Israeli commercial aircraft headed to Eilat will now be protected by an on-board missile defense system, with the installation of the new systems taking place three weeks ago.
According to reports, the order to deploy the anti-missile systems on Arkia and Israir flights came from the Israeli defense establishment in response to a growing threat from an Islamic State (ISIS)-affiliated group in the Sinai Peninsula, which carried out a major offensive on the Egyptian military there.
Last year, the Israeli Defense Ministry announced that its tests of the new SkyShield system were “100 percent successful”. The system combines lasers and a thermal camera to redirect ground-to-air missiles.
Israeli defense company Elbit Systems began developing the SkyShield system about a decade ago, after a failed attack on an Israeli airliner.
In 2002, Islamic militants fired two surface-to-air missiles at an Israeli plane shortly after takeoff from Mombasa, Kenya. Although the missiles missed their target, they inspired Israel to come up with a way of protecting its flights.
The SkyShield system, called Magen Rkia in Hebrew, is attached to the belly of a plane in special pods. Four sensors can detect, identify, trace and disrupt the path of incoming rockets directed at the plane.
Since the SkyShield pods increase wear and tear on the planes themselves, as well as operational costs by decreasing fuel economy, they are being installed on an as-needed basis. Reportedly, the Israeli government has committed $76 million to develop and deploy the system.