ISRAEL deploys new missile defense system to protect Israelis from Gaza-launched rockets

A new defense system meant to protect southern Israel from Gaza militants’ rockets will go into operation on Sunday, the Israeli military said, after weeks of stepped-up rocket and mortar attacks that have drawn fears of renewed war.

The Blaze –The Islamic Jihad militant group reported that two of its members were killed and another was wounded in an Israeli airstrike early Sunday on Gaza. The Israeli military had no immediate comment on the report..

Gaza militants, including Islamic Jihad and the territory’s Hamas rulers, had said over the weekend that they would cease fire if Israel did. A major problem with that pledge is the inability of the larger groups to control rogue militants from attacking. Israel has said it does not want the violence to escalate.

Israeli defense officials’ earlier failures to deploy the $200 million Iron Dome anti-rocket system against the Palestinian attacks had raised many questions in Israel about its effectiveness. Home Front Minister Matan Vilnai told Army Radio on Sunday that even once it was deployed, the Iron Dome would still not provide full protection to residents of Israel’s south.

The Iron Dome will begin operating Sunday in the area of Beersheba, southern Israel’s largest city, the military said. A second missile battery will be deployed soon in another large southern city, Ashdod, the military added, without specifying an exact date.

Defense Minister Ehud Barak announced last week that the new system was being put into place but gave no exact date for when it would start operating.

Israel developed the system to protect itself from short-range rockets used against it by Palestinian militants to its south in Gaza and Hezbollah guerrillas to the north in Lebanon. Millions of Israeli civilians are within rocket range.

The Iron Dome system uses cameras and radar to track incoming rockets and is supposed to shoot them down within seconds of their launch.

The renewed violence had fed concerns of a repeat of Israel’s December 2008 invasion of Gaza in response to years of rocket and mortar barrages on its southern communities.

Hundreds of civilians were among the 1,400 Palestinians killed, and widespread damage was caused to homes and businesses. Thirteen Israelis also died.