Israel lauds success of Iron Dome missile interceptor

Mon Aug 22, 2011 6:46pm BST

* Commander says system has shot down 20 rockets fired from Gaza

* Two more interceptor systems to be operational by end of year

By Ori Lewis

ASHKELON, Israel (Reuters) - Israeli officials on Monday praised the effectiveness of the U.S.-funded Iron Dome anti-rocket defence system, despite its failure to shoot down a rocket fired from Gaza that killed a man in a residential area.

A senior commander said Iron Dome interceptors had shot down 20 incoming projectiles fired by Gaza militants in five days of cross-border violence and said that statistically the fact that one rocket got through did not mean the system had failed.

Colonel Zvika Haimovitch, an air force officer in charge of Israel's active air defence units, said that was a very high rate of success but no system could guarantee total protection.

The Iron Dome battery placed to protect the southern city of Beersheba intercepted four of five rockets fired in one barrage but failed to stop the one that got through and killed the man and wounded several other people when it landed near a house.

Iron Dome's makers claim it has a "very high percent success rate" and the published figures for successful intercepts suggest a 93.3 percent kill rate.

"It does not matter how many batteries or components I put on the ground, I can never promise 100 percent success," Haimovitch said.

Iron Dome's makers claim it has a "very high percent success rate" and the published figures for successful intercepts suggest a 93.3 percent kill rate.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu thanked a delegation of visiting U.S. Congressmen for their support in funding the interceptor system, a spokesman said.

U.S. HELP

Earlier this year the United States said it planned to help Israel buy four new batteries after budgeting $203.8 million in congressional funding assistance for the system in fiscal 2011.

The Iron Dome system was rolled out in March after rushed production. It intercepts only rockets it calculates will hit built-up areas and ignores others set to land in open ground.

Defence Minister Ehud Barak said militants had fired over 150 projectiles into Israel in the latest round of fighting. Iron Dome's success was "exceptional," he said Sunday.

The violence began Thursday, when eight Israelis -- six civilians and two soldiers -- were killed by gunmen who Israel said had crossed into its territory from the Gaza Strip via Egypt's Sinai desert.

Some 15 Palestinians, including five civilians, were killed in subsequent Israeli air strikes in the Gaza Strip.

Haimovitch said Iron Dome was still being fine-tuned, adding that it was rushed back into operational action to counter the latest barrages.

Produced by state-owned Rafael Advanced Defence Systems Ltd., Iron Dome uses small radar-guided missiles to destroy rockets that have ranges of between 5 km (3 miles) and 70 km (45 miles) and mortar bombs while they are in flight.

Its development was spurred by Israel's 2006 conflict in Lebanon with Hezbollah and the Gaza Strip war against Hamas in 2008-9, when Israeli towns were the targets of rockets.

Barak said Israel would have another battery operational within a few weeks, a fourth by the end of the year and nine by the end of 2013. Israel has said it wants 10-15 units to defend its Palestinian and Lebanese fronts.

(Writing by Ori Lewis)

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