Gaza Border Towns Demand Full State Funding of Anti-rocket System

Eshkol regional council chief: I'll petition High Court to push gov't to deploy Iron Dome system.

The head of the Eshkol regional council demanded yesterday that the state allocate more money to develop enough anti-rocket systems that would protect towns near the Gaza Strip from the threat of Qassams.

Haim Yalin, the Eshkol council chief, said yesterday that he would petition the High Court to try and push the government to deploy its Iron Dome rocket interception system.

Officials in the defense establishment, however, say that more money is needed to develop a sufficient amount of anti-rocket batteries so as to provide protection for all of the communities near Israel's border with the Hamas-ruled territory.

During a meeting between Yalin; Alon Shuster, the head of the Sha'ar Hanegev regional council; and Yossi Drucker, the head of the Iron Dome project with its manufacturer, the defense contractor Rafael, the council heads were updated on the latest developments regarding the project.

"The Iron Dome system is ready and even capable of defending towns within a range of 70 kilometers, more than what we expected at the start of the project," Drucker told the council heads. During the 90-minute meeting, however, Drucker did not say whether defense officials plan on stationing the necessary number of batteries to safeguard the entire border region.

Defense officials said that despite the need for between six to eight anti-rocket batteries to protect Gaza-area towns, approval has been granted for the manufacture of just two of these systems. In recent weeks, officials began deliberations on the development of a third system.

Council heads alarmed

The council heads were alarmed by a Haaretz report in February which stated that the Israel Defense Forces does not intend to deploy the Iron Dome system on the ground, even once the system is operationally ready to go online, expected within the next few months.

Initially, the IDF wants to position the system in an air force base and to train the crews that will be operating it. Defense officials would consider deploying the system in and around civilian communities near Gaza only at a later date.

Defense sources told Haaretz that they believe the Defense Ministry is intentionally trying to lower expectations surrounding Iron Dome so as not to provide an opening for the local council chiefs to lobby for their immediate deployment in their towns. Ministry officials are concerned that expediting the development and deployment of Iron Dome is cost prohibitive.

Officials within the defense establishment are bitterly divided over the question of how high of a priority to attach to the system. While the IDF supports deploying Iron Dome in the towns, it does not want to commit funds that it prefers to use for new offensive systems.

Yalin and Shuster's meeting with Drucker was the latest in a series of discussions held by the council heads with defense officials.

"We came away with the impression that the system is ready to go online," Yalin said. "We are now entering the phase of the political battle. In our meeting with the director general of the Defense Ministry two weeks ago, we were told that there is no money to fund the necessary batteries. I plan on petitioning the High Court so that the government of Israel fulfills its duty and follows through on its promises with regard to Iron Dome."

"We've been exposed to attack for eight years," Yalin said. "That is enough."