HAIFA, Israel, Oct. 18 (UPI) -- Missile-defense systems will be on the agenda during Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak's upcoming visit to the United States, the first since his May appointment to the job.
The news of Barak's intentions to talk rocket shields on next week's trip, along with "a range of central regional and bilateral issues," according to a Defense Ministry statement, comes on the heels of his announcement that soon Israel will be nearly immune to rocket attacks.
A shield that protects Israel from 90 percent of rocket attacks will be up and running in the next few years, Barak told the Knesset State Control Committee Tuesday, according to a report from the Jerusalem Post.
"We are giving high priority to the production of a system involving several projects, which, within a few years, will provide protection for Israel from about 90 percent of all attempts to fire rockets at us, from (Iranian) Shihab missiles to Qassams (from Gaza)," he said. "In the longer range, we will have, for many reasons, to achieve a much higher interception level."
An estimate longer than "a few years" was not immediately available.
Barak, Israel Defense Force Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Gabi Ashkenazi and former Defense Minister Amir Peretz appeared before the State Control Committee to discuss State Comptroller Micha Lindenstrauss' "highly critical report of the government's record in preparing the home front for war before and during the Second Lebanon War," according to the newspaper.
Southern Israel, and especially the Western Negev Desert area and the city of Sderot, sustain several Qassam rocket attacks per month launched from the nearby Gaza Strip. In the summer of 2006 northern Israel was also pummeled with rockets -- Katyushas launched from southern Lebanon by the guerrilla group Hezbollah -- in a monthlong war. Katyusha rockets were also fired on the country's northern region intermittently before last summer, but with the war came much more powerful, longer-range models that reached as far south as Hadera, a city half an hour's drive north of Tel Aviv.
The Israeli air force said that its Iron Dome system would be operational in "just a few years," according to the report. Iron Dome will be the first layer of a four-layer defense system in Israel: The Patriot missile batteries are the next line of defense, followed by the Arrow System and the still under-development Arrow 2, the newspaper said.
Continued cooperation on defense between the United States and Israel was also reaffirmed last week by President Shimon Peres. Speaking at the Parliament's opening session, Peres noted "the fight against ... terror (requires) not only national but also regional and global organization."
However, during the meeting at which Barak presented, not all members of the government supported the need to re-examine Israel's preparedness.
"During the meeting, Peretz, who served as defense minister during the war, took issue with the conclusions of the Lindenstrauss report, which found that the government had been hasty in going to war and should first have examined the readiness of the home front," according to the Jerusalem Post.
"I don't think anyone is authorized to say that the decision of the government to go to war was hasty," the newspaper quoted Peretz as saying. "It is absolutely clear that the act of going to war was the right thing to do."
U.S.-Israeli cooperation on missile defense is not new: The Arrow Weapons System was jointly developed by the two countries and continues to be upgraded. In late July the U.S. House Appropriations Committee approved $26 million in federal funding for the Arrow System Improvement Program, according to the office of Rep. Steve Rothman, D-N.J., a member of the House Appropriations Committee’s Subcommittee on Defense.
At that time, Rothman said of the appropriation, "The Arrow program is one of the most advanced missile defense systems around and has been proven to work in tests against real and surrogate targets in California and Israel.
"It provides essential protection against ballistic missiles for Israel’s civilian population, as well as U.S. troops in the Middle East.
"In light of Iran’s open hostility toward the U.S. and Israel, I consider increasing the effectiveness of the Arrow system to be essential to our defense. This technology, along with diplomacy, can help us avert another deadly and costly war,” Rothman said.