The IDF has rejected criticism that human error was behind the launch of 10 Iron Dome interceptor missiles after the system was triggered by machine gun fire in the Gaza Strip, saying that the preliminary investigation found that it reacted after being calibrated at a very high sensitivity.
“The system identified a launch toward Israel, toward the community of Zikim, which acted like a ballistic missile in every way. It was a serious threat,” said Brig.-Gen. Zvika Haimovich, the head of the IDF’s Aerial Defense Division during a call with reporters on Monday.
“There was neither a human nor technical error,” he continued, stressing that a high-trajectory threat was identified by the system, even though no actual rockets were launched toward Israel.
“There was system over-sensitivity, and we had five seconds to decide. The moment something is launched from the ground toward Israeli territory, we consider that a threat,” he said.
Incoming rocket sirens blared across several communities in the Hof Ashkelon and Sha’ar Hanegev Regional Councils, including the cities of Sderot and Ashkelon, sending several residents and tourists into shock.
Local residents and soldiers stationed around the Gaza Strip also uploaded videos on social networking sites of close to a dozen Iron Dome interceptor rockets being launched.
The Iron Dome in action on March 25, 2018.
“We are operating in a very complex environment in which there are mortars, missiles, rockets, machine guns and heavy machine guns – some of which are standard and some of which are not,” he continued. “Today, there are rockets that are fired like artillery shells and there are mortars that behave like missiles.
Our enemies are learning and developing.”
The IDF Spokesperson’s Unit said early on Monday morning that the code-red incoming rocket sirens were activated by “unusual machine gunfire,” and no rocket launches had been identified.
“The IDF views the Hamas terror organization as responsible for everything that happens in the Gaza Strip and regards any type of fire toward the territory of the State of Israel as severe,” the unit added.
According to Haimovich, the sensitivity of the system was increased following situational assessments due to demonstrations planned for the Gaza Strip in the coming weeks.
“The situation in Gaza is not the same as that in the northern arena… the protection of Israeli residents is paramount, and [that level of protection] increases every time there is a dilemma. At the end of the day, it is important to be ready, especially now and in coming weeks.”
WITH TAMIR interceptor missiles costing around $50,000 each, Sunday’s event will cost Israel close to half-a-million dollars, an expensive mistake at a time when tensions are rising along both Israel’s southern and northern borders.
But according to Haimovich, the battery commander acted professionally and made the proper decision to intercept the projectile.
“During routine times, we do not take any risks that may have the slightest potential to harm citizens,” he said.
The incident came just hours before Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman announced that the US Congress approved a record-breaking $706 million in aid for Israel’s missile defense programs
According to a Defense Ministry statement, the increase of funding was requested for production of the Iron Dome, David’s Sling and Arrow-3 missile defense systems.
The Iron Dome Tamir interceptor is made of parts produced by both the United States and Israel as part of an agreement signed in 2014 between the two counties. In the agreement, the manufacturing of the Iron Dome was moved to Raytheon’s plant in the United States, which helped to fund the interceptors’ production.
Israel continuously improves the technology behind the country’s anti-missile systems, and the last upgrade to the Iron Dome was almost exactly a year before Sunday night’s costly mistake.
The experiments, which were conducted in the south of the country, focused on the use of the Tamir interceptor and its ability to intercept a number of targets fired simultaneously at different ranges.
Ten Iron Dome batteries, which include three or four stationary launchers with 20 Tamir interceptor missiles each and battlefield radar, are strategically deployed across Israel near cities. Each missile carries 24 pounds of explosives, electro-optic sensors and steering fins with proximity fuse blast warheads that can destroy an incoming projectile from 4-70 km. away.
The Iron Dome has been used during two military operations against Hamas and is able to calculate when rockets will land in open areas, choosing not to intercept them, or toward civilian centers.
During the Second Lebanon War in 2006, large Israeli cities were struck by missiles for the first time. In response, former defense minister Amir Peretz decided to develop the Iron Dome, despite opposition from army brass.
After a lengthy development process, and with the financial help of the United States, Iron Dome went into service in April 2011, its first battery placed near the southern city of Beersheba. It made its first interception, of a Grad rocket fired from the Gaza Strip, just days later.
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