updated 10/28/2003 10:54:44 AM ET 2003-10-28T15:54:44

Israel and the U.S. are to spend at least $57 million for development of a laser cannon that can shoot down short-range missiles, an Israeli legislator and security officials said Tuesday.

A RECENT ISRAELI delegation successfully lobbied Congress to approve the new funding package for the joint U.S.-Israeli Nautilus laser weapon project, said Israeli lawmaker Yuval Steinitz, who was part of the delegation.

Israel wants the Nautilus to help protect its northern border towns from Katyusha rockets fired by the Lebanese guerrilla group Hezbollah. Israel claims that Hezbollah now has 11,000 rockets aimed at Israel.

Congress approved $57 million to fund the project, and Israel will also contribute funding, Steinitz said, but could not say how much.

There is, however, no public record of congressional approval for Nautilus funding. It may fall under the classified portion of the 2004 Defense Authorization bill, passed by Congress and signed by President Bush on Sept. 30.

The laser system was successfully tested at the White Sands Missile Range in New Mexico in February 1996. However, since then, development of the project had been held up by skeptics in the U.S. Congress, said an Israeli security official.

MAKING IT PRACTICAL

New funding is now needed to transform the technology into a practical weapon, said Steinitz, who is the chairman of the parliamentary foreign affairs and defense committee.

“Now we have to make it an efficient, compact weapon that can be used in the battlefield and in the war on terrorism,” Steinitz said.

The Nautilus uses a high-powered radar to track and lock onto the incoming projectile. Then a Mid-Infrared Advanced Chemical Laser, which looks like a large spotlight, shoots out an intense beam that destroys the rocket.

The White Sands test marked the first time that a rocket has been destroyed in flight by a laser beam. The laser has also proved its ability to shoot down artillery shells.

Congress also approved a further $89 million for a second joint U.S.-Israeli project, the Arrow anti-ballistic missile system, which has already entered production, Steinitz said. The system is already operational.

RIGHT-ANGLE PISTOL

Also Tuesday, the Maariv daily reported the Israeli military is testing a gun that can fire at right angles.

According to the report, the pistol, produced by the Florida-based Corner Shot Holdings, has already been bought by a number of special forces around the world.

A spokesman for the Israeli branch of the company refused to comment on the report.

Pictures of the weapon show a gun composed of two parts — the front, that can swivel from side to side, containing a pistol with a color camera mounted on top, and a back section consisting of the stock, trigger and a monitor.

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