Israel Deploys Iron Dome Missile Defense System for First Time

System placed on desert terrain, expected to begin operating by Sunday afternoon; IDF has described the step as 'experiment', adding that the system alone won't be sufficient defense.

The Israel Defense Forces on Sunday deployed the Iron Dome anti-rocket system for the first time ever on Sunday in southern Israel.

Weeks of stepped-up rocket and mortar attacks have drawn fears of renewed war and led to new calls in Israel for the military to deploy the $200 million system.

Iron Dome - AP - 27.3.11

The components of the battery – which include launchers, a radar, the control system and monitor – were each placed a few kilometers from one another on desert terrain, as soldiers from the Israel Air Force air defense unit began configuring the system.

The IDF said the system should begin operating on Sunday afternoon, but has described the step as an "operational experiment," saying the deployment of the Iron Dome and beginning its actual use will take some time.

The army said that further anti-missile batteries would be deployed at others sites in the south, but did not specify when.

The Israeli-developed system uses cameras and radar to track incoming rockets and is supposed to shoot them down within seconds of their launch.

Security officials said the new barrage of rocket attacks from the Gaza Strip and public pressure had led the military to deploy the system, which is still being fine-tuned. They spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss operational decisions.

IDF spokesman Capt. Barak Raz said the system was in an evaluation stage, as any new system would be.

The Israel Air Force has stressed that even the first two batteries will not be enough, and that at least three more will be needed to provide ample defense from Gaza rocket attacks.

Once deployed, however, the Iron Dome still cannot provide full protection to residents of Israel's south, Home Front Minister Matan Vilnai told Army Radio on Sunday.

Palestinian militants have fired dozens of rockets at Israel over the last week, prompting Israeli air strikes against targeted areas in the Gaza Strip. The renewed hostilities have fed concerns of another large-scale Israeli military operation. In December 2008, Israel invaded Gaza in response to years of rocket and mortar barrages on its southern communities, killing 1,400 Palestinians, including more than 900 civilians, and causing widespread destruction. Thirteen Israelis also died in that war.

Israel says that Hamas, which suffered heavy losses in the fighting, has largely recovered from the fighting and restocked its arsenal with more powerful weapons.

Also on Sunday, the Israel Air Force killed two Gazans and wounded three more who were attempting to launch rockets at Israel.

The strike came a day after Gaza groups signaled that they would halt rocket fire at Israel if the IDF stopped carrying out targeted attacks as well.