(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski [file])
State Comptroller Micha Lindenstrauss, in a report released on Monday, blasted the Defense Ministry's decision-making on the development of systems that could have prevented many of the rocket strikes on the South.
Lindenstrauss presented the report, which also probed the state's readiness on the home front and the work of security forces in the Jerusalem area, to acing Knesset Speaker Michael Eitan.
The state comptroller blasted the fact that two separate rocket-defense systems were currently being developed, at great expense to the IDF's budget.
"Significant errors that were found in the decision-making process regarding developing active defense systems against surface-to-surface missiles that could lead to development of and mobilization with systems that do not satisfy all of the operational necessities," he said.
This process could lead to "needless financial expenditures and a waste of time."
Lindenstrauss recommended that the nation's civilian leadership review both of the projects - the Iron Dome and the Magic Wand systems - and review their goals and benefits in comparison to their cost.
Most of the criticism is directed not at the civilian echelon of the Defense Ministry, but rather against the IDF planners who, the State Comptroller's Office said, failed to take into consideration all of the operational possibilities when drawing up the initial plans together with the state-owned Rafael Advanced Defense Systems Ltd. The contract between the Defense Ministry and Rafael did not take into consideration all of the ranges of missiles that the system might have to confront, Lindenstrauss said.
Furthermore, Chief of General Staff Lt.-Gen. Gabi Ashkenazi, in his previous role as Defense Ministry director-general, approved funding for the Magic Wand system, even though he did not have the authority to do so.
The NIS 860 million Iron Dome system is supposed to fire a rocket that will knock rockets fired from Gaza toward Israel out of the sky, and will "know" how to identify and target rockets that are going to hit populated areas, while leaving others to strike open areas.
Lindenstrauss's report did not criticize or analyze the operational utility of the Iron Dome system. In January, defense officials said it had recently been updated and was capable of hitting incoming missiles that were fired at a range of as little as 4 km. and as much as 70 km. from their target, which would account for the overwhelming majority of rockets fired from Gaza at present.
Despite the criticisms, defense sources have offered a robust defense of the Iron Dome, saying that the shortcomings listed in the report stemmed from the "bold ambition" of developers.
In a statement released on Monday, the Defense Ministry said it "welcomed the state comptroller's report and views it as a badge of honor."
"An in-depth look at the report's summary finds that these shortcomings stem from the bold ambition of those involved to provide operational solutions to those in the field as soon as possible, even if this comes at the price of not observing all of the procedures relating to complex analyses, cost-benefit checks... etc," the ministry said.
Development of the rocket shield had reached its "final stage," and was running "ahead of schedule," said Brig-Gen. Danny Gold, head of research and development for the ministry's Administration for the Development of Weapons and the Technological Industry.
In January, officials said that unlike its American competition - Skyguard - Iron Dome "is proceeding at a good pace," with an important intercept test scheduled for this spring, and its developers working "round the clock" with the goal of a first deployment early next year.
"This system can be developed in a fifth of the time it would take to develop other systems, and at a 10th of the cost," Gold said. "It is the cheapest system in the world."
Gold added that the "best of Israel's minds" were working "day and night" at the Rafael. Iron Dome is designed to intercept the type of short-range rockets that have terrorized southern Israel for years.
Gold hinted that press reports suggesting that Iron Dome would become operational in 2010 were accurate.
Likud MK Yuval Steinitz, one of the supporters of the Iron Dome system, said he had not yet read the report, but that he had recommended that Israel should focus on the part of the project that aimed to intercept rockets fired from a range of 30-250 km.
"In the long-run there is no complete protection for the residents of Sderot and the Gaza-periphery communities," Steinitz said, "and in terms of cost and efficiency I don't have many expectations of the system that aims to intercept rockets fired to short range."
Magic Wand, a second rocket shield aimed at intercepting projectiles with a longer range, would compliment Iron Dome, Gold added. Magic Wand is expected to be ready for use a year or two after Iron Dome goes on line.
Magic Wand is being developed jointly by Rafael and US defense corporation Raytheon, and is designed to fire Stunner missiles at incoming rockets.
Alternative rocket shield initiatives, such as the laser-based Nautilus Defense System, now updated and known as Skyguard, have reached a dead end after Defense Ministry director-general Pinchas Buchris paid a visit a year ago to White Sands, New Mexico, to see the system deployed. Defense officials told The Jerusalem Post at the time that Buchris and his delegation returned convinced that the choice of Iron Dome was correct and that the Northrop Grumman system was not feasible.
Shelly Paz contributed to this report.