(photo credit: IDF [file])
Senior defense officials were critical over the weekend of Defense Minister Ehud Barak's decision to reopen the sensitive question of which Kassam interception system Israel will develop, expressing concern this would drag out the process.
In February, then-defense minister Amir Peretz chose Rafael's Iron Dome system as Israel's anti-Katyusha and anti-Kassam rocket defense system over a number of alternative systems.
Iron Dome is planned to be capable of intercepting Kassam and Katyusha rockets with a small kinetic missile interceptor and is scheduled to be ready for deployment outside the Gaza Strip and along the Lebanese border within two years. Its development is expected to cost $300 million.
But since taking over the Defense Ministry on June 18, Barak has reopened the debate over which Kassam defense system Israel should invest in.
Barak has said one of his goals is to promote the development of Israel's three missile defense systems - the Arrow against long-range ballistic missiles, David's Sling for medium-range missiles and the Iron Dome, or another system, for short-range rockets.
One of the systems that was dismissed by the Defense Ministry committee that chose Iron Dome and is being reconsidered by Barak is Skyguard, an antimissile laser system developed and manufactured by US defense contractor Northrop Grumman and formerly known as Nautilus.
Northrop Grumman is represented in Israel by former OC Air Force Maj.-Gen. (res.) Herzl Bodinger, who, according to officials, has convinced Barak to reexamine the issue.
Defense officials said Barak was considering additional systems for the long-term and not for the immediate future.
Senior defense officials told The Jerusalem Post, however, that Skyguard was not currently a viable option.
"There is no laser system today that can be applied and used effectively to counter the Kassam threat," said one senior official. "Any work being done on it is a waste of time."
The Iron Dome's future is uncertain for another reason as well. The IDF has yet to determine its procurement plan for the coming year and, as a result, Rafael does not know if the project will receive a budget for the coming year.
According to defense sources, the $40m. given to the Rafael Armament Development Authority for initial development is running out and if the Defense Ministry wants to continue work on the system, it will need to allocate at least an additional $80m.