Israel mounted a battery of its Iron Dome anti-missile system on a warship Monday, as the vaunted rocket interceptor went operational at sea for the first time, senior officers said.
Israel Air Force Brigadier General Zvika Haimovitch said the battery fitted to the corvette Lahav underwent a successful “live-fire test” and would be a valuable asset in securing offshore natural gas fields.
“Today the IAF put another operational layer to defend and protect Israel’s energy assets in the Mediterranean Sea,” he told journalists in English.
“This is a significant milestone,” he added.
The air force is responsible for Israel’s ground-based anti-missile defences.
Israel has major gas fields off its northern coast and is building valuable infrastructure to get the fuel out of the ground and onto land, all within range of rockets from its deadly foe Hezbollah’s Lebanon bases.
The Tamar field, discovered in 2009 and which began production in 2013, has estimated reserves of up to 238 billion cubic metres (8.4 trillion cubic feet).
Leviathan, discovered in 2010 and set to begin production in 2019, is estimated to hold 18.9 trillion cubic feet (535 billion cubic metres) of natural gas, along with 34.1 million barrels of condensate.
Israel has invited bids for another 24 offshore oil-and-gas exploration licences it hopes will bring more big finds in the Mediterranean as it strives to become an energy exporter.
In 2006, Israel fought a 34-day war against Iranian-backed Hezbollah in which more than 1,200 Lebanese, mostly civilians, and 120 Israelis, the majority soldiers, died.
Israeli authorities said that in the course of the fighting Hezbollah fired 3,970 rockets into Israel.
In recent weeks cross-border tensions have risen again as part of a row between Saudi Arabia and Iran, which saw Hezbollah accuse the Saudis and Israelis colluding to launch a fresh offensive into Lebanon.
Haimovitch however said that the seaborne Iron Dome process was set up more than 18 months ago.
He added that the Lahav and other ships which would be fitted with Iron Dome in future would not be confined to Israel’s northern coast.
“We don’t develop specific solutions for a specific threat or direction,” he said. “It could be a threat from Lebanon or from Gaza.”
He said military planners learned from the 2014 war in Gaza, codenamed Operation Protective Edge.
In that conflict, the army says, the Islamist Hamas and other Gaza-based Palestinian militant groups fired more than 4,500 rockets at Israel, of which Iron Dome intercepted 735.
“It was an operational scenario we saw during Protective Edge that Hamas and other Islamic groups fired missiles at our assets.”