A Facebook friend of mine recently posted: “I love you, Iron Dome, and I want to
have your babies.”
Such is the outpouring of love and appreciation for an
extraordinary piece of Israeli technology that has saved many lives in southern
and central Israel.
Nevertheless, despite this appreciation, there has
been little analysis of the true strategic significance of Iron
Iron Dome is a game-changer that not only consigns Hamas’ and
Hezbollah’s current terror model to the trash can, it completely undermines the
military doctrines of all of Israel’s enemies.
Before we discuss this
fundamental strategic shift in detail, it is necessary to address a number of
important misconceptions that are clouding this reality.
Dome is no longer just a short-range missile defense system. The fifth Iron Dome
battery, deployed months early just outside Tel Aviv on Saturday, features a
significantly improved radar system (by Elta, an unsung hero of the Iron Dome
story) and software upgrades that turn this system into a short- and
medium-range missile defense system.
While Iron Dome is regularly
described as being able to hit rockets with up to a 70 km. range, according to
the IDF this new upgrade allows it to intercept Fajr 5 (range 75 km.) and ZelZal
(range 200 km.) missiles. Thus, the defense system is already achieving a
significant part of what Israel’s forthcoming mediumrange missile defense
system, David’s Sling, is intended to achieve.
Secondly, Iron Dome’s
Tamir interceptors don’t really cost $40,000 to $50,000 each to manufacture.
Like any high technology system, the vast majority of the costs of Iron Dome are
systems development and manufacturing setup.
These fixed costs are spread
over the number of items estimated to be manufactured and priced accordingly.
However, if the number of items produced substantially exceeds the initial
estimate, costs drop proportionately.
The actual marginal cost of
production of a Tamir interceptor is low and reflects the costs of the basic raw
materials; metal, fuel, explosives and electronic components used in its
manufacture, and the labor required to run the assembly line. If the IDF ends up
ordering 10 times as many interceptors as originally estimated, then their
“cost” will likely drop to around $5,000. At 100 times as many the “cost” will
approach the marginal cost of less than $1000.
Thirdly, the real cost of
the rockets and missiles which Iron Dome intercepts is vastly underestimated by
most commentators. Grad rockets may well cost Iran only $1,000 each on the open
market, but this is not the delivered cost to Hamas in Gaza.
line from Iran to Gaza is an extremely convoluted and expensive one which
involves huge losses from IAF action bombing convoys and factories in Sudan, and
interception by western navies. Large bribes have to be paid at every step of
the way, particularly to the Beduin in Sinai and the Egyptian soldiers in Rafah
who are supposed to be stopping the smuggling.
And the losses continue
once the Grad gets to Gaza, with the IDF regularly destroying rocket caches.
Thus, 1,000 Grads, which cost Iran $1 million to purchase, may end up as 300
Grads which cost a further $2 million in “delivery charges.” This turns a $1,000
Grad rocket in Iran into a $10,000 Grad rocket in Gaza.
Dome is fundamentally a highly advanced computer system with a very rapid
upgrade cycle. So far Iron Dome is matching pace with the iPhone for major
software and hardware upgrades, and consequent performance
This will not only continue but will actually accelerate in
accordance with Moore’s Law and Ray Kurzweil’s Law of Accelerating Returns which
state that the performance of computer systems increases exponentially with
With each upgrade the interception rate will improve and the range
of missiles it can intercept may also improve further. It is therefore that we
can expect Iron Dome to reach a 95 percent or higher interception rate in the
next year or two, and to continue to improve as the speed and processing power
of the computers that make up its brain and eyes (radar) advance.
practical upshot of this is that the number of rockets per Israeli fatality has
risen from 50-75 (Lebanon and Gaza pre-Iron Dome) to 300 in 2011 (75%
interception) and around 500 in 2012 (90% interception), despite Hamas using
more lethal rockets.
The strategic implications are that the current
rocket-based terror strategy of Hamas and Hezbollah has been rendered both
ineffective and economically unsustainable. I estimate it is currently costing
Hamas (and thus its patron Iran) around $5m. (500 rockets at $10,000 each) to
murder a single Israeli. When Iron Dome reaches 95% interception rate these
figures will double and at 97.5% they will double again.
Contrary to some
suggestions, the terrorists cannot bankrupt Israel by firing millions of rockets
because the real cost of their rockets exceeds the marginal cost of the Tamir
Moreover, most rockets miss and Iron Dome ignores them.
Indeed, this strategy will bankrupt Iran even more quickly than President
Reagan’s “Star Wars” missile defense strategy bankrupted the Soviet
This is devastating not only to the terror strategy of Hamas and
Hezbollah, but also to the military doctrines of Israel’s nation state enemies,
such as Iran and Syria, which have heavily invested in missiles and rockets to
compensate for their weak air power.
Iron Dome is already 90% effective
against many of Syria’s medium-range missiles, and Israel’s Arrow 2 missile
defense system is similarly effective against Iran’s long-range missiles. The
remaining components of Israel’s comprehensive multi-layer missile defense
umbrella, David’s Sling and Arrow 3, will become operational in 2013/14 and will
follow a similar technological upgrade trajectory as Iron Dome. As a result, the
enemy’s missile arsenals will continue to decline in effectiveness at
exponential rates as interception rates of Israel’s missile defense systems
Iran, Syria and their terror proxies are fighting a losing
battle with the exponential rate of technological progress in a field in which
Israel leads the world.
Iron Dome is a game-changer that heralds the end
of rockets and missiles which are being used by the less technologically
advanced. In a sense, just like the organization I work for bankrupts terrorism
one lawsuit at a time, the Iron Dome does so one interception at a
The writer is an attorney at Shurat HaDin – Israel Law Center, a
civil rights organization and world leader in combating terrorism through
lawsuits. Their website: www.israellawcenter.org
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