Jerusalem - Israel used the recent Gaza fighting to help perfect a new rocket interception system, Israeli defence officials said on Tuesday.
Israeli weapons-development teams were posted outside Gaza to track the hundreds of rockets fired by militants during the three-week offensive against Hamas. The data will be used to assist in the construction of the "Iron Dome" system, which is currently under development, the officials said. They spoke on condition of anonymity because the system's details remain classified. The Iron Dome, which is supposed to protect Israeli towns from rocket fire, is set to be operational in 2010.
Answer to rocket fire
Rockets fired by militant groups like Hamas and Hezbollah have become one of the most potent threats facing Israel, with the majority of the country's population now in range from either Gaza or Lebanon.
Southern Israel has faced rocket fire from Gaza since 2001, while to the north, thousands of rockets from Lebanon were fired during Israel's war against Hezbollah guerrillas in 2006. During the Gaza offensive, which ended on January 18, teams collected data on how the homemade rockets and the military-grade Katyushas fired by Gaza militants behaved in different weather conditions and how they were picked up by Iron Dome's radar, which is already online, the officials said.
The system is being designed as an answer to the Gaza rocket fire, which so far has eluded Israel's sophisticated military. With the public clamouring for a solution, the Israeli government decided in 2007 to invest more than $200 million to create a high-tech answer. Iron Dome is under development by Rafael Advanced Defense Systems Ltd, the government's weapons subsidiary.
The system will work by picking up incoming rockets and firing an interceptor. Iron Dome has been criticised by some experts because of its cost - each interceptor will cost between $30 000 and $40 000 - and because it needs 15 seconds to respond, too long to stop rockets from hitting targets adjacent to Gaza. ron Dome's first intercept test is slated for the end of 2009.
New combat systems
Several new Israeli combat systems were used in battle for the first time during the Gaza offensive.
Two Namer vehicles, armoured personnel carriers based on the Israeli-made Merkava IV tank, were used by Golani Brigade infantrymen, the officials said. The Namer, which is only beginning to enter service, is slated to eventually replace the 1960s-era US M-113 vehicles still used by most Israeli infantry units.
Several Israeli tanks were fitted with the Wind Coat, a new system that detects anti-tank rockets and intercepts them in midair. Though mounted on tanks during the fighting, the system was not actually fired, the officials said. The Wind Coat was developed after Hezbollah guerrillas firing advanced Russian-made anti-tank rockets took a high toll on Israeli armour during the 2006 Lebanon fighting.