|Israeli officials said the system, while welcome for the security of Israelis, may not guarantee their safety [Reuters]|
Israel has deployed a cutting-edge rocket defence system to try to halt a recent surge in attacks from the neighbouring Gaza Strip.
The Iron Dome system just north of Beersheba, a southern city twice hit by rockets during this month’s flare-up of cross-border violence, will provide increased security to Israelis.
However, officials warned that the homegrown system will not do the job alone.
Binyamin Netanyahu, the prime minister, told his cabinet in Jerusalem: “I do not want to create an illusion that the Iron Dome system, which we are deploying for the first time today, will provide a full or comprehensive response.”
“The real response to the missile threat is in the combination of offensive and deterrent measures with defensive measures, and with a firm stance by the government and public.”
Netanyahu spoke shortly after Israel killed two members of Islamic Jihad, a Palestinian group behind much of the recent rocket fire, in a Gaza air strike.
Hard to track
Primitive rockets – often fired by groups including Hamas, which controls Gaza – have evaded Israel’s high-tech weaponry, in part because their short flight path, just a few seconds, makes them hard to track.
The government approved Iron Dome in 2007 and developers have compared the effort to a high-tech start-up, working around the clock in small teams to perfect its weapons, radar and software systems.
The developer, local defence contractor Rafael, declared the system ready for use last year.
Iron Dome uses sophisticated cameras and radar to track incoming rockets, determine where they will land, and intercept and destroy them far from their targets.
If the system determines the rocket is headed to an open area where casualties are unlikely, it can allow the weapon to explode on the ground.
Brigadier-Geneneral Doron Gavish, commander of Israel’s air defence corps, said Iron Dome had passed a series of tests and reached its “evaluation phase” in the field.
It is expected to be fully operational in a matter of months.
He added that it was only supposed to be deployed later in the year, but it was put into operation earlier because of the recent rocket attacks from Gaza.
“Obviously, after what we saw in the last few weeks, we accelerated the phases,” he said, standing before the brown, box-like battery on the outskirts of Beersheba, southern Israel’s largest city with a population of nearly 200,000.
A second anti-missile battery will be deployed in another large southern city, Ashdod, the military said, without specifying a date.
Officials refused to say how many batteries would be deployed altogether, what their range was, or how much the system would cost.
Analysts have estimated the cost of shooting down a rocket could be tens of thousands of dollars, compared to just a few hundred dollars to produce the rocket.