Israel Developing Qassam Protection - By 2012

After rejecting a rival American system, Israel is quietly developing its own state-of-the-art laser technology to intercept incoming Qassam rockets, The Jerusalem Report has learned. Kadima Knesset member Yitzhak Ben-Yisrael, a former head of R&D in the Defense Ministry, told The Report that he expected it to be operational in about four years, at about the same time as "Iron Dome," an alternative Israeli-developed anti-missile system, designed to shoot Qassams down by firing faster rockets at them. Ben-Yisrael, a physics professor, said the two systems complemented each other, and he expected them to be used in tandem to protect the town of Sderot and other potential Qassam targets in the Gaza periphery. "In general, the shorter the flight time of the incoming rocket, the more effective the laser system is. But it's not as good against rockets with longer flight times and it's limited by weather conditions," he explained. Iron Dome has no weather restrictions, is more effective against longer-range missiles, is cheaper to build, but costs significantly more to fire. Each rocket will cost an estimated $30,000-$40,000, compared to $1,000-$2,000 for each firing of a laser beam. Ben-Yisrael rejected claims that Iron Dome would not be effective against Qassams fired from less than 4 kilometers - the distance between Beit Hanun in northern Gaza and Sderot. He said newspaper accounts to this effect had not taken into account the missiles' ballistic trajectory, which significantly increases flight time from launch to target. Until now it was generally thought that Israel had opted for Iron Dome at the expense of the rival laser technology. But Ben-Yisrael says Israel specifically rejected the American company Northrop Grumman's "Skyguard" system, but not the laser technology in general. According to some reports, Northrop Grumman would have been ready to position a system around Sderot in about 6 months. But Ben-Yisrael claims that according to the company's own projections, it will carry out "factory gate tests" only in two years, meaning it could not be operational before 2011 at the earliest. Rafael, the national armament development authority, which is developing Iron Dome, says teams are working round the clock for the system to be ready by the first half of 2010. But Ben-Yisrael doubts whether any system will be operative before 2012. And, he says, even when installed none of the systems will provide a "magic solution." "It's not as if in 3 to 4 years we will have a foolproof system that intercepts all incoming rockets. It will intercept some of the rockets, but others will get through, and life still won't be normal," he averred. Indeed, in Ben-Yisrael's view, the anti-missile systems are only part of the solution. To stop the rockets getting through altogether, he said, "Israel will have to use enough military force to convince Hamas that firing rockets at Israeli civilians carries a very heavy price, and is counterproductive."