El Al 224.88.
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski [file])
The security cabinet on Wednesday approved a new Israeli-made system for protecting civilian aircraft against terrorist missile attacks.
Development of the system will begin at the start of 2008. The system also has the capability to significantly reduce the risk of infiltration into Israeli airspace by hijacked or unidentified aircraft.
The decision followed intelligence reports of international terrorist organizations' plans to target Israeli aircraft, and assessments that missiles were becoming more advanced and more readily available to terrorists, Israel Radio reported.
The cabinet also approved a proposal by Transportation Minister Shaul Mofaz to make introduction of the new technology contingent on first fortifying all civilian planes this year with existing technology that IAF aircraft are already equipped with.
Israel will thus become the first country in the world to install defense systems in all its civilian aircraft.
The security cabinet's decision comes after Defense Minister Ehud Barak reopened the debate over which Kassam defense system Israel should invest in. Barak has said one of his goals was 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. The IDF has yet to determine its procurement plan for the coming year and the Rafael Armament Development Authority, the system's developer, does not know if the project will receive a budget for the coming year.
According to defense sources, the $40 million given to Rafael 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.
Yaakov Katz contributed to this report.