Iron Dome too pricey, lasers next for defense

TEL AVIV, Israel (AP) — Israel’s prime minister on Tuesday acknowledged that its Iron Dome defense system is too expensive and the country is speeding the rollout of laser technology to protect it from rocket attacks.

Naftali Bennett told a security conference that the new generation of technology — a “laser wall” — will be unveiled within a year in southern Israel. Little is known about the system’s effectiveness, but the system eventually is expected to be deployed on land, in the air and at sea and send a deterrent message to archenemy Iran and its proxies.

“If we can intercept a missile or rocket with an electrical pulse that costs a few dollars, we will essentially neutralize the ring of fire that Iran has set up,” Bennett told the Institute for National Security Studies at Tel Aviv University. “This new generation of air defense can also serve our friends in the region.”

Israel unveiled the Iron Dome a decade ago, and the military says it has been a great success, with a 90% interception rate against incoming rocket fire during four wars against militants in the Gaza Strip.

But in his speech, Bennett said the system is limited by its high price, which is partly underwritten by the United States. Defense officials had originally planned for the laser technology to be ready in about two years.

The laser technology is intended to complement the Iron Dome and other systems to meet new threats. Bennett said someone in Gaza can fire a rocket toward Israel for a few hundred dollars, but it costs tens of thousands of dollars to intercept it. He spoke from Israel’s recent experience: In May, Hamas fired more than 4,000 rockets toward Israel.

“That is an illogical equation,” Bennett said. “We decided to break this equation.”

He said that within a year, Israel’s military will begin testing what is designed to become a “laser wall” against missiles, rockets and drones. The system could be used by Israel and other countries against threats from Iran, which has developed long-range missiles capable of striking Israel.

Israeli defense officials have spoken before about successful tests of laser defense systems mounted on aircraft with the aim of intercepting unmanned aircraft. The laser system has been described as having the ability to address longer-range threats at high altitudes regardless of weather conditions.

Officials say the lasers will complement Israel’s multilayered defenses — which includes the Iron Dome and other systems capable of intercepting long and medium-range missiles and drones.

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