Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Israel: Iron Dome anti-Kassam system at advanced stage

A significant amount of money is being invested for the completion of the Iron Dome anti-Kassam system, currently under development by Israel's Rafael (Armaments Development Authority), Prime Minister Ehud Olmert said Monday.

"The plan is that these means will give us the capability of stopping short-range rocket attacks including Kassams. This is applicable to both the northern and the southern fronts," said the prime minister during a Kadima faction meeting.

Olmert emphasized that the system was at an advanced stage of development with an investment of nearly one billion NIS.

Regarding the Gaza blockade, Olmert said Israel was continuing to impose sanctions in a controlled manner in order to prevent a humanitarian disaster. He stressed that Gazans would not live normal lives as long as Israel is under fire.

"We view Hamas as being responsible for everything that happens in the Gaza Strip, irrespective of whether its operatives are involved in every single incident," he added.
Olmert also praised the 2005 disengagement from Gaza. "Despite the [continuing] Kassam fire, it was a very good move since there are no longer 30,000 soldiers protecting 1,200 citizens," he said.

Concerning the peace process, Olmert expressed hope that an agreement on basic principles would be reached between Israeli and Palestinian negotiating teams this year.

Nevertheless, Olmert again stressed that Jerusalem would be the last issue raised in negotiations and that this had been agreed upon with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas. "I will not hesitate to carry out painful compromises in order to reach true peace," he said, adding that a peace agreement cannot be signed before terror in Gaza ceases entirely.
Olmert mentioned Sunday's decision by a ministerial committee he led to approve a budget of NIS 350 million to fortify 3,600 Gaza belt homes against Kassam rockets. He noted that five million shekels had already been transferred for this purpose.

Security cabinet okays funding for 'Iron Dome' rocket defense system

The security cabinet approved Sunday funding for the development of the "Iron Dome" rocket defense system, which is designed to intercept short- and medium-range rockets such as Qassams and Katyushas.

Developing the system is expected to cost NIS 811 million over the next five years. According to the defense establishment estimate, the first operational version of the system will be deployed in Sderot in two and a half years.

Defense Minister Ehud Barak told the cabinet that he is convinced that Israel should continue to fortify communities within rocket range, until the anti-rocket system is operational. Five Qassam rockets struck the western Negev on Sunday. One rocket hit a Carlsberg factory in the southern Ashkelon industrial zone, and caused light damage. Islamic Jihad announced that the range of the Qassam that hit the plant had been upgraded. The other four did not cause any damage.

Iron Dome, which is being developed by Rafael - the national authority for the development of weapons and military technology - is designed to locate the Qassam rocket within seconds of its launch using a combination of radar and the 'Color Red' rocket alert system.

The company said its teams are working "day and night" to make it operational by the first half of 2010.

According to project director Oron Uriel, a single system will be able to protect the entire city of Sderot from Qassam rockets.

Estimated at between $30,000-$40,000 per unit, the Tamir missile utilized by the system will intercept targets in midair and will be guided by two separate radar systems, one of which already exists and provides Sderot residents with early warnings of incoming rockets.

"The system's development plans has been fast-tracked without precedent. It is revolutionary on a global scale," Uriel said.

Initial tests using the system will be conducted in four months and its first simulated interception of a dummy target is slated to take place in early 2009. Rafael staff expects the system to be 95-percent accurate against Qassam rockets as well as Fajr missiles used by Hezbollah.

"So far, we've successfully intercepted drones, but not rockets and we're working on it," Uriel explained. "The rocket's trajectory is not hard to track, but is problematic because it may explode in midair."


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