JERUSALEM (Reuters) - An Israeli system that shoots down short-range rockets passed final tests on Monday and will be deployed near Israel’s borders by November, the Defense Ministry said.
President Barack Obama in May asked Congress for $205 million to support the development of “Iron Dome,” which intercepts short-range rockets like those used by Palestinian militants in Gaza and Hezbollah in Lebanon.
The system successfully shot down multiple rockets simultaneously for the first time in testing this week, Israel’s Defense Ministry said.
Defense Minister Ehud Barak has argued Iron Dome could be a necessary safeguard to reassure Israelis in the event of a withdrawal from the occupied-West Bank that comes in the framework of a peace deal with the Palestinians.
Senior U.S. State Department official Andrew Shapiro said last week that U.S. support for Iron Dome will, “provide Israel with the capabilities and the confidence that it needs to take the tough decisions ahead for a comprehensive peace.”
Produced by state-owned Rafael Advanced Defense Systems Ltd., Iron Dome uses small radar-guided missiles to blow up Katyusha-style rockets with ranges of between 5 km (3 miles) and 70 km (45 miles), as well as mortar bombs, mid-air.
Its development was spurred by the 2006 conflict in Lebanon with Hezbollah and the Gaza Strip war against Hamas 18 months ago, when those Israeli towns within range were all-but defenceless against the rockets.
The Defense Ministry aired video footage of the test that showed the Iron Dome rockets fly past errant missiles and intercept only those calculated to land in populated areas.
The two units will begin operating by November are truck-towed and easily deployed to any of Israel’s borders, the Defense Ministry said.
Israel launched a devastating three-week offensive into the Gaza Strip in late 2008 to try to curb the cross-border salvoes.
Israel envisages Iron Dome becoming the lowest level of a multi-tier aerial shield capped by Arrow, a partly U.S.-funded system which shoots down ballistic missiles above the atmosphere.
Each Iron Dome interception is estimated to cost $10,000 to $50,000. Pitted against estimated costs of cruder Palestinian rockets, as low as $500, that could bleed the defense budget, some analysts have argued.
But Barak has brushed off such criticism, pointing out that were Israel to go to war in retaliation for serious casualties in a rocket strike, the campaign would cost $1.5 billion a day.
The Defense Ministry has said the system may also be manufactured for export in the future.
Reporting by Dan Williams and Ari Rabinovitch; Editing by Jon Hemming