HERZLIYA, Israel – The world should share the cost in fitting civilian aircraft with devices to protect them from missile attacks like the one that nearly hit an Israeli jet in Kenya, Israeli Foreign Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Monday.
An Israeli government-owned research company has begun emergency production of such a system since Thursday's attack, a manager of the project, Patrick Bar-Avi, said.
The device, which reportedly would cost hundreds of thousands of dollars for each plane, senses an incoming heat-seeking missile and sends a hot beam of light that diverts the missile away from the plane, said Bar-Avi, of the Rafael military research and development firm.
Because airplane-defense devices are expensive, Netanyahu said in a televised interview, "if they are organized, manufactured and distributed by a consortium of countries, you can bring down the cost significantly. Some of it could be passed to the passengers."
Netanyahu said this must be done urgently, because "once planes start falling from the sky, we're going to live in a very different world."
Bar-Avi would not say how much the device developed by Rafael costs per plane, but he said it is not "prohibitive." Israel TV quoted other experts as saying that an effective defense system would cost hundreds of thousands of dollars per plane.
In Thursday's attack, two shoulder-mounted missiles just missed the Israeli plane as it took off from Mombasa, Kenya, carrying 271 passengers. Around the same time, three homicide bombers blew up an Israel-owned hotel nearby, killing 10 Kenyans, three Israelis and themselves.
Bar-Avi said Rafael's device has already received some orders from abroad for its system but is committed first to protecting the Israeli public.
Rafael developed the technology about a decade ago, Bar-Avi told Israeli media. The system is activated automatically when it senses the incoming missiles, since manual activation can take too long to be effective.
"In light of what happened on Thursday, we have begun operating an emergency program," Bar-Avi said. It takes about three months to fit an airplane with the system, he said. "We have technology at Rafael that we've had for about a decade to prevent such an event from happening."
Military fighter planes have long been equipped with missile deflection systems, but they are much smaller and more maneuverable than commercial airliners.