Unnecessary delays have put production of Iron Dome intercept batteries a year behind where they would otherwise be, officials in the security establishment and defense industries have said.
If not for delays in funding during development of the Iron Dome missile system, the Israel Defense Forces would be taking delivery toward the end of this month of its fifth battery, rather than its fourth, they say.
Because every Iron Dome battery, which is manufactured by Rafael Advanced Defense Systems, serves as protection against rocket fire for a medium-sized city, the delay means two cities are without protection that could otherwise have had the batteries.
In the last round of fighting with the Palestinians last week, three operational batteries were deployed, one for the Be'er Sheva area, one for Ashkelon and a third for Ashdod.
Improvements made in the system's software and lessons learned during previous rounds of fighting resulted this time in markedly greater operational success of Iron Dome - an 80-percent intercept rate of the Grad Katyusha s fired at populated areas in the south. But the small number of batteries means that there are gaps in the defensive umbrella they can provide.
Sources in the defense industries have said over the past few days that they believe there has been movement in the policy of the security establishment and the Finance Ministry. Funding has been promised for four more Iron Dome batteries, mainly from the special assistance by the U.S. government to Israel.
The sources say that new funding will be decided on soon to manufacture more batteries, particularly a significant number of intercept missiles, which are very expensive.
Defense Minister Ehud Barak said this week that acquiring more intercept systems had strategic importance, which has been proven in the fighting on the Gaza border. Barak called for the missile intercept system to be declared a "national emergency project," which means the Defense Ministry will expedite the acquisition process.
The cease-fire between Israel and the Gaza Strip remains fragile. Officials say that rogue activists of Islamic Jihad, who are acting against instructions from the organization's leadership, were responsible for the Katyushas fired yesterday.
The rockets fired yesterday - the second such incident in less than 24 hours - led Hamas and Islamic Jihad to try to rein in the militants. A spokesman for Islamic Jihad denied that activists from his group had fired the rockets.
The Israeli response to the rocket fire has been relatively measured, stemming from the assumption that the leadership of the militant groups intends to stop the fire and that it may take them a few days to do so.
Yesterday the air force attacked two targets in the Gaza Strip - a tunnel dug toward Israeli territory and a storage site for Grad rockets.
The Israeli intelligence assessment remains that the calm will hold, at least for a while. The fact that Israel Defense Force Chief of Staff Benny Gantz left yesterday for a working visit to the United States and Canada is another indicator of Israel's intention to maintain calm on the Gaza front.
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