Friday, October 19, 2007

Iron Dome

Israel is making progress on the lowest level of its four-tiered anti-missile system. This tier is dubbed Iron Dome. The other elements of the system for countering ballistic threats are on the second level David’s Sling on which I reported earlier and Patriot missile batteries. The air force is currently considering upgrading the batteries to the newer PAC-3 model. Israel has a number of U.S.-supplied Patriot PAC-3 left over from the 2003 Iraq war. Levels three and four will be made up by Arrow and Arrow 2 systems, respectively.

According to the Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak the country will be able to defend itself against 90 percent of missiles fired against it once all four layers are in place which is expected to happen within a few years. However, none of the systems will be able to stop mortar shells as they are too small and their flight time too short to be intercepted.

The establishment of the first tier, the Iron Dome system, was approved at the beginning of 2007. The costs of this system stand at NIS 1.5 billion (US$375 million), over the course of approximately three years, to be used for development and initial armament to protect Israel's south and north. The interceptor system and the rockets, which will cost US$35-50,000, are being developed by the governmental firm RAFAEL. Notwithstanding that the project was approved less than one year ago, Barak already announced on Wednesday that the Iron Dome is near its completion and if all goes well, in two and a half years first trials can be conducted. He also deems the system to be very lucrative for export where he anticipates international interest in the system. "It will be a first-class export item because use of missiles will be more and more widespread. I think there will be more and more countries that will want to procure such a system," he said.

This system not only raises proliferation concerns, it is has a retarding impact on the peace process in the region. Israel fears that short-range missiles might not only be fired from the Gaza strip but also from the West Bank. In consequence Barak stated that he considers the installment of a missile defense system as a precondition for the withdrawal from the West Bank and its handover to the Palestinians.

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