while Western democracies accuse his country of secret intentions to develop nuclear weapons and missiles to deliver them them, Israel is actually the only country in “Western Asia” (in his words) that possess nuclear weapons and develops missiles for delivering them.

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In the background are reports that Iran has deployed missiles in Iraq, 400 kilometers from Israel, and Yemen, 2,000 kilometers away. A letter sent by Germany, France and the U.K. to the UN secretary general accused Iran of having the capability to develop missiles equipped with nuclear warheads in violation of the Missile Technology Control Regime.  According to the letter, a MTRC breach occurs when a missile can carry a 500-kilogram warhead with a range of 300 kilometers. Last April, Iran was seen testing the Shahab-3 missile, which fits such a definition. But the Jericho has similar capabilities, based on foreign reports.


Israel has an arsenal of sea, air and ground rockets and missiles for interception and offensive purposes, whose existence it acknowledges. For the sake of this article, let’s only focus on its land-based arsenal. It has short-range (up to 50 kilometers) rockets like the Tamuz, which have been occasionally used against targets in Syria and Lebanon.

Former Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman advocated the creation of a missile command meant to extend the range of surface-to-surface projectiles to 200 kilometers, in order to improve the military's firepower and to provide the Air Force with an additional tool. But the military, including former Chief of Staff Gadi Eisenkot, objected to the notion and killed the initiative. The military has a long tradition of rejecting new ideas and “out the box” thinking. So, for example, the military, and especially the air force, opposed the creation of systems to protect civilian infrastructure, including the Iron Dome system.

The military has the Iron Dome's interception missiles (with a range of up to 70 km), David’s Sling (up to 200 kilometers, although its operational capabilities are still flawed), U.S.-made Patriots (up to 80 kilometers), and the Arrow 2 and 3 (over 300 kilometers). An Arrow 4 model, which uses multiple warheads, is reportedly under development. The Arrow 3 is a missile that flies above the atmosphere (according to foreign reports, at a height of over 100 kilometers) and is made for intercepting ballistic missiles far from Israel's borders.

Yet Israel has never admitted that it possesses Jericho missiles. According to foreign reports, these missiles were developed from a French-made missile type. In 1957, Shimon Peres, then a senior Defense Ministry official, was present when France conducted a nuclear missile test in Algeria.