Israel speeds up third Iron Dome battery in wake of Gaza attacks
Additional anti-missile system would be ready in 6 months; recent rocket, mortar volleys also prompt Netanyahu to OK shelters for Ashkelon educational institutions.
The Israel Defense Forces announced Tuesday it would accelerate the introduction of a third Iron Dome anti-rocket battery, following weeks of intensified conflicts along Israel's border with the Hamas-ruled Gaza Strip.
The IDF's announcement came on Sunday after the cabinet, led by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, discussed ways to speed up the process of protecting Negev communities from Gaza rocket fire.
At the meeting, Netanyahu decided to allocate funding to purchase four more batteries of the Iron Dome missile defense system.
The U.S. Congress recently approved over $200 million in funding for Iron Dome, but Netanyahu said Israel would allocate the budget immediately rather than waiting for the American funds to come through.
On Tuesday, IDF officials indicated that the security establishment intended on taking a series of steps geared at ensuring that the third Iron Dome battery would become available in six months, instead of the expected 18-month waiting period.
According to the new plan, launchers from existing systems would be combined with other components that had already been manufactured in order to speed up the battery's production.
In that way, the first operational Iron Dome battalion would come into being within six months, with batteries that could then be deployed in the south or in other arenas.
Furthermore, the IDF intends to equip itself with three other batteries by the end of 2012.
The IDF is to finalize its long-term Iron Dome acquisition program – nicknamed "Halamish" – within a few months, which would indicate the final number of systems to be introduced into the military.
Israel Air Force officials estimate the number of Iron Dome systems needed to cover threatened areas at thirteen.
Also on Tuesday, and in light of recent fighting along the Gaza border, Netanyahu told Ashkelon Mayor Benny Vaknin that additional fortified structures that provide shelter from rocket fire will be placed in educational institutions in the city.
The allocation of additional fortified structures in Ashkelon comes after a long struggle by the city municipality as well as parents in the city, who petitioned the High Court last year over the lack these structures.