Iron Dome’s partial answer

The missile defense system is another example of how Israel turned the liability of terrorist threats into an opportunity for technological innovation.

Iron Dome 311 (photo credit: REUTERS)
Iron Dome 311
(photo credit: REUTERS)
The Iron Dome mobile short-range missile defense system was described by one Ashkelon resident who saw it in action at the weekend as something “straight out of a science fiction movie.” Another local man told Army Radio Sunday, “We saw it launched. It was amazing.”
Defense Minister Ehud Barak called the successful operational debut of Iron Dome in the last few days “an extraordinary achievement for the IDF.”
Such superlatives are justified. Over the weekend, the Iron Dome counter-rocket defense system intercepted 10 Katyusha and Kassam rockets fired by Hamas in the direction of Ashkelon and Beersheba, the two locations where batteries of the short-range missile defense system are stationed.
The rockets were literally shot out of the air just seconds after being launched at innocent Israeli civilians.
These initial successes have silenced quite a few naysayers who had been critical of Iron Dome in the less than five years years since then defense minister Amir Peretz decided to begin its development in the wake of the Second Lebanon War – when hundreds of Hezbollah’s Katyushas rained down on northern Israel.
Much fuss was made of the expense of the system; according to various sources, each Iron Dome counter rocket fired costs between $40,000 and $100,000, no small sum. Concerns were raised that Hamas and other Islamist terrorists in Gaza would launch a war of economic attrition on Israel: Assuming each Grad, Kassam or mortar shell costs just a few hundred to a few thousands dollars, heavy, relentless fire could require Israel to launch large numbers of costly Iron Dome intercepts. Those financial worries are valid, but the critics’ main assertion was that the system wouldn’t work. Plainly, it does.
ALONG WITH obvious fact that life is priceless, implementation of Iron Dome will actually have numerous economic and tactical benefits.
First, it can help prevent the expensive destruction of property. The Hamas mortar shell that destroyed a chicken coop in Kibbutz Nir Oz over the weekend is just one small example of the tremendous damage wreaked by Hamas’s various projectiles. Iron Dome cannot intercept short-range mortar shells, but its use this weekend against the heavier rockets probably saved property as well as life.
Secondly, the knowledge that residents of the south are, relatively, a little bit safer as a consequence of Iron Dome could provide the IDF with valuable time to carefully plan counter-offensives when barrages of rockets are launched from Gaza.
Finally, the fact that Hamas and like-minded terrorists forced the Iron Dome into an earlier-than-planned deployment has meant that it is already battle-tested. Proving its efficacy in Ashkelon, Beersheba and other southern towns will make Iron Dome an attractive defense product. Singapore and America have already shown an interest in the Israel Aerospace Industries’ technology.
Iron Dome is another regrettably necessary example of how Israel has managed to turn the liability of facing terrorist threats on two of its three borders into a potentially lucrative opportunity for technological innovation.
Historically, Jews have been successful at turning their weaknesses into strengths. Exiled from their homeland, they transformed the Torah into a portable homeland, thus boosting literacy; lacking roots in any particular place, they demonstrated a high level of geographic mobility, a perfect trait for conducting trade across borders; lacking the means to defend themselves, they cultivated ties with their hosts, thus developing political acumen.
Iron Dome is a contemporary example of this tradition, which, by the way, often becomes a source of jealousy and hatred.
Nevertheless, as Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu noted in Sunday’s cabinet meeting, “It is clear that [Iron Dome] is only a partial response” to the upsurge in attacks from Gaza. “An offensive response is also needed.”
Iron Dome’s biggest weakness is that it cannot provide a solution for rockets or mortar shells with a range of about 4.5 kilometers or less. This was known from the outset of development; it is what led the cabinet, during Ehud Olmert's term as prime minister, to invest in bomb shelters and the reinforcement of public buildings in towns close to Gaza.
Iron Dome might also have difficulties hitting a Grad launched on a straight trajectory even if it targets Ashkelon, a full 13 kilometers away. The Grad could reach its target within 25 seconds, which is quicker than the Iron Dome response time.
OBVIOUSLY, IT is Hamas’s deadly belligerence, not Iron Dome’s technical limitations, that must be addressed primarily. For all of their science fiction-like capabilities, neither Iron Dome nor any other Israeli innovation goes to the heart of the problem the current escalation exemplifies, which is Islamists’ unrelenting blind hatred for the Jewish state and for those who live in it.
Unfortunately, as was the case during their long years of wandering before they returned to their historic homeland, the Jewish people have little if any control over the hatred directed against them. But Jews do manage to make the best of the circumstances. Iron Dome is a perfect example.