Israeli authority for development of weapons and military technology Rafael has successfully completed a series of test in the short-range missile defense system it is currently developing as part of the project code-named "Iron Dome."

Security sources said on Sunday that the tests, which were carried out at a test ground in southern Israel, were successful.

The tests involved the launching of a number of Tamir missiles - the type that is expected to be used by Iron Dome to intercept Qassam and Katyusha rockets - and engineers evaluated its capabilities, in terms of such variables as effective range, command and control from the ground, speed and maneuverability.

Defense sources estimate that by the end of 2008 Iron Dome will be ready to undergo a major test that will evaluate the system's ability to intercept a rocket. The test will include the launch of a rocket, which Tamir will try to intercept.

A crucial aspect of that test will be the ability of a radar system under development by Elta, a subsidiary of Israel Aerospace Industries, to identify, locate and track the incoming rocket, and guide Tamir to its target.

Radar tests were carried out last week, independently.

Defense sources said on Sunday that recent data analysis suggests that the likelihood that it will be possible to increase significantly the speed of the intercepting missile is high, something that will allow the interception of the rockets short while after their launch.

Sources in the defense establishment said recently that Rafael had been instructed to complete the development of the first operational system by early 2010, and the expectation is that it will be deployed to defend Sderot and other communities bordering the Gaza Strip from Qassam rockets.

The Defense Ministry noted in a statement on Sunday that the research and development of Iron Dome goes on all week, in three shifts, which is part of the sense of urgency that is felt among staff at Rafael and defense officials regarding the need to develop an answer to the problem posed by rockets.