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(photo credit: AP [file])
A missile defense system that can intercept Katyusha rockets and destroy them before striking their targets won't be ready, senior defense and IDF officials told The Jerusalem Post this week, for at least four years.
The prediction by the officials, some of whom are involved in the development of missile defense systems, came two weeks after Defense Minister Amir Peretz declared in an interview with the Post that such a system would be up and operational within two years.
"Nothing will be ready in two years," said one senior military official this week. "Peretz was mistaken."
Peretz has appointed Defense Ministry (MOD) Dir.-Gen. Gabi Ashkenazi to head an internal committee assigned the task of locating and developing a defense system for short-range rockets. During the recent war against Hizbullah in Lebanon, close to 4,000 short-range Katyusha and medium-range rockets landed in northern Israel.
Following the war, the defense establishment's hunt for a cheap system that would be operational in the near future picked up speed. In an interview published last week, Peretz claimed that Kassam rockets fired by Palestinians from the Gaza Strip and the Katyushas fired by Hizbullah in the North had turned into "strategic threats" against Israel and were no longer, as they were supposed to be, simple tactical weapons.
"Both Kassams and Katyushas are tactical weapons that have become strategic threats because we have yet to find an answer to them," he said. "We want to turn the system into a significant system that can operate, and this will happen in no more than two years."
The MOD is currently interested in two systems, one being developed in the US and one in Israel. The first system, designed to defend against short-range missiles with a range of three to ten kilometers, such as the Kassam or the short-range Katyushas that struck northern towns during the recent war, is a chemical laser cannon called Skyguard under development by the US-based company Northrop Grumman. The second system, under development by an Israeli company, works with an anti-missile missile that uses a kinetic warhead interceptor.