The RAFAEL Armament Development Authority Ltd. was selected by Defense Minister Amir Peretz on Thursday to develop a system for intercepting short-range rockets.
Peretz's decision, which followed several months of deliberations, is part of Israel's response to the Qassams that are being launched at Israel from the Gaza Strip and to more advanced rockets such as the Katyushas at the northern border.
Defense Ministry Director-General and soon to be IDF chief of staff Gabi Ashkenazi has been managing all research in the matter and, together with a special team, scrutinized dozens of suggestions.
Ashkenazi's team analyzed the systems' abilities to intercept rockets, the time they would require for development and their costs.
"Israel requires an additional security layer for the home front that will allow for more political freedom and provide more security for the population," Peretz said.
Head of the Sha'ar HaNegev Regional Council Alon Shuster expressed concern and said: "The meaning of this decision is that for at least the next three years, tens of thousands of Gaza vicinity communities and Sderot inhabitants will not be safe. It seams that the choice was made with economize the project in mind and not concern for the well being of the citizens."
On the other hand, Sderot applauded the decision. "Better late than never," said Alon Davidi, who leads the campaign against the government's handling of the situation in Sderot.
"The fact that it will be three years before the system is operative means that the IDF must operate deep in the Palestinian territories in order to ensure that we are safe in the meantime," he said.
The project, dubbed Iron Dome, will provide the solution required for the short-range rockets and will be developed by RAFAEL in collaboration with ELTA Systems, a subsidiary of the Israel Aerospace Industry.
Rafael will develop the rocket and the interception system, and ELTA will work on the designated radar system (already in its final stages of development). The cost of an interception rocket will be USD 35-50,000.
The major drawback of the system is that it does not provide a solution for mid-range rockets. Its key advantage is that the development will be relatively inexpensive. This factor is important as the system will have to deal with large barrages of dozens and even hundreds of Qassams and Katyushas.
Israel Military Industries proposed a system with an interception rocket that was cheaper than the other options; however it would take longer to develop than Iron Dome.
The decision made on Thursday is a strategic milestone. If Israel succeeds in finding a solution for the short-rang rockets launched, even if it is only a partial solution, it will bring about a shift in the balance of power between Israel and the terrorists and radical Islam operating against it.
Not only will the population be better protected from Katyushas and bigger Syrian rockets in the North and Qassams in the Negev, but Israel will regain the political freedom that it lost due to the rocket threat.
Efrat Weiss contributed to the report