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The Israel Defense Forces yesterday began deploying a third Iron Dome anti-rocket battery near Ashdod, on the southern coast. But the equipment is still not operational, as the Israel Air Force has not yet received most of the components.

Two other Iron Dome batteries, in the Be'er Sheva and Ashkelon areas, successfully intercepted more than 20 Grad rockets from Gaza during the recent escalation. Though a number of rockets were not shot down, the IAF says Iron Dome has an intercept rate of over 90 percent, which is unusually high for a new system that is not fully operational.

The third Iron Dome, which is supposed to be funded by the American government, was not slated to be ready until early 2012, but the Defense Ministry decided to move up the timetable.

Defense Minister Ehud Barak yesterday congratulated "everyone involved in the work" for having succeeded in deploying the third battery "before the school year opens."

But IAF officers made it clear that the third battery will only be able to intercept rockets in about a week, after additional components are supplied.

Defense officials have voiced displeasure in recent weeks at the pressure being applied by southern mayors to have Iron Dome batteries deployed near their cities.

The IDF Spokesman said the system has entered initial operation, but "each battery's location is determined by the authorized officials based on changing security assessments."