Working in secret, Israel and Germany have jointly developed a nuclear missile detection system, according to the Defense News Web site.
Code-named Project Bluebird, the system is based on the prototype of an aerial infrared sensor designed to identify a nuclear-tipped missile speeding toward a target amid a cluster of decoy missiles.
Military planners work under the assumption that in a nuclear strike, decoy missiles could be launched along with those carrying nuclear warheads to confuse and overwhelm missile defense shields. According to the sources, Project Bluebird is designed to avert such a scenario.
On November 3, Defense News published details of the program and cited a German defense official as confirming its existence. According to the Web site, the system's infrared sensor has already been tested aboard a business jet.
Defense News quoted a Pentagon official as saying that "the escalating Iranian nuclear threat and the possibility that Teheran will one day equip ballistic missiles with decoys and maneuvering warheads" have pushed Jerusalem to seek American backing to deploy the sensor on an unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV). This would make it an operational part of Israel's national missile defense network - the Arrow anti-tactical ballistic missile system.
"The Israelis want an additional sensor in the air, and since Bluebird is only a demonstrator, they want to replace it with an operational sensor on a UAV," said a Pentagon source cited by Defense News.
Emily Landau, director of the Arms Control and Regional Security Program at Tel Aviv University's Institute of National Security Studies, said Project Bluebird should not be viewed as a sign that Israel had accepted the inevitability of a nuclear Iran.
"It's not surprising that Israel is working on this," Landau said, adding that the scenario of "multiple missiles fired at Israel and the issue of a decoy needs to be taken into account.
"In terms of the political and strategic ramifications, one should not to jump to conclusions or connect the dots where they shouldn't be connected. There's no indication here of a level of faith in the international community's ability to stop Iran's nuclear program," she said.
"Israel's missile defense program is a very long-term program," Landau continued. "Generally speaking, Israel is heavily invested in a missile defense system and is planning for future scenarios. Israel is correctly planning for all options in the specific case of the Iranian nuclear threat, and this should not be seen as a message that Israel believes that diplomatic efforts, or a military strike, won't be able to stop the Iranian nuclear program.
"I would rather interpret it as saying that this is one option [a nuclear armed Iran] that we need to prepare for. Hopefully, the international community can stop the program, but all scenarios need preparing for."
Meanwhile, an Israeli military industry source has confirmed a November 13 story from a Russian news agency, according to which Moscow is contemplating the purchase of Israeli UAVs.
According to RIA Novosti, a Russian lawmaker from the lower house's defense committee said the option was on the table.
"I would assume the UAVs [under consideration] would be produced by Israel Aerospace Industries and Elbit," an Israeli defense industry source told The Jerusalem Post on Sunday.
Middle East analyst Meir Javedanfar said that if such a sale went through, it would represent a historic landmark for Israeli-Russian relations and might present Israel with leverage over Russia's Middle East policies, especially the sale of weapons to Iran. Moscow is due to deliver the advanced S-300 air defense system to Teheran in the near future.
"I don't think this is going to all of the sudden bring an overnight change," Javedanfar said, "but it would be a chance to enhance the political interests of Israel.
"If this sale is successful, Israel could have more allies in the Kremlin, something which is very necessary for Jerusalem in trying to convince the Russians to synthesize Israel's concerns about the Iranian nuclear program, and hopefully to participate in sanctions. Israel would have a bigger voice in Moscow," he said.
An approved sale would also be a "huge breakthrough for Israel's aeronautical industry," Javedanfar said. "That a superpower such as Russia now wants to rely on sophisticated Israeli technology for its defense sources would be something that would [have been] hard to believe 25 years ago. This would be a huge marketing coup for Israel."