By Carolynne Wheeler, in Jerusalem

Israel has carried out a successful test of its “Iron Dome” anti-missile defense system intended to combat crude rockets of the kind launched from Gaza and south Lebanon.

The test, which Voice of Israel radio reported was carried out secretly late last week, follows earlier delays and warnings that the $300 million system may not catch all Kassam rockets launched by Palestinian militants at southern Israeli communities.

A Hezbollah guerrilla next to a Katyusha rocket

But Israeli security officials, while not commenting publicly on specific tests, say the system will be operational by early 2010.

“We are doing our best so that the system will be operational by 2010 and all the checking we are doing now is going very well,” said a spokesman for the Ministry of Defence, Shlomo Dror.

Israel’s former defense minister, Amir Peretz, ordered the Iron Dome system, which is manufactured by Israel-based Rafael Advanced Defense Systems, early in 2007 to intercept both Kassams and Katyushas, after more than 4,000 of the latter were launched from south Lebanon into Israel during the 2006 summer war.

The system, which uses a small kinetic interceptor to stop such missiles, is scheduled for deployment along Israel’s northern border as well as around Gaza.

Its developers have come under heavy pressure to finish the system ahead of schedule, even receiving a rare exemption allowing them to work on the Jewish Sabbath, as the Kassam rockets grow more powerful.

Defense analysts have warned the system may not work quickly enough to sense all rockets and say the cost of interception will amount to tens of thousands of dollars per rocket.

The news comes as Israel and Hamas-ruled Gaza struggle to maintain a ceasefire declared nearly three weeks ago.

Though Israel’s southern towns have remained largely quiet, the truce has been shaken several times by sporadic rockets and mortars, in turn prompting Israel to temporarily close its border crossings with the territory.

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