The terror organizations in the Gaza Strip have changed their rocket-launch tactics in an attempt to evade the two Iron Dome anti-missile batteries deployed by the Israel Air Force in southern Israel, security sources say. The new tactics include aiming more frequently at areas beyond the Iron Dome protection range.
On Saturday, the terror groups attempted to break through the intercept system's defenses by firing a particularly large volley of rockets at Be'er Sheva, where one of the batteries is deployed. The Defense Ministry, for its part, has accelerated its timetable in order to double the number of available batteries within six months.
The IAF's Air Defense Corps intercepted 15 of the rockets launched from the Gaza Strip since Thursday. Iron Dome is capable of determining which rockets are liable to hit populated areas, and intercepts those rockets only in order not to waste the expensive intercept missiles on incoming rockets that will land in uninhabited areas.
After the Palestinian launch teams realized that the intercept systems deployed in the past two weeks around Ashkelon and Be'er Sheva provided near-perfect protection from rockets, they began targeting Ashdod and Ofakim more frequently. And when they did aim at Be'er Sheva on Saturday night, they did not fire one or two rockets, as in the past, but rather a volley of seven rockets almost simultaneously. Iron Dome intercepted five of them successfully, but one penetrated the defense system, exploding in a residential area and killing Yossi Shushan.
IAF officers Sunday spoke of the steep learning curve for Iron Dome, whose operational deployment was greatly accelerated in order to provide protection for communities in the south. They said that when additional batteries were deployed, the system's performance would improve, as adjacent batteries would be able to help one other in the event of particularly large volleys of rockets.
Brig. Gen. Doron Gavish, commander of the IAF's Air Defense Corps, said Sunday that his soldiers had detected all of the rockets launched from Gaza and had transmitted early warnings to the Home Front Command, which, in turn, alerted residents.
"We said in advance that this wasn't a hermetic system," Gavish said last night, adding that the air defense units were learning on the fly and improving the performance of Iron Dome while operating it.
"This is the first system of its kind anywhere in the world; it is in its first operational test; and we've already intercepted a large number of rockets targeting Israeli communities, saving many civilian lives," Gavish said.
Even before the recent escalation in the south, the Defense Ministry decided to accelerate the production timetable for additional Iron Dome batteries. As a result, the ministry and Rafael Advanced Defense Systems, which manufactures the system, hope to deliver a third battery to the IAF in September, with a fourth scheduled for delivery within the next six months. The air force has already trained additional air defense operators for these batteries.
Two more batteries are scheduled for delivery to the IAF by the end of 2012, bring the total number of operational Iron Dome systems to six.
Most of the budget for the four new batteries is covered by a special allocation of $205 million earmarked for the program by the U.S. administration.