The Israel Air Force deployed a third battery of the Iron Dome rocket defense system outside Ashdod on Wednesday, beating the deadline Defense Minister Ehud Barak set for next week.

Barak, who had said earlier this week that it would take 10 days until the battery was deployed near Ashdod, praised the IDF and the IAF Air Defense Division on Wednesday for beating the deadline and beginning the deployment before the opening of the school year.

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“The deployment is part of a national emergency plan that I announced several weeks ago and is a demonstration of Israel’s commitment to defend its citizens from rockets and missiles,” Barak said.

The battery joined two others stationed in the South – one outside Ashkelon and one near Beersheba – which successfully intercepted a few dozen Gazan rockets during the recent escalation.

Ashdod Mayor Yehiel Lasri issued a statement thanking the defense establishment for deploying the system outside his city.

Ashdod has been bombarded by rockets in recent weeks during the escalation of violence in the South in which more than 160 rockets were fired from Gaza.

Barak said that by the end of 2012 Israel would have nine operational Iron Dome batteries, including thousands of Tamir interceptors. Each interceptor costs around $50,000 and usually two are fired at rockets slated for interception.

Earlier this year, the US gave Israel $205 million to buy four more Iron Dome batteries.

Each battery consists of three launchers equipped with 20 Tamir interceptors and is reportedly capable of protecting an urban area of approximately 150 square kilometers.

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