Page last updated at 13:19 GMT, Thursday, 7 January 2010

Israel hails rocket shield test 'successful'

Iron Dome system during test (Image: IDF)
Israel plans to deploy the rocket defence system this year

Israel has successfully tested a system to intercept short-distance rockets and plans to deploy it later this year, defence ministry officials have said.

The system is designed to stop incoming projectiles, such as the rockets fired at Israel by Palestinian militants in Gaza and Hezbollah in Lebanon.

"Iron Dome" is effective at distances of about 5km to 70km from the point of launch, military experts say.

The Defence Ministry said it would change Israel's strategic position.

In the first "successful comprehensive experiment", the system destroyed "several projectile launched simultaneously", the defence ministry said on Tuesday evening.

The missile shield, developed by state-owned Rafael Advanced Defence Systems Ltd, uses radar-guided missiles to blow up rockets and mortars in mid-air.

It is able to distinguish between projectiles on course to hit populated areas, and ones expected to land on open ground, military experts say.

Gaza rocket range map
It is not known exactly which types of missile militants in Gaza have access to
Missiles reached Ashdod, Ashkelon and Beersheva during the 2008-9 Gaza conflict
Israeli military intelligence says Hamas have test-fired a rocket with 60km range, capable of striking Tel Aviv, but this has not been confirmed

While the test was the most comprehensive to date, it remains unknown how reliable the system would be when deployed.

Experts say it is first system in the world to cover this type of range, although systems exist that defend against very short range and longer range missiles.

Israel already has a defence system against long-range missiles, and is working on a medium-range one.

Strategic position

The Director General of the Ministry of Defence, Pinchas Bouchris, said that the system will change Israel's strategic position in its southern and northern arenas.

Anshel Pfeffer, the military correspondent for the Israeli newspaper Haaretz, said that if the shield was effective, it would strengthen Israel by increasing its military options in dealing with threats such as those from Iran and its allies Hamas in Gaza and Hezbollah in southern Lebanon.

Single interceptor missiles cost tens of thousands of dollars, and the whole system is likely to have cost hundreds of millions, Mr Pfeffer said.

He added that Israel may be able to recoup some of the costs by selling the technology to allies such as the US.

The need to end eight years of Palestinian rocket fire at Israel's southern towns was the reason Israel gave for launching its punishing Cast Lead military operation in Gaza a year ago.

Rocket and mortar launches from the Gaza Strip have decreased dramatically since then, although on Thursday morning the Israeli military said between five and seven mortars had been fired at one of the goods crossing into the territory.

Israel and Egypt have imposed a strict blockade on Gaza, which was tightened when Hamas forced out its more moderate rival faction Fatah in 2007.

Gaza convoy

On Wednesday evening, international activists succeeded in bringing a convoy of trucks carrying humanitarian items in through the Gaza-Egypt border.

Delays to the Viva Palestina convoy, including the rerouting of dozens of trucks through an Israeli-controlled crossing, triggered violent protests on Wednesday.

One Egyptian border guard was killed and several Palestinians injured.

The incident followed clashes on Tuesday as Egyptian police broke up a sit-in by the activists.

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