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Israel's 'Iron Dome' anti-rocket system in play during ongoing strife

By Guy Azriel, CNN
March 12, 2012 -- Updated 1340 GMT (2140 HKT)
An Israeli missile is launched from the Iron Dome anti-rocket system in the city of Ashdod on Sunday.
An Israeli missile is launched from the Iron Dome anti-rocket system in the city of Ashdod on Sunday.
  • The Iron Dome system targets incoming rockets and fires missiles to intercept
  • Its success rate is over 90%, officials say
  • IDF: Since Friday, the system has stopped 37 rockets fired out of Gaza toward Israeli cities
  • But the U.S.-sponsored system is costing tens of millions of dollars

Editor's note: Read this story in Arabic.

Jerusalem (CNN) -- There's a new distinction in the strife between Israel and Gaza-based armed groups -- Israel's portable anti-rocket system called the Iron Dome.

With the ability to effectively take down mid-range rockets targeted at Israeli cities, and with a success rate of over 90%, the system is helping Israel offset the most widespread threat to its citizens in recent years, according to Israeli officials. Thirty-seven rockets fired out of Gaza towards Israeli cities have been intercepted since Friday, a spokesman for the Israel Defense Forces said Sunday.

"I must point out that the Iron Dome system has proven itself very well and we will, of course, see to its expansion in the months and years ahead. We will do everything in our power to expand the deployment of this system," Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Sunday at his cabinet meeting.

Casualties mount in attacks between Gaza, Israel

First deployed in April 2011, the Iron Dome system targets incoming rockets it identifies as possible threats to city centers and fires an interceptor missile to destroy them in mid-air. Each battery is equipped with an interception management center to calculate the expected location of impact, and to prioritize targets according to pre-defined targets. The battery also has firing-control radar used to identify targets, and a portable missile launcher.

Israel, Gaza exchange rocket fire
Israeli airstrikes target Gaza

The makers of the system praise its mobility, with just a few hours required to relocate and set up, thereby enabling the Israeli military to adjust itself on multiple fronts. Israeli officials say although the system currently is deployed near three major cities in the south of Israel, it is capable of handling missile threats in other fronts if needed.

But such protection comes at a price.

Developed by Israel's defense technology company Rafael, the system carries an the estimated cost for each battery of tens of millions of dollars. Each "Tamir" interception missile used by the system comes at a price of no less than $62,000.

While the initial development of the system was a sole Israeli enterprise, the system is now heavily sponsored by the United States. In May of 2010, the U.S. House of Representatives approved a plan to allocate $205 million for Israel's Iron Dome system.

Israel currently has three Iron Dome batteries and is scheduled to receive a fourth in the coming months. According to Israeli media, Israel plans to deploy a total of nine batteries by 2013.

A defense ministry official told CNN that Israel would need up to 13 batteries to completely cover all its borders.

But how important is the Iron Dome for Israel? According to former Israeli ambassador to the United States Dore Gold, the Iron Dome system could potentially be a real game-changer.

"The most important question is how would the Iron Dome affect the decisions of Hamas leaders and their Iranian supporters? While Hamas rockets are aimed primarily to target civilians and terrorize the Israeli home front, a secondary and just important aim is to hit strategic sites in the future. Eliminating the ability to hit strategic targets may lead Hamas to rethink the efficiency of acquiring the rockets it has used in the past," Gold said.

Visiting an Iron Dome battery Saturday, Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak gave an insight into the broader advantages of defensive skills.

"This system is part of a wider multi-layer interception system, which not only protects our citizens but also allows freedom of activity for the IDF and political leadership. This is crucial as we face threats from all around us," Barak said.

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