An Israeli police officer demonstrates a laser defense system designed to intercept explosives-laden balloons launched from the Gaza Strip into Israel, on the Israeli Gaza border, Aug. 30, 2020. (Tsafrir Abayov/AP File Photo)
JERUSALEM — Israel's new laser missile defense system has successfully intercepted mortars, rockets and anti-tank missiles in recent tests, Defense Minister Benny Gantz said Thursday.
The Israeli-made laser system, designed to complement a series of aerial defense systems such as the costly Iron Dome deployed by Israel, will be operational “as soon as possible,” Gantz said.
The goal is to deploy the laser systems around Israel's borders over the next decade, Gantz added. The tests took place last month in the Negev Desert.
Prime Minister Naftali Bennett said in February that Israel would begin using the system within a year, sending a message to archenemy Iran.
Gantz said the laser system would be part of "an efficient, inexpensive, and innovative protection umbrella.”
Israel has already developed or deployed a series of systems meant to intercept everything from long-range missiles to rockets launched from just a few kilometers (miles) away. It has also outfitted its tanks with a missile-defense system.
Little is known about the laser system’s effectiveness, but it is expected to be deployed on land, in the air and at sea.
The announcement came near the anniversary of the 11-day Israel-Gaza war, in which Gaza's ruling Hamas militant group fired more than 4,000 rockets toward Israel.
Israel said its Iron Dome defense system has been a great success, with a 90% interception rate against incoming rocket fire. But officials say the system is expensive to deploy, and the new laser defense will be much more cost-effective.
The Defense Ministry released a short video showing what it said were successful interceptions of rockets, mortars and an unmanned aerial vehicle. The video, which was highly edited and includes music, appeared to show a laser beam coming out of a ground station, hitting the targets and smashing them into small pieces.
Thursday's announcement came as talks on restoring Iran's tattered nuclear deal with world powers have stalled. Israel opposes the deal, saying it does not do enough to curb Iran's nuclear program or its military activities across the region, and Israeli officials have said they will unilaterally do what's necessary to protect the country.
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