Rafael Advanced Defense Systems has received special rabbinic permission to work on Shabbat on the Iron Dome anti-Kassam missile defense system, defense officials said Monday. The rare rabbinic approval was granted following a Defense Ministry request that Rafael speed up its work on the development of the system. Last February, then-defense minister Amir Peretz chose Rafael's Iron Dome system as Israel's anti-Katyusha and Kassam rocket defense system. The system, planned to be capable of intercepting Kassam and Katyusha rockets with a small kinetic missile interceptor, is scheduled to be operational for deployment outside the Gaza Strip and along the northern border by 2010. Its development is valued at $300 million. Rafael has also been promised a bonus if it completes the development of the system earlier than planned. "Peoples' lives are at stake here," an official said. "Rafael does not usually work on Shabbat but they received permission to work as much as needed to get the system operational as soon as possible." Meanwhile on Monday, Defense Ministry Dir.-Gen. Pinchas Buhris met with local regional council heads from the western Negev as well as the mayor of Ashkelon, to discuss the defense establishment's decision to develop the Iron Dome. The decision has come under harsh criticism from former employees of defense industries who claimed that Israel could purchase the Skyguard, a variant of the Nautilus laser system. During the meeting, the council heads received a briefing from defense officials involved in the Iron Dome's development and were provided with explanations why the system was chosen. The Defense Ministry plans to hold a series of tests on the system next month. Ministry spokesman Shlomo Dror refused to divulge details of the meeting but said that the Defense Ministry planned to maintain the dialogue with the council heads. Rafael's spokesman was unavailable for a comment.