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Israel is developing a laser system to defend its civilian airplanes against terrorist missiles.

Prime Minister Ehud Olmert’s Security Cabinet announced Wednesday that work will begin next year on a new technology to replace Flight Guard, an Israeli system designed to throw off heat-seeking missiles with flares.

Flight Guard has been installed on an unspecified number of El Al planes, but Israeli security sources said some foreign airports voiced concern that it could pose a fire risk.

The new technology, known as MUSIC, will employ a non-pyrotechnic laser to “blind” incoming missiles. It is expected to be ready for use by 2010.

Israel became a pioneer in onboard anti-missile systems for civil aviation after al-Qaeda tried to shoot down an Israeli Arkia jet over Kenya in 2003.

“The process of reinforcing Israeli planes against missiles is continuing,” said a statement from the Security Cabinet. “Israel is the first nation in the world to reinforce its commercial airline fleet against missile attacks.”

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