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Israel to use laser air defense system within year, PM says

Naftali Bennett also said he hopes ongoing talks over Iran's nuclear program "end without agreement."
An Israeli air force mechanic inspects an F-16 fighter at Ovda air force base north of the Israeli city of Eilat, on Oct. 24, 2021.

Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett unveiled a new timeline for the country’s rollout of a laser air defense system, saying the technology would be ready within a year.

Bennett said Israel will surround itself with a “laser wall” of air defenses amid increasing threats by the proliferation of Iranian-made and Iranian-inspired drones and missiles in the Middle East.

Israel’s military is on schedule to begin experimenting with a new laser defense system next year, Bennett said Tuesday at the Institute for National Security Studies in Tel Aviv.

“This will allow us, in the medium to long term, to surround Israel with a laser wall that will defend us from missiles, rockets, UAVs and other threats that will essentially take away the strongest card our enemies have against us,” he said. 

Israel successfully shot down drones with a laser system mounted on a small commercial aircraft last year, touting 100% success rate.

Lockheed-Martin and Israel-based Rafael Systems signed an agreement last July to develop a ground-based laser air defense system. The unit is set to bolster Israel’s “multilayered defense umbrella,” a Rafael executive said at the time.

Likewise, the US Navy has been experimenting with laser weapons in the Middle East and the Pacific. The USS Portland successfully destroyed a floating training target in the Gulf of Aden with a laser in December.

Such systems are costly to develop but could prove more efficient than missile interceptors or other munitions once difficulties are worked out. 

Bennett noted today that Israel’s Iron Dome system costs tens of thousands of dollars to deploy, but that an individual Hamas rocket costs only hundreds of dollars.

“The equation doesn’t make sense. It allows [terrorists] to launch more and more Qassams (rockets) and for us to shed many millions … and billions,” Bennett was quoted as saying today.

“If you can intercept a missile or rocket with an electric pulse that costs a few dollars, we are weakening the ring of fire that Iran has built on our borders,” he said.

Israel will also share the technology with allied neighbors who are facing threats from Iran and its proxy militias throughout the region, Bennett said. 

The prime minister’s comments come as the United Arab Emirates has sought additional support from the Pentagon following an unprecedented series of ballistic missile and drone attacks on the Gulf state by Yemen’s Iran-backed Houthi rebels in recent weeks.

The United States withdrew some of its air defenses from Arab countries over the past year as Washington sets its sights on preparations to compete strategically with China.

Israel has previously signaled openness to cooperating with Arab Gulf states on missile defense

Bennett on Tuesday also said he hopes ongoing talks in Vienna would fail to revive the 2015 international nuclear deal with Iran, saying a lifting of sanctions would make the Islamic Republic flush with cash as it funds and arms regional proxies hostile to Israel. 

“Removing sanctions and flooding the [Iranian] regime with billions of dollars means more rockets, more UAVs [drones], more terrorist cells, more cyberattacks and propaganda operations,” Bennett said. 

Biden administration officials’ hopes to eventually expand the deal to limit Iran’s support for regional militias and ballistic and cruise missile program have been blunted by Tehran’s refusal.