* U.S. general suggests regional ballistic shield
* Deployed Israeli systems already reach over borders
* Iran, Syria crises a shared concern in the region
By Dan Williams
TEL AVIV, March 10 A U.S. general proposed on
Monday that Israel upgrade its anti-missile systems to include
neighbouring Jordan and possibly Egypt, and an Israeli official
cautiously welcomed the idea.
The two Arab countries that have full peace treaties with
the Jewish state share some of its concern regarding the
disputed nuclear programme of Iran and the civil war wracking
Syria - both states with long-range missile arsenals.
Jordan's Red Sea port of Aqaba is also under threat from
short-range rockets fired by Islamist militants in the largely
lawless Egyptian Sinai - though they have more regularly
targeted the next-door Israeli resort of Eilat.
Brigadier-General John Shapland, chief defence attache for
the U.S. Embassy in Tel Aviv, raised the idea of extending
Israel's anti-missile umbrella in comments to a security
conference in the city.
"If we were able to build a regional defence capability in,
say, Jordan, that capability could easily defend Israel, Jordan
and even Egypt, if you so desired, adding one more layer to your
multi-layered defence," he told Israeli officials and experts
gathered at the INSS think-tank.
Shapland, whose country has extensively underwritten
Israel's two deployed missile interceptors as well as others in
the works, and allowed their integration with U.S. counterpart
systems, said his proposal was "just one idea to consider".
Yair Ramati, head of the Israel Missile Defence
Organisation, appeared open to the idea. "The policy of the
(Israeli) Defence Ministry is always to cooperate with the
countries of the region, including the countries cited," Ramati
said at the conference, in reference to Jordan and Egypt.
Jordanian officials and a spokesman for the Egyptian embassy
declined immediate comment. Israel signed a peace treaty with
Egypt in 1979 and with Jordan in 1994.
ARROW, IRON DOME
Ramati declined to be drawn on whether Israel's two deployed
systems, the Arrow II ballistic missile interceptor and Iron
Dome short-range rocket interceptor, could already provide
coverage for Arab neighbours.
"I won't be sharing operational maps with you," Ramati told
Reuters. "You can draw your own conclusions from the fact we
insist on not answering."
Declassified data on Arrow II's interception range suggest
that it could in theory protect much of west Jordan, including
the capital city Amman, and eastern regions of Egypt, as well as
Israel and the occupied West Bank.
Arrow III, a new version of the system due out by 2016,
would be capable of shooting down incoming Iranian rockets over
Iraq, designers say - well before they reached Jordanian or
Israel has often posted Iron Dome units to protect Eilat
from Sinai rockets. U.S. experts say Iron Dome has an
interception radius of some 10 km (6 miles), potentially enough
to protect Aqaba, depending on the interceptors' positions.
Security sources in Amman said Jordanian concern over the
missile threat had diminished in recent months thanks to Iranian
nuclear diplomacy with world powers and Syria's deal to ship out
its chemical weapons for destruction abroad.
U.S.-supplied Patriot anti-missile batteries, stationed last
year on Jordan's border with Syria, have further quelled
concern, a security source said.
The former head of the Israel Missile Defence Organisation,
Arieh Herzog, said that protecting Jordan had been discussed
when he was in office between 2000 and 2012.
"I'm not aware of any current policies on this matter, but
certainly they (Israelis) have been talking for many years about
the theoretical possibility of using our systems to help the
Jordanians if required," he said.
(Additional reporting by Suleiman al-Khalidi in Amman,; editing
by Mark Heinrich)