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U.S. Secretary of Defense Robert Gates said Tuesday that the Bush administration was prepared to consider upgrading Israel's missile defense capabilities.

Gates told Defense Minister Ehud Barak, who is visiting Washington, that the U.S. would explore a number of options includin ballistic missile early warning launch data, a forward based X-Band radar system, other missile defense assets, and counter measures to short-range rocket and mortar attacks.

Barak is considering purchasing or borrowing several Phalanx automated cannons from the United States. The cannons intercept incoming mortar shells and short-range rockets, and would be used to defend Sderot and other Negev towns from rocket fire from the Gaza Strip.

The defense minister was expected to ask Gates and Admiral Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, to appraise the Phalanx's performance.

That assessment will be used to help the government decide whether to bring the anti-missile system to Israel.

The new development comes after a series of articles in Haaretz, in which Dr. Natan Farber - an expert in ballistic missiles from the Technion - expressed his support for the project.

However, several Defense Ministry officials said the Phalanx system is not effective enough, and argue that Israel should focus on developing the Iron Dome defense system, which will not be ready before 2011