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Israeli soldiers train to shoot down missiles


PALMACHIM AIR BASE, ISRAEL (AP): Israel has put together a multilayered shield designed to intercept rockets and missiles capable of striking it from as close as the Gaza Strip and as far away as Iran, reflecting concern that future conflicts will target Israel's civilian population centers.

At this sprawling air base in central Israel, soldiers in a fortified control room are training to activate a cornerstone of this shield the Arrow missile defense system, meant to protect Israel from its enemy Iran's expanding array of missiles.

The Arrow, produced jointly by state-run Israel Aerospace Industries Ltd. and Chicago-based Boeing Co at a cost of more than USD1 billion, is being deployed in Israel after successful tests in both Israel and the US. It has not been tested in combat, but the system is already in its third generation, having been fine-tuned to deal with increasingly complicated threats.

The Arrow was designed to counter Iran's Shahab ballistic missile, which is capable of carrying a nuclear warhead and whose range of 2,000 kilometers, puts Israel well within striking distance. Despite Iranian denials, Israel is convinced Iran is developing nuclear weapons.

Threats also come from much closer to Israel.

In 2006, Israel fought a fierce monthlong war with Hezbollah guerrillas in Lebanon, when Hezbollah fired nearly 4,000 rockets at Israel. That pointed up two stark facts: Israel had no tool to knock them down neither did anyone else and Israel's civilian population, concentrated mostly along the nation's Mediterranean coast, was increasingly vulnerable to attack.

In response, Israel has developed additional systems: "Magic Wand," aimed at stopping intermediate-range missiles, and the "Iron Dome," which shoots down rockets fired from short distances of just a few kilometers from the Gaza Strip and Lebanon.

Last month, Israel successfully introduced the Iron Dome and shot down several Palestinian-fired rockets from Gaza. Palestinian militants have fired thousands of crude, short-range weapons at Israel in recent years, and up to then the military had no answer except airstrikes after the fact.

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