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Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Israel wants to buy U.S. missile defense system

Multilayer defense umbrella could help protect against rockets, officials say

Image: Phalanx Mark 15 Close-In Weapon System
The Phalanx Mark 15 Close-In Weapon System is test-fired aboard the amphibious dock landing ship USS Nashville. Israel hopes to purchase the system, official said.
M.C.S. 3rd Class Coleman Thompson / U.S. Navy

updated 6:23 a.m. ET, Tues., April 21, 2009

JERUSALEM - Defense Minister Ehud Barak hopes to buy a U.S. missile defense system to protect Israeli towns from short-range rockets and mortar fire, defense officials said Tuesday.

Barak plans to ask U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates to sell Israel the Vulcan-Phalanx cannon and radar system when he visits Washington in June, the officials said, speaking on condition of anonymity as the request has not yet formally been made.

The Vulcan-Phalanx — manufactured by U.S. company Raytheon Co. — is to be integrated into a multilayer defense umbrella that will include Israel's Iron Dome and two other missile systems being developed with the United States, the officials said.

During Israel's recent military offensive into the Gaza Strip, Palestinians there fired rockets more than 28 miles into Israel. They continue to lob mortar shells across the border.

The defense ministry has been looking at anti-rocket systems since 2003 but put the search into high gear after the 2006 war with the Lebanese Hezbollah militia, when nearly 4,000 Katyusha rockets slammed into northern Israel.

Iron Dome, under development by state-owned weapons maker Rafael, is meant to counter Hezbollah's Katyushas and the more primitive Qassam rockets fired from Gaza.

'Magic Wand'
The laser-based system is expected to be ready for deployment next year.

Rafael is also working with Raytheon to develop a system named "Magic Wand" against medium-range missiles.

To meet long-range threats, such as an Iranian attack, Israel Aerospace Industries Ltd. and Chicago-based Boeing Co. are producing the Arrow missile, which has been successfully tested and partially deployed.

The most advanced version, the Arrow II, was specifically designed to counter Iran's Shahab ballistic missile, which is capable of carrying a nuclear warhead.

The Shahab-3 has a range of up to 1,250 miles, putting Israel well within striking distance.

Israel sees Iran as its biggest threat, citing the country's nuclear program and its development of long-range ballistic missiles. Those fears have been compounded by Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's repeated calls for the destruction of the Jewish state.