US Navy recently held missile defense test

Communications exercise involved ships deployed in the Mediterranean and the Persian Gulf.

Mullen 224.88 (photo credit: AP)
Mullen 224.88
(photo credit: AP)
With the possibility of an Iranian missile onslaught on Israel looming, the US Navy recently held an unprecedented exercise testing the communications network supporting its Aegis missile defense system across the Middle East. The test took place on the weekend of June 28 while Chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff Adm. Michael Mullen was in Israel for talks with IDF Chief of General Staff Lt.-Gen. Gabi Ashkenazi, and just days after Chief of US Naval Operations Adm. Gary Roughead concluded a visit here for talks with his counterpart, V.-Adm. Eliezer Marom. The communications test, revealed in the Navy Times, involved ships deployed in the Mediterranean and the Persian Gulf. During his visit to Israel, Roughead told The Jerusalem Post that he had discussed missile defense systems and particularly the Aegis system with his Israeli counterparts. Defense officials have said that in the event of a conflict with Teheran it was possible that the US would deploy an Aegis system off Israel's coast to provide another layer of defense against Iranian ballistic missiles. By 2009, the US Navy will have 18 cruisers and destroyers with operational Aegis systems that are capable of tracking ballistic missiles and intercepting them with ship-launched SM-3 missiles. "I believe that the proliferation of ballistic missiles is something that will continue to occur [and] I believe that ballistic missiles in the future will become weapons of intimidation and blackmail," Roughead said at the time. According to the Navy Times, the exercise involved the USN Benfold destroyer in the Persian Gulf and the USN Russell destroyer in the Mediterranean. Meanwhile Wednesday, Iran test-fired nine long- and medium-range missiles during war games that officials said aimed to show that the country could retaliate against any US or Israeli attack. Gen. Hossein Salami, the commander of the Revolutionary Guards' air forces, said the exercise would "demonstrate our resolve and might against enemies who in recent weeks have threatened Iran with harsh language," according to a TV report. The exercise was conducted at the mouth of the Strait of Hormuz, through which about 40 percent of the world's oil passes. Iran has threatened to shut down traffic in the strait if attacked. Footage showed at least six missiles firing simultaneously, and said the barrage included a new version of the Shihab-3 missile, which officials have said has a range of 2,000 kilometers and is armed with a one-ton conventional warhead. This puts Israel, Turkey, the Arabian Peninsula, Afghanistan and Pakistan within striking distance of Iran. "Our hands are always on the trigger and our missiles are ready for launch," the official IRNA news agency quoted Salami as saying Wednesday. US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said Wednesday's tests were "evidence that the missile threat is not an imaginary one." "Those who say that there is no Iranian missile threat against which we should build a missile defense system perhaps ought to talk to the Iranians about their claims," she said while traveling in Sofia, Bulgaria. A White House spokesman called the tests "completely inconsistent with Teheran's obligations to the world." "The Iranian regime only furthers the isolation of the Iranian people from the international community when it engages in this sort of activity," Gordon Johndroe, spokesman for the National Security Council, said. "They should also refrain from further missile tests if they truly seek to gain the trust of the world," he added, speaking from Japan, where President George W. Bush is attending the Group of Eight summit. AP contributed to this report.