David’s Sling, the final piece of Israel’s protective aerial umbrella, became operational Monday afternoon, filling the last gap in Israel’s missile-defense system and sending a clear signal to the country’s enemies.With Iron Dome, Arrow and David Sling batteries deployed throughout the country, Israel should be completely defended against aerial threats. Will the systems measure up if Israel is faced with a real rocket barrage upon its cities? The timing of the system’s initial operational capability (IOC) comes as tension has risen along both the northern and Gaza borders, and shortly after the first successful interception by an Arrow battery of a Syrian anti-aircraft missile that had been fired toward Israel.
Speaking at the IOC ceremony at the Hatzor Air Force Base in central Israel, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said that the “cutting-edge technology” of David’s Sling will help protect Israel against her enemies, warning that “whoever seeks to hit us will be hit. Whoever threatens our existence places himself in existential danger.”According to Yiftach Shapir, head of the Middle East Military Balance Project at the Institute for National Security Studies, while David’s Sling is a “wonderful addition to Israel’s defense arsenal,” it will be hard to defend against a rocket barrage of thousands of missiles.“It will be able to defend against threats that the Iron Dome is not able to,” Shapir told The Jerusalem Post, “but nothing is ever 100%. Every kind of defense system is vulnerable.”Designed to intercept medium- to-long-range rockets, as well as cruise missiles fired at ranges between 40 to 300km, David’s Sling complements the Iron Dome system, designed to shoot down short-range rockets, and the Arrow system, which intercepts ballistic missiles outside the Earth’s atmosphere.Together the systems will provide Israel the ability to counter threats posed by both short and mid-range missiles used by terrorist groups in Gaza and Hezbollah, as well as the threat posed by more sophisticated long-range Iranian ballistic missiles. The idea for Iron Dome came after the Second Lebanon War in 2006, when large Israeli cities were struck by missiles for the first time from its northern neighbor. It has since been used during two military operations against Hamas.Iron Dome has proven itself since it went into service in April 2011, with a successful interception rate of 85% of projectiles fired toward Israeli civilian centers since its first deployment.During the 2014 war with Hamas in Gaza, the system successfully intercepted nearly 800 rockets fired at Israeli cities.A recent series of successful experiments for Iron Dome focused on the ability of its Tamir anti-missile rocket to intercept a number of targets fired simultaneously at different ranges.But while Iron Dome has proven itself against Hamas rockets from Gaza, experts have long warned that Israel faces the threat of thousands of Hezbollah rockets pounding the home front in the next war on the northern border.The Lebanese Shia terrorist group is believed to have more than 100,000 rockets and missiles aimed at Israel, including sophisticated long-range rockets.This is a threat that despite all of the army’s advanced air-defense system, it remains ill-prepared to face.Even if the air force manages to destroy a large amount of missiles, there will likely remain enough of them to risk the interceptor systems being inundated if either group decides to launch large-scale barrages with rockets from varying ranges simultaneously. According to a senior officer in the Air Defense Command, while Israel “now has the ability to protect more territory, it is impossible to protect everything at all times.”With one David’s Sling interceptor missile costing $1 million, $100,000 for one Iron Dome interceptor missile and $3 million for one Arrow interceptor missile, the economic cost of destroying the hundreds of thousands of rockets aimed at Israel is astronomical.According to Shapir, Israeli government strategists will have to decide what is to be defended by David’s Sling and other missile defense systems.“When the Iron Dome was first deployed, IDF Chief of Staff Lt.-Gen. Gadi Eisenkot said openly that it should be used to defend strategic assets, so that Israel can continue fighting. But within months, the government decided that defending civilian populations is more important and that was Hamas’s targets,” Shapir said.With Hezbollah likely to target Israeli strategic installations as well as military bases, that is what we will have to defend, he added. “But if they decide to target both military installations as well civilian centers, the Israeli leadership will have to decide what they choose to defend. It will be a very tough decision no matter what way you look at it.”
Netanyahu attends ceremony marking the operational integration of the “David"s Sling” air defense system (credit: GPO)