Prime Minister Naftali Bennett said on Tuesday night that the Israel Defense Forces will start using a laser-based missile interception system 'within a year.'
"This will allow us, in the medium- to long-term, to cover Israel in a wall of lasers that will defend us from missiles, rockets, drones and other threats," Bennett said at a conference hosted by the Institute for National Security Studies in Tel Aviv. "It will effectively take away the strongest card the enemy has against us."
At first, Bennett said, the system will be used on a trial basis, "and eventually it will be used operationally – at first in the south, and then in other places."
The Israeli defense establishment successfully completed a series of initial tests for laser-based aerial interceptions, using a system installed on the back of an airplane. As part of these tests, the laser intercepted a number of UAVs that flew at different altitudes and at different ranges from the plane. About eight months ago, Brig. Gen. Yaniv Rotem, who is the head of the Defense Ministry's research and development unit, said that the system is expected to successfully intercept mortars, rockets and small drones, and estimated that they would be placed on the Gaza border in 2024.
The prime minister says that after the laser interception system becomes operational, "The equation will change – they'll invest a lot, and us a little." Each interceptor for the Iron Dome – the missile defense system currently in use – costs about 170,000 shekels (nearly $53,000), and each incoming rocket usually requires more than one interceptor.
"If it's possible to shoot down a missile or rocket with an electric pulse that costs a few dollars, we are actually nullifying the ring of fire that Iran has put over our borders."
According to Bennett, the system can also serve "our friends in the region, who are also vulnerable to serious threats from Iran and its proxies."
Bennett said that "The campaign to weaken Iran has begun," and that it is being waged on a number of fronts: economic, atomic, cyber, overt and covert operations, alone and in cooperation with others. "The missile may be fired from Beirut or from Gaza, but the address is Iran. The weaker that Tehran is, the weaker its proxies are. The hungrier the head of the octopus is, the more withered its tentacles are."
He added that he hopes that the nuclear talks currently being held in Vienna between Iran and world powers will end without them coming to an agreement. He added, "No agreement will tie our hands from acting to protect ourselves."
Bennett also discussed Israel's relations with the United States. "Washington has its own interests, which I must admit do not always overlap with ours," he said. The Americans' interest in the Middle East is waning – "its eyes are currently fixed on the Russia-Ukraine border, and it is currently in a strategic conflict with China." He also warned that "The United States' place in the region can be filled, God forbid, by forces of terror and hatred."