Iron Dome: Hero or villain?

This system could do more harm than good if it makes government deem rocket fire "tolerable."

Smoke trails from rockets being fired in Gaza 311 (R) (photo credit: Yannis Behrakis / Reuters)
Smoke trails from rockets being fired in Gaza 311 (R)
(photo credit: Yannis Behrakis / Reuters)
The Iron Dome anti-missile system has been popularly dubbed the hero of the recent violence out of Gaza, and in some ways, rightly so. It prevented casualties and property damage. It spared countless Israelis the anguish of having a loved one injured or killed or a house destroyed. It saved significant amounts of money: Despite costing far more than the Palestinians’ Qassam and Grad rockets, an Iron Dome missile costs less than rebuilding a home or factory or treating severe injuries – expenses the government would otherwise have to cover, since by law, it must compensate its citizens for all terrorism-related damage.
Finally, Iron Dome gave the government diplomatic and military maneuvering room. There’s a reasonable argument to be made that now, when Israel has finally managed to focus international attention on Iran, and Syrian President Bashar Assad has focused it on Iran’s ally in Damascus, is not the moment to divert the world’s attention back to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Indeed, such a diversion was likely what the Iranian-backed Islamic Jihad sought when it seized on Israel’s killing of a senior official from another organization, the Popular Resistance Committees, as an excuse for massive rocket fire on the south.
Nevertheless, Iron Dome could easily become the villain of the story, by making the government consider onslaughts like last week’s “tolerable.”
In reality, what happened last week was in no way tolerable. Hundreds of thousands of children kept home from school for a week (since the rocket fire continued even after a “cease-fire” was announced) isn’t “tolerable” – especially when this scenario can be repeated over and over, whenever the terrorists feel like it. Tens of thousands of parents forced by school closures to either skip work to take care of their children or leave them alone with their rocket-induced fears isn’t “tolerable.” One million citizens living in dread (since they know Iron Dome can’t provide hermetic protection) isn’t “tolerable.”
Thousands of children and adults with post-traumatic stress syndrome – which repeated rocket strikes can cause even in the absence of casualties – isn’t “tolerable.”
Yet Israel’s response ensured that this scenario will be repeated over and over. Precisely because it felt Iron Dome had made restraint possible by preventing Israeli casualties, the government, eager to avoid an escalation, made do with exacting a minuscule price from the terrorists. Altogether, Israel killed 26 Palestinians, almost all of them terrorists. But aside from that one senior PRC official, these terrorists were all low-level operatives, members of rocket-launching crews killed in the act. That’s a trivial price for Islamic Jihad to pay: Since when have terrorist organizations not been willing to sacrifice a few low-level operatives?
So here’s what Islamic Jihad and its fellow terrorists have learned from this episode: They can launch some 300 rockets at Israel in four days and pay almost no price for doing so. I can’t put it better than a senior official from another Palestinian faction, Fatah, did in an interview with a Hebrew paper: “Islamic Jihad is able to send one-third of Israel's population into bomb shelters … [and] threw Israel into a panic without paying a very steep price. Did you assassinate its senior figures? Did you undermine the organization? Hardly.”
Moreover, even those benefits Iron Dome did provide would evaporate in a larger-scale rocket attack, which Hamas and Hezbollah are both capable of mounting, and especially one from Lebanon and Gaza simultaneously. Israel doesn’t have enough Iron Dome batteries to handle a large-scale assault, nor will it in the foreseeable future.
Yet despite all this, the government and army seem to be preparing us for the idea that endless repeats of last week are the best we can hope for. As Yaakov Katz chillingly reported in The Jerusalem Post on Friday, there’s an “understanding within the defense establishment that there is currently no clear and decisive military solution to the Gaza-based terror threat,” and therefore, “what Israel is facing is a sequence of rounds of violence, like the one that started [the previous Friday]. Judging by the past year, which included similar rounds in April, August, October, the next round will probably be in the next two to five months, or sooner.”
This is simply mind-boggling. As Katz’s report opened by noting, this month marks the tenth anniversary of Operation Defensive Shield, when the Israel Defense Forces reoccupied Palestinian-controlled portions of the West Bank in what proved to be a winning counterterrorism formula: “While terror attacks still take place, the frequency and number of casualties has reached an all-time low. In 2011, for example, the IDF Central Command recorded nine shooting attacks in the entire West Bank … In 2002, there were 2,878 such attacks, and up until 2006 the annual number was over 1,000.”
And Katz neglected to add that not one single rocket has ever been fired at Israel from the IDF-controlled West Bank, compared with over 8,000 fired from Gaza since the IDF left in 2005, and approximately 500 fired before then from the large swathes of Gaza ceded to the Palestinians in 1994.
Some will doubtless seek to attribute the West Bank quiet to the Palestinian Authority. But in reality, it had been achieved even before PA forces began redeploying in West Bank cities in 2008 (otherwise, Israel would never have countenanced their deployment). And it has been maintained largely because Israel reserved, and frequently exercises, the right to reenter these cities anytime it sees the need – as the PA’s perennial complaints about these incursions amply attest.
In short, there is a “clear and decisive military solution to the Gaza-based terror threat,” and it’s the same one applied so successfully in the West Bank: long-term military control of the entire territory. That is the only way both to thoroughly uproot the terrorist infrastructure and to convince the Palestinian public that terrorism doesn’t pay.
This may be the wrong time to implement that solution. But it must be implemented someday if southern Israel is ever to know peace. Thus if Iron Dome provides an excuse for the government to refrain from doing so, it will ultimately do more harm than good.
The writer is a journalist and commentator.