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(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski [file])
While Defense Minister Ehud Barak promised residents of Sderot on Monday to do everything possible to stop Kassam rocket attacks, The Jerusalem Post has learned that the Defense Ministry has yet to transfer funding needed to begin production of a rocket defense system currently under development by the Rafael Armament Development Authority.
Rafael's Iron Dome system was chosen in February by then-defense minister Amir Peretz as Israel's anti-Katyusha and Kassam rocket defense system. The system is designed to be capable of intercepting Kassam and Katyusha rockets with a small kinetic missile interceptor and is scheduled to be operational for deployment outside the Gaza Strip and along the northern border within two years. Its development is valued at $300 million.
According to sources close to the project, the $40 million given to Rafael for initial development has run out, and if the Defense Ministry wants to continue the system's development and begin production to keep to the two-year deadline, it will need to allocate at least an additional $80 million by the end of the month.
Upon taking office, and despite the fact that Rafael was already in advanced development stages, Barak decided to reopen the tender and to meet with all of the companies whose offers were previously rejected by a team of academics and technological experts from the Defense Ministry's Research and Development Authority (MAFAT).
Officials involved in the project and from the Defense Ministry called Barak's decision "strange" and politically-motivated.
"With rockets landing daily in Sderot and public pressure mounting, Barak needs to appear as if he is doing something," a senior defense official said in an attempt to explain the decision to reopen the tender.
One of the systems Barak has asked to review again is the Skyguard, a large and bulky chemical laser system that is under development by Northrop Grumman in the US. Other proposals included those made by Israel Aircraft Industries (IAI), Israel Military Industries (IMI) and Lockheed Martin.
Despite the new review, defense officials said that Barak was likely to stick to the MAFAT committee decision to develop the Iron Dome. The officials were, however, critical of the decision to hold the review to begin with.
"This is a waste of time," one official involved in the project said. "The committee of experts already made their decision. They are not going to suddenly change it."
Barak's office refused to comment to the report.
Likud leader Binyamin Netanyahu said it was "unacceptable that missiles are raining on Israeli cities and the government does nothing."
"The government has to make a decision to change this intolerable situation," Netanyahu said. "They would have our full support if they do."
Likud chair Gideon Sa'ar called upon Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni to hold her next meeting with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas in Sderot, "so the government won't be so disconnected from reality."
Meanwhile Monday, Barak told a Labor faction meeting that he would find a solution to the continuing Kassam rocket fire plaguing communities in the western Negev.
"We are working day and night with operations by land and air, and it won't take a day. Just as we found a solution on other issues, we will find a solution to the Kassams," Barak said, adding that after touring Sderot earlier in the day, he "feels the pain" of the residents.
Gil Hoffman contributed to this report.
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