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JERUSALEM - Top Israeli officials on Sunday praised Iron Dome, a locally-produced anti-rocket defense system, after it intercepted volleys of rockets fired by Gaza militants toward southern Israel in recent days.
In a sudden flare-up of violence that shattered months of relative calm, Islamic Jihad-affiliated and other Palestinian militant groups have fired a total of 124 rockets from the Gaza Strip since Friday, the Israeli defense ministry said in a statement.
The Iron Dome system intercepted 28 of the 31 Grad rockets fired at major Israeli cities over the weekend, and another seven of 15 rockets fired on Sunday as the escalation entered its third day.
"The system has proven itself very well," Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said during his cabinet's weekly meeting on Sunday, according to remarks communicated by his office.
He said that the Israeli government "will do everything within its power" to procure more batteries in the coming years to improve the protection of the Israeli home front.
Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak said Saturday that Iron Dome provided the country's political and military leadership "greater freedom" to deal with threats, referring to the decision to order the assassination of a top militant in the Gaza Strip on Friday, whom the military said had planned to launch an imminent attack on the Israel-Egypt border.
In light of Iron Dome's success, the defense minister intends to again demand that the system be declared a national priority project, which will assure the procurement and deployment of more batteries, as well as batteries of "Magic Wand", a system designed to intercept intermediate-range rockets, Barak's office said in a statement.
"We must guarantee that more batteries are deployed in the shortest possible time, in order to supply all Israeli citizens the protection they deserve against the rocket and missile threats, " Barak said.
Barak, a big believer in Iron Dome, has been pressing the government to allocate funds to procure more units. Last August, he announced that five batteries would possibly enter service within two years. But Israeli military planners assess that 12 to 15 batteries are needed to provide Israel with a comprehensive shield from rocket threats on several fronts.
The Israeli Air Force (IAF) positioned the three Iron Dome batteries currently at its disposal near the city of Beersheba in the central Negev desert, and around the coastal cities of Ashdod and Ashkelon, just days before hostilities broke out on Friday.
Officers in the IAF's Air Defense Corps explained that the multi-million-dollar system, which was declared operational in March 2011, only intercepted 35 of the more than 120 rockets fired by militants so far since its radar, which calculates the trajectory of an incoming rocket, is designed to only intercept projectiles identified as heading toward populated areas and disregard those that do not pose a risk.
"The system's success rate exceeded 90 percent this time around, just as we expected it would... It was its single largest interception event to date," Yossi Drucker, who heads the Aerial Defense Division at Rafael Advances Systems Ltd., which develops and manufactures Iron Dome, told Israeli daily Yediot Aharonot.
While senior military and defense officials hailed Iron Dome's latest success as an "unprecedented technological achievement" in preventing almost certain casualties and destruction to infrastructure, one Israeli cabinet minister went against the grain.
"The glorification of Iron Dome is exaggerated. The system does not constitute a 100-percent solution," the Yisrael Hayom daily quoted the minister, who spoke anonymously, as saying.
Israel's Home Front Defense Ministry will hold Wednesday war games designed to simulate long-range rocket attacks on Tel Aviv and other cities in central Israel.
A spokesman of the ministry told Xinhua Sunday that the simulation will not involve forces in the field, but is an "office simulation" that will drill the heads of the country's emergency services in responding to a crisis.
Israeli Minister of Home Front Defense Matan Vilnai will oversee the drill, which will be attended by representatives from the police, firefighting services and the army's Home Front Command, among others.
The spokesman denied reports that the simulation is linked to the current escalation, noting that it was planned months ago.