Has Iron Dome weakened Israel's resolve?

The Iron Dome’s success may have limited Israel's ability to retaliate effectively against militant groups.

Onlookers at Gush Dan Iron Dome battery 370 (photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem/The Jerusalem Post)
Onlookers at Gush Dan Iron Dome battery 370
(photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem/The Jerusalem Post)
During last week’s Operation Pillar of Defense, Israelis and the world at large witnessed the unprecedented success of the Iron Dome air defense system. After all was said and done, Iron Dome operators successfully shot down more than 87 percent of incoming grad, katyusha, and qassam rockets over Israeli urban centers, saving countless lives. However, this new capability may cost Israel its grand strategy for achieving a lasting peace with defensible borders in the long term. Ultimately, the Iron Dome’s success may have limited the Jewish State's ability to act against militant groups, inciting such groups to execute more innovative methods of attack, thus making a sequel for Pillar of Defense ever more imminent.
After witnessing the tactical, operational, and strategic advantages the Iron Dome provided during eight days of heavy rocket fire, the debate over how the system affects Israel's grand strategy continues. One of the more compelling arguments against wide scale use of the Iron Dome is rooted in the nature of the war that is fought between Israel and Palestinian militants. Israel, like many Western countries, fights post-heroic warfare, characterized by the disinclination to make sacrifices, or to endanger innocents. On the other hand, the actions of Palestinian militants can be differentiated as heroic warfare, due to the high level willingness to target civilian population and yes, even to die for their cause.
By largely neutralizing the threat posed by rocket fire on civilians, the Iron Dome thus prevented Israeli decision-makers from engaging in a diplomatically and politically costly ground operation, as the needed justification for such action was mitigated along with the risk posed by rockets slamming into Israeli urban centers.
The apparent success of the Iron Dome has further counterproductive effects. In low-intensity conflicts between a state and non-state actor, victory is determined mostly by perceptions as opposed to military gains. By utilizing the Iron Dome, Israel has significantly lowered the potential for casualties on its side, while continuing to inflict casualties on Palestinian militants. As a result, and in an attempt to display themselves as victors in the new environment created by the Iron Dome, Palestinian militants intensified both the rate and range with which they fired missiles in the future. This is also likely to continue in the future, as indeed was expressed by a top Palestinian militant leader when, shortly after the cease-fire, he promised that next time they  will have longer range rockets with bigger warheads.
Iron Dome’s success also bore clear negative implications in the international arena, highlighted by the immense international pressure against a ground operation, yet coupled with support for Israel’s right to defend itself.  In the next round of hostilities,  Israel will have even more difficulty garnering international support for operations against Palestinian militants from both the air, and on ground than it had in the latest operation. If this new environment is to persist, world leaders will likely have trouble accepting Israel's justification for wide-scale operations with an extremely low casualty rate amongst the Israeli citizenry, while the other side suffers high civilian cost.
These same arguments over the justification of wide-scale operations may also be debated within Israel's domestic political sphere. Before the deployment of the Iron Dome, Israel's lack of casualties created a status quo in which as long as casualties remained low, Israel's reaction towards militant aggression would remain very limited – usually consisting of aerial bombings, or artillery shelling of missile launch sites. The Iron Dome increased the already high threshold in place, thus making only more severe acts punishable and further desensitizing the status quo. Such a scenario in fact increased the frustrations levels amongst Israeli citizens. If rocket attacks on Tel Aviv were previously perceived as a red line, the punishment for crossing it is apparently less than harsh. Militants fired at least ten rockets towards Tel Aviv and Jerusalem,  and by doing so they ultimately exposed Israel’s weakness as it failed to respond in a manner suitable for every country that has both its political and financial capitals targeted.
Yet, despite the disadvantages, Israel will continue to build and develop the Iron Dome along with other missile defense systems, because of one prominent advantage that trumps all; namely, the issue of time. In crisis management there is no commodity more valuable than the time needed to make informed and calculated decisions in which all alternatives and outcomes can be weighed.At least in the short term, the Iron Dome bought Israeli decision-makers significant amounts of this invaluable commodity that likely increased the potential and ability to save lives.
The writer is an Intelligence analyst specializing in Israeli affairs at Max Security Solutions , a geo-political risk consulting firm based in the Middle East. He is also an active reservist in Israel’s Air Defense Command.