Barak and Gantz - March 25, 2011
Ehud Barak and Benny Gantz meet with IDF officials, March 25, 2011. Photo by Haaretz
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Israel is deploying its newly developed Iron Dome missile defense system for the first time to protect southern Israeli communities from Palestinian attacks from Gaza, the Israel Defense Forces announced Friday.

Defense Minister Ehud Barak gave the order Friday after a week in which Gaza militants fired dozens of mortar shells and rockets at Israel, which retaliated with air strikes.

Barak says he approved the deployment of the system as an operational experiment and the IDF has said it will be operational in a few days.

In a meeting with the IDF Chief of Staff Benny Gantz and other defense officials, he praised the military's reaction to heightened rocket fire from the Gaza Strip, saying "in the last ten days, the terror organizations in Gaza have been hit hard and lost 11 militants."

He lamented the loss of civilian life in the strikes, but said that "it is not Israel's intent to allow terror organizations to renew their efforts to break our routine," saying that Israel will do whatever necessary to restore order.

Barak warned Hamas and other terror organizations of the consequences of further firing into Israel, saying that although the past 24 hours have been rocket-free, Israel is continuing to follow the situation closely.

The defense minister said he authorized the experimental deployment of Iron Dome, which will in all likelihood be in use initially for several weeks. He added that the mode and scope of deployment will be in accordance with the security situation in the South.

The system is a main component of Israel's defense against the homemade and imported rockets fired by Palestinian militants in Gaza, as well as the longer range rockets in the hands of Hezbollah guerrillas on Israel's border with Lebanon.

Barak made clear that Iron Dome will be used in the event missiles are shot into the area in which it will be deployed, but the full deployment of the missile defense system will only be feasible in a few years' time, largely due to budgetary constraints.