The Iron Dome

We must remember that nothing regarding the Iron Dome is quite what it seems.

Iron Dome 311 (photo credit: REUTERS)
Iron Dome 311
(photo credit: REUTERS)
We’ve recently been told that the IDF is halting procurement of more Iron Dome antimissile batteries because it simply cannot afford the expense. Presumably that should get us all to wring our hands in dismay and decry the situation in which monetary concerns deprive a sizable population of protection.
But before we react as we’re expected to, we must remember that nothing regarding the Iron Dome is quite what it seems. Here context is indispensable.
Implementing the Trajtenberg Report’s recommendations – the direct outcome of last summer’s social action protests – isn’t cheap. Any largess financed from the public coffers must somehow be defrayed from taxpayer funds, including the new benefits for contract workers. This means across the board cuts to all ministerial budgets. Put plainly, there’s not enough money to go round and please everyone.
Each ministry is doing its darndest to impress the public with its financial plight. We hear sob stories from the health system all the way to the police. All – justifiably from their vantage points – agitate for a bigger slice of the national fiscal pie.
The IDF is no different. Its public relations campaign is geared to tug at our heartstrings, no less than pictures of overcrowded hospital corridors. Doubtless, news of curtailed training will raise painful memories of the 2006 Second Lebanon War, just as suspension of Iron Dome procurements is calculated to engender anxiety about Gazan rocketing of Israeli civilians in the South. The IDF is appealing to our emotions no less than the hospitals are.
It’s sad that we must decide between dubious spending on populist causes and potentially life-saving military technologies. That said, the Iron Dome was never all that popular mythology cracked it up to be.
True, the scientific achievement that took the concept from the drawing board to a deployable, multi-tested system is undeniable. It’s another in a long line of feathers in the caps of Israel’s innovative researchers and defense industries.
However, its designers never promised that the Iron Dome would offer absolute protection. The hype was way beyond the system’s practical capabilities.
Despite a 75 percent success rate, its defense range is limited, whereas Gaza’s Kassams and assorted primitive hardware, used indiscriminately against Israeli towns, are highly maneuverable. There can be scant intelligence as to when someone will fire them or from where.
Adding to the complexity is the fact that some of the communities under Kassam threat are too close to the border for sufficient warning time. The Iron Dome system requires 15 seconds to identify an incoming Kassam. Yet Gazan rockets can hit their targets after being airborne for less time than that. The Iron Dome, furthermore, doesn’t offer protection against mortars.
Finally comes the sticky issue of cost. The cliché is that no price is too high to save lives, which – considered strictly on the moral plane – is indisputable.
However, we need to keep in mind that it costs next to nothing to manufacture a Kassam and that Hamas has scores of thousands of crude rockets in its arsenals.
A single Iron Dome anti-missile missile costs $100,000.
Clearly, firing against any flying object coming from Gaza wreaks havoc with the anyway slashed IDF budget. We likewise don’t want to squander all available Iron Dome missiles in a short time and remain without protection for vital strategic sites, damage to which could spawn a mega-catastrophe.
Without awareness of all the above, we could dangerously delude ourselves that a panacea exists, that money can elegantly wipe our problems away. Such delusions can become addictive. The public already clamors for the magic and for more magic. Imperiled noncombatants grow embittered when no solution is supplied. Yet all the while there is no actual magic.
The loss in not equipping the IDF with more Iron Domes isn’t as great as we’re manipulated to believe.
Unfortunately, nothing can hermetically seal off our skies or replace traditional battlefield offensives to take out terror bases across the frontiers. There are no neat deluxe fixes.