Iron Dome's success may inadvertently weaken Israeli deterrence - experts

Iron Dome's 90 percent intercept rate encourages complacency among Israeli leaders while enticing her enemies to strike harder.

Iron Dome testing  (photo credit: MINISTRY OF DEFENSE SPOKESPERSON'S OFFICE)
Iron Dome testing
(photo credit: MINISTRY OF DEFENSE SPOKESPERSON'S OFFICE)
While Israel's Iron Dome missile defense system is an incredible success that has saved Israeli lives and prevented significant economic damage, one could argue that its success has undermined Israel's deterrence, two defense experts have claimed in a new extensive report.
400 rockets rained down on southern and central Israel again last week, but by now the Israeli response has become familiar: 90 percent of those aimed at residential areas were intercepted by Iron Dome, resulting in no loss of civilian life from the barrages.
While the rate is undoubtedly a success in terms of defensive measures, a new report from the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies warns that Iron Dome - while a major contribution to Israel's military might and social resilience - leads some terrorist groups to think they can get away with greater barrages than in the past.
"Even though it dominates the battle space, one can argue Israel has paradoxically lost some deterrence," Jonathan Schanzer and Jacob Nagel of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies have said. Nagel is a former national security adviser to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Schanzer is a former terrorism analyst at the US Treasury Department and the vice president of FDD.
"Without Iron Dome, Israel’s enemies might settle for a few isolated barrages, knowing that anything more might elicit a decisive response from Israel," they continued. "Instead, Israel’s enemies launch more and more rockets with the intention of overwhelming the system or at least portraying an image of victory."
That said, Nagel and Schanzer noted that if Hezbollah or Hamas did engage in an all-out confrontation with Israel, they would fire thousands of rockets regardless of whether Israel deploys Iron Dome batteries or not. "Indeed, both groups did exactly that in 2006 (before Iron Dome’s invention) and 2014 (well after)," the two wrote.
This was the scenario that played out in May of this year, when Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad attempted to challenge the Iron Dome by firing large barrages at a single point.
One such barrage saw 117 rockets launched toward Ashdod within an hour, 116 of which were intercepted by Iron Dome. But the one that got through killed 21-year-old Pinchas Menachem Prezuazaman while he was running for shelter.
The system has also had a political fallout, giving Israeli politicians more space to consider their response, potentially prolonging conflicts.
"The system raises the threshold for Israeli political leaders and military brass to launch a decisive operation, even as the volume of rocket provocations increases," Nagel and Schanzer said. "The sense of security that Iron Dome grants Israeli officials often reduces their sense of urgency. This has led Israeli leaders to be indecisive when facing the question of whether to order ground maneuvers or other means to achieve a decisive victory.
Overall the authors said it was hard to dispute the benefits Iron Done has brought, both in economic terms by mitigating the cost of repairing damaged infrastructure, and in securing military and political objectives.
"Even if one cannot quantitatively determine all the ways Iron Dome benefits Israel, the advantages are obvious," they said. "Iron Dome is a 'tie-breaker' in skirmishes of any duration. The system frustrates Israel’s foes while enabling the Israeli military to carry out precision strikes at a time and place of its choosing."
Nagel and Schanzer analyzed the economic impact rocket attacks have had on Israel - before Iron Dome was deployed and since it has become operational. In 2006, for example, 4,200 rockets were fired into Israel causing NIS 639 million in damages. In 2012, once Iron Dome was available, 1,600 rockets were fired but only NIS 72 million was caused in damages.
"The overall damage without the Iron Dome was six to 10 times greater than that sustained when the system was deployed. Even after factoring in the cost of the interceptors, the benefits still outweigh the costs," the report claims. 
As testament to the effectiveness of Iron Dome, the US army has recently acquired two Iron Dome batteries to mitigate existing vulnerabilities, and may acquire more for the longer term, while the US Marine Corps has also expressed an interest.