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Israel successfully tests new laser missile defense system

FILE - An Israeli police officer demonstrates a laser defense system designed to intercept explosives-laden balloons launched from the Gaza Strip into...
FILE - Israeli Defense Minister Benny Gantz, speaks during a meeting with Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin at the Pentagon, Dec. 9, 2021, in Washington....

FILE - An Israeli police officer demonstrates a laser defense system designed to intercept explosives-laden balloons launched from the Gaza Strip into...

FILE - Israeli Defense Minister Benny Gantz, speaks during a meeting with Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin at the Pentagon, Dec. 9, 2021, in Washington....

TEL AVIV, Israel (AP) — Israel's new laser missile-defense system has successfully intercepted mortars, rockets and anti-tank missiles in recent tests, Israeli leaders said Thursday.

The Israeli-made laser system, known as the “Iron Beam,” is designed to complement a series of aerial defense systems, including the more costly rocket-intercepting Iron Dome.

“This may sound like science-fiction, but it’s real,” said Prime Minister Naftali Bennett. ”The Iron Beam’s interceptions are silent, they’re invisible and they only cost around $3.50" apiece, he added.

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 goal is to deploy the laser systems around Israel's borders over the next decade to protect the country against attacks.

Thursday's announcement also sent a message to Israel's foes, including archenemy Iran. The tests took place last month in the Negev Desert.

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. Bennett has said that someone in Gaza can fire a rocket toward Israel for a few hundred dollars, but it costs tens of thousands of dollars for the Iron Dome to intercept it.

The Defense Ministry released a short video showing what it said were the new system's successful interceptions of rockets, mortars and an unmanned aerial vehicle. The video, which was highly edited and set to music, appeared to show a laser beam coming out of a ground station, hitting the targets and smashing them into small pieces.

Bennett said in February that Israel would begin using the system within a year.

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.

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.