Israel has stationed the first batteries of a long-anticipated anti-rocket shield in the south of the country, but cautioned residents the experimental deployment would not completely protect them from incoming fire.
The Israeli military Sunday positioned the Iron Dome system outside Beersheba, a southern city twice hit by rockets during this month’s flare up of cross-border violence with Palestinian militants in the Gaza Strip.
The system went into operation shortly after Israeli aircraft killed two militants in Gaza earlier Sunday.
Israel’s air defense chief, Brigadier-General Doron Gavish, said Iron Dome has passed a series of tests and is expected to be fully operational within months. He said deployment was “accelerated” because of the recent attacks from Gaza.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told his Cabinet in Jerusalem he did not want to “create an illusion” that Iron Dome would offer comprehensive protection. He said the “real response” to the missile threat is a combination of offensive, deterrent and defensive measures with a “firm stance by the government and [Israeli] public.”
The government says the multimillion-dollar interceptor system is capable of shooting down rockets fired from a range of five to 70 kilometers. A second anti-rocket battery will be deployed near the port city of Ashkelon.
Iron Dome uses sophisticated cameras and radar to track incoming rockets, determine where they will land, and destroy them far from their targets.
Analysts have estimated the cost of shooting down a rocket could be up to $25,000, compared to just a few hundred dollars to produce the mostly inaccurate and homemade projectiles often fired at Israel. Other Palestinian rockets are factory grade.
But Gavish said the “real test” is the damage caused by an unintercepted missile, the price in human life if it hits. The system’s operators say it is designed to intercept only those rockets that are determined will hit residential areas, and ignore those on a harmless trajectory.
Islamic Jihad, a Palestinian militant group that often attacks Israel, said the two men killed Sunday belonged to its armed wing, the al-Quds Brigades. The Israeli airforce confirmed it had fired on a group of militants in northern Gaza “preparing to fire a rocket at Israel.”
Tensions between the two sides have escalated during the past week, with Palestinian militants firing dozens of rockets and mortar shells into Israel and Israeli forces responding with air strikes.
Palestinian militants, including Gaza’s Hamas rulers, said Saturday that they will cease fire if Israel does. There was no immediate reaction from Israel.