JERUSALEM — A system that can shoot down incoming rockets has passed its last tests and will be ready for deployment in a few months, Israel's Defense Ministry said Monday. If effective, it could have far-reaching strategic implications for Israel's battle against militant groups on its borders.
The "Iron Dome" system uses sophisticated radar to track incoming rockets, intercepting and destroying them far from their targets. It is the only anti-rocket system of its kind in the world, according to experts.
Its aims to protect Israel from homemade and imported rockets fired by Palestinian militants in Gaza, as well as the more sophisticated rockets in the hands of Hezbollah guerrillason Israel's border with Lebanon.
The successful tests completed Monday involved destroying multiple incoming targets in coordination with other air force systems, Israel's Defense Ministry said in a statement.
The ministry said the first two Iron Dome batteries would be deployed by November. Defense officials said they would be posted near the town of Sderot, near the Gaza border, a favorite target of Palestinian rocket squads.
Palestinian militants in Gaza have fired thousands of homemade rockets at Israel's border settlements, often making life difficult there and traumatizing residents while causing relatively few casualties.
Israel launched a fierce three-week military campaign in Gaza in December 2008 to try to stop the barrages. During that war, Palestinian militants also fired longer range Grad missiles that hit Israeli cities, including Ashkelon and Beersheba.
Israel came under stiff international criticism after the war because of widespread destruction and death of about 1,000 civilians.
In 2006, Israel fought an intense monthlong war against Hezbollah, which fired almost 4,000 rockets at Israel during the conflict.
The Defense Ministry statement Monday said the Iron Dome system is meant "to protect the state of Israel from short-range rockets and missiles."
Wide deployment of an anti-rocket system could significantly change the Mideast military equation.
Because of the superiority of Israel's military, its enemies consider hitting Israeli cities as the most effective strategy in a war against the Jewish state.
Also, Israel expressed concern that if a Palestinian state were created in the West Bank, Israel's main international airport would be in range of Palestinian rockets. An effective anti-rocket system like "Iron Dome" could reduce those concerns.
The Israeli defense officials, speaking on condition of anonymity because they were going beyond the ministry's statement, said it would take years to deploy enough batteries to protect both borders, because of budget constraints.
In the statement, Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak pledged, "We will move toward operational deployment of the batteries in the field as soon as possible."
Development of the "Iron Dome" cost about $200 million. Critics say it would prove too expensive to fire advanced missiles at cheap, primitive rockets.
Several years ago Israel deployed the "Arrow" anti-missile system, designed to intercept and destroy missiles in the upper atmosphere.
The joint Israel-U.S. system is designed to give protection against missiles that could be fired at Israel from Iran.