JERUSALEM (AP) – Israel has successfully tested a high-tech system designed to protect civilians from rocket attacks by militant groups in Gaza and south Lebanon, the Defense Ministry said.
Defense officials said Friday in the wake of the test that the Iron Dome system’s development is on schedule and will likely meet its target date of 2010, when it is due to begin shooting down incoming rockets fired by Gaza militants.
A ministry statement released Thursday evening said that in a series of tests this week the system faced rockets of the type fired by Palestinian and Lebanese militants, and “operated successfully regarding the targets of the test.”
The statement termed the tests a “milestone.” It did not say specifically what the tests entailed and stopped short of saying the Iron Dome had actually shot rockets down with an interceptor missile, which it is designed to eventually do.
The officials, speaking on condition of anonymity in line with defense ministry regulations, said there has yet to be an intercept by the system. They have said in the past that the first intercept is expected at the end of 2009.
Developed at a cost of over $200 million, the system is intended to eventually fire missiles that home in on incoming short and medium-range rockets of the type used by militant groups Hamas and Hezbollah.
Hamas and other Palestinian militant groups have launched thousands of rockets into Israel from Gaza since 2001, sparking numerous Israeli military incursions, most recently the devastating three-week Gaza war that ended Jan. 18. Rocket fire has continued since the war, though it has dropped off in recent weeks.
In 2006, Hezbollah and Israel fought a monthlong war that saw the Shiite militants launch thousands of medium-range rockets into northern Israel as Israeli forces pushed into south Lebanon. Both militant groups have close ties to Iran.
Around one million Israelis live within range of Hamas rockets. Israel believes that Hezbollah possesses rockets that can reach the country’s center in Tel Aviv, meaning that most Israelis are now in range of rockets from the north and the south. That makes the development of an anti-rocket system a priority for Israel.