Israel can best any Iranian weapon, Gallant says after hypersonic missile claim

During visit to Northern Command headquarters for major drill, defense minister also threatens to ‘send Lebanon back to the stone age’ if Hezbollah goes to war against Israel

Emanuel (Mannie) Fabian is The Times of Israel's military correspondent

Defense Minister Yoav Gallant speaks with IDF officers during a drill in northern Israel, June 6, 2023. (Ariel Hermoni/Defense Ministry)
Defense Minister Yoav Gallant speaks with IDF officers during a drill in northern Israel, June 6, 2023. (Ariel Hermoni/Defense Ministry)

Defense Minister Yoav Gallant brushed aside Iranian claims that it had developed a new hypersonic missile Tuesday, saying Israel would always have a solution to counter it, as tensions remained high over Tehran’s nuclear program.

Iran claimed earlier on Tuesday that it had created a hypersonic missile capable of traveling at 15 times the speed of sound. Iranian officials did not release any footage of a successful launch of the new missile, called Fattah, or “Conqueror” in Farsi.

“I hear our enemies boasting about weapons they are developing. To any such development, we have an even better response — whether it be on land, in the air, or in the maritime arena, including both defensive and offensive means,” Gallant said during a visit to the military’s Northern Command, amid a major drill.

“We will know how to protect the citizens of Israel, and how to strike our enemies with a crushing blow if, God forbid, they start a war against us,” he said in a video statement.

Gallant met with senior military officers leading the drill in northern Israel, as part of the Israel Defense Forces’ two-week-long “Firm Hand” exercise. The drills are focused on a potential multifront war with Iran and its terror proxies across the Middle East, such as the Lebanese Hezbollah.

Gallant warned that “if Hezbollah makes a mistake and starts a war against Israel, we will hit it hard, and send Lebanon back to the stone age.”

Women look at Fattah missile in a ceremony in Tehran, Iran, Tuesday, June 6, 2023. Iran is claiming that it has created a hypersonic missile capable of traveling at 15 times the speed of sound. (Hossein Zohrevand/Tasnim News Agency via AP)

Attending the meeting with Gallant were the chief of the IDF Northern Command, Maj. Gen. Uri Gordin; the head of the Northern Corps and Maneuver Array, Maj. Gen. Saar Tzur; and the head of the Training Command and General Staff Corps, Maj. Gen. Moti Baruch, the minister’s office said.

Gallant observed two separate exercises in the Northern Command on Tuesday, one by the 91st Territorial Division and the other by the 36th Armored Division, and “watched closely the activity of the forces practicing lengthy combat in the northern arena,” his office said.

The drill has included the Air Force conducting simulated “strategic” strikes deep in enemy territory in an all-out war scenario, and the Navy carrying out mock offensive and defensive actions, according to a military source.

On Sunday night, the high-level security cabinet convened at the military’s main operational command bunker in Tel Aviv to simulate political decision-making during a potential multifront war.

While the drill and the cabinet meeting were pre-planned, they came during escalated tensions over Iran’s nuclear program and Israeli warnings that a broad conflict could break out over the issue.

Members of Israel’s security cabinet convene for a mock assessment at the IDF’s main underground command center in Tel Aviv, amid a major drill, June 4, 2023. (Hain Zach/GPO)

Tehran has been ramping up its nuclear program since 2018, when the US unilaterally withdrew from a landmark pact that had capped enrichment in exchange for sanctions relief.

Talks to revive the nuclear deal fell apart last year, but recent reports have indicated steps to possibly renew the diplomatic initiative, sparking Israeli concerns that a new deal could legitimize Iran’s nuclear activity and erode international support for potential military action.

Israel has continued to warn against such an agreement in recent weeks, with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Gallant and IDF chief Lt. Gen. Herzi Halevi adding to fevered saber-rattling already taking place between the countries.

Iran’s announcement on Tuesday is liable to further heighten tensions.

Hypersonic weapons, which fly at speeds in excess of Mach 5, or five times the speed of sound, could pose crucial challenges to missile defense systems because of their speed and maneuverability. Iran described the Fattah as being able to reach Mach 15 — which is 15 times the speed of sound.

Last year, the IDF held its largest drill in decades. The four-week-long exercise — called Chariots of Fire — also focused on sudden events erupting in multiple theaters at the same time, while mostly dealing with fighting the Iran-backed Hezbollah in Lebanon.

In light of the lack of progress regarding a return by Iran to the 2015 nuclear agreement with world powers, the IDF has ramped up efforts over the past two years to prepare a credible military threat against Tehran’s nuclear sites.

During the Chariots of Fire drill last year, dozens of Air Force fighter jets conducted air maneuvers over the Mediterranean Sea, simulating striking Iranian nuclear facilities.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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