JERUSALEM – Israel's defense minister said Monday it would take years before the country's new rocket defense system would be fully deployed along borders with Gaza and Lebanon.
Ehud Barak predicted that once the barriers are in place, they will significantly reduce Middle East hostilities.
Last week, Israel announced it had successfully completed testing the Iron Dome system, designed to protect civilians from short-range rockets fired by Hamas militants in Gaza and Hezbollah guerrillas in Lebanon. The military did not say at the time when the system would become operational, though Channel 10 TV said a first battery would be deployed in May.
The military on Monday released three brief videoclips of last week's test, each showing streaking rockets disappearing inside a white circular flash. In one video, a rocket is seen disintegrating into a shower of tiny fragments. Each video appears to show a tiny, stationary circular object waiting in the path of the incoming projectile shortly before the explosion.
Despite the technological success, Barak said it would take years before the system is fully operational.
"We can't sow the illusion that now that development has been successfully completed, tomorrow morning there already will be complete protection for the Gaza area or the north," Barak said. "It will take years before we are equipped."
Israel has had no system in place to guard against thousands of rockets that militants rained down on its southern and northern borders over the years. Millions of Israeli civilians are within rocket range, and the military stepped up its quest for a solution after the country's 2006 war against Hezbollah, when 4,000 rockets bombarded northern Israel.
Iron Dome, developed at a cost of more than $200 million, uses cameras and radar to track incoming rockets and shoot them down within seconds of their launch, the Defense Ministry said. It is to be integrated into a multilayered defense umbrella designed to neutralize all missile threats — including long-range ballistic missiles from Iran that might be configured to carry nuclear warheads.
Barak predicted Iron Dome would pare military operations against Hamas and Hezbollah in the future.
"It will save time of fighting and deter in many cases a potential enemy from really launching an attack," he said in English.
He also deflected concerns about the high cost of employing the system: It has been estimated that it would cost many thousands of dollars to shoot down a single rocket, which in Hamas' case, could cost only several hundred dollars to manufacture.
"The whole picture from my point of view is how much it costs us to run the war one day more or probably not just even opening it," he said. "The cost of one day of warfare against the Hamas and Hezbollah, for example, will cover 10,000 interceptors."
There has been a recent flare-up of rocket fire from Gaza, and Barak said that reflected the failure of Gaza's Hamas rulers "to impose their will" on dissident militant groups.
"Hamas is well-deterred from trying another direct collision with Israel," he said, warning it to prevent fire on Israel "and not dissolve into crocodile tears if we're forced to take action."
At the same time, he judged that Hamas has been deterred by Israel's war against it a year ago. The offensive killed more than 1,400 Gazans, according to Gaza officials and Palestinian rights groups. It wreaked large-scale destruction that has not been rebuilt because of an Israeli and Egyptian blockade on the seaside territory.