Defense Minister Ehud Barak will today ask the cabinet for an additional NIS 750 million to accelerate the installation of additional Iron Dome batteries, Israel's antimissile interception system.
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Yesterday the Israel Defense Forces deployed a new Iron Dome battery in the Tel Aviv area, the fifth to start operating in Israel. Defense establishment sources have said funding for Iron Dome will come from American governmental military assistance to Israel and the state budget. The current defense budget is NIS 60 billion.
Sources at the Defense Ministry yesterday refused to provide details regarding how the additional budget for Pillar of Defense - the IDF operation currently under way against targets in the Gaza Strip - will be funded. At this stage, they said, they are directing their attention to achieving the military goals of the operation and restoring peace to the Israeli population.
Sources at the Finance Ministry agreed that it was too early to talk about funding sources, inasmuch as Pillar of Defense only began on Wednesday.
Nonetheless, treasury sources did say that if the current aerial campaign is not followed by a ground operation in Gaza, the cost of the operation will be relatively low. Based upon estimates published in the past, however, a broadly-based operation in the Strip could cost billions of shekels.
For example, Operation Cast Lead - the three-week IDF military offensive in the Gaza Strip in December 2008 and January 2009 - cost NIS 3.8 billion.
With regard to the new Iron Dome battery deployed in the Tel Aviv area, according to the original schedule its set-up and early testing was to be concluded toward the end of January. However, due to events on the ground, it was decided to suffice with two weeks of trials. Rockets have been fired from the Gaza Strip toward the Tel Aviv area on each of the last three days. The new Iron Dome equipment is more advanced than the four others previously deployed, and development of the latest equipment included innovations based on lessons learned from use of its four predecessors.
According to estimates, the cost of each battery - including its radar system and interceptor missiles - is $60 million to $80 million. The United States is providing Israel with special funding, beyond its regular annual $3 billion in military assistance, to deploy the batteries.
The Iron Dome equipment is being built by Israel's Rafael Advanced Defense Systems. Sources in the defense establishment are expressing great satisfaction over the performance of Iron Dome in the current round of hostilities. As of yesterday at noon, the success rate of the system was 87%, which is much higher than other comparable systems. (The system is not deployed against incoming rockets that are projected to hit unpopulated areas. )
Since last week, incoming Palestinian rockets have killed three Israelis, in a single incident in Kiryat Malakhi in the south. In addition, according to Tax Authority data, as of Thursday night there were 220 reports of damage to property since the beginning of the Pillar of Defense operation, including 60 involving damage to motor vehicles. The other cases involved rocket damage to buildings. (See separate story on property damage claims below. )
In 2010, U.S. President Barack Obama asked Congress for a $205 million allocation for Iron Dome beyond the regular American military assistance to Israel and received it. This year, following discussions between U.S. Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta and Defense Minister Barak, the Americans approved $675 million in additional funding over three years for additional batteries and for the purchase of the interceptor missiles.
About a year and a half ago, Yossi Drucker, who heads Rafael's Iron Dome project, told an American television interviewer that each interceptor missile costs about $100,000. Other sources have spoken about $35,000 to $50,000.
The assessment in Israel is that, initially, a total of 13 batteries are needed to cover the entire country. Barak is aiming at completing the construction of the full 13 batteries by 2014-2015, subject to Israel's budgetary capacity and American assistance.
So far, the United States has transferred $70 million of the total that the Americans have committed. The defense establishment has plans to purchase additional batteries beyond the initial 13. According to foreign reports, the government of Singapore is also a partner in funding for the project, although the details of an agreement, if any, between the Singaporeans and the Israeli defense establishment are not known.