The irony of Iron Dome

The time we spend trying to satisfy our craving for data may cost us our opportunity to benefit from help.

Iron Dome battery. (photo credit: IDF SPOKESMAN'S OFFICE)
Iron Dome battery.
(photo credit: IDF SPOKESMAN'S OFFICE)
On November 14, 2012, the IDF launched Operation Pillar of Defense in response to rocket attacks on Israeli cities by Hamas, Islamic Jihad, and Ansar al-Sunna factions.
Throughout the short military campaign, the hero was not a sniper, a fighter pilot or even a decorated general. Instead, the rising star was the Iron Dome anti-missile defense system, which prevented most enemy missiles from landing in inhabited regions of Israel.
According to reports from the IDF, Iron Dome had a de facto success rate approaching 85%, taking into account the rockets the system deemed to have a high probability of veering toward uninhabited lands or bodies of water. Iron Dome anti-missile batteries saved lives, preserved property, and made it possible to do without the deployment of ground troops in Gaza.
Iron Dome, we civilians were informed, is a remarkably effective and surprisingly straightforward defense system comprised of three parts – first, a radar unit that detects threats within a 70 km radius; second, a “Battle Management and Control Truck” that rapidly processes incoming ballistic data and determines whether to ignore or block the identified projectile; and third, an “Interceptor Unit,” which launches an opposing missile programmed to cross paths with the incoming rocket or artillery shell and then detonate.
Well, actually it’s not quite that simple. The above is just a best attempt at paraphrasing a promotional brochure put out by Rafael Advanced Defense Systems, the company commissioned, back in 2007, to develop Iron Dome. In fact, despite having earned a graduate degree that required lots of physics courses, I don’t understand the first thing about Iron Dome. And if you are not a weapons engineer, then most likely you, too, don’t comprehend how Iron Dome works.
But then, you don’t have to. The irony here is that absolutely no hi-tech background was required of Israel’s citizens. What was needed was a low-tech item called “faith.”
Israeli citizens had to have faith that Iron Dome could do its job. They had to have faith in the warnings issued by the Homefront Command telling them to enter their bomb shelters and reinforced rooms when air raid sirens were heard. While developing faith in Iron Dome, Israelis seemed also to renew their faith in themselves, in each other, and maybe even in God.
There are many scenarios in life where the ability to trust constitutes an indispensable skill. While I may be clueless about Iron Dome, I see that same dynamic of trust on the familiar turf of the oncology department that I oversee, where cancer patients develop trust in the experts charged with helping them.
For the past decade, the modern discipline of oncology has progressed dramatically thanks to revolutions in molecular biology, diagnostic imaging and radiation techniques. Many patients are bewildered by those advances. Even most physicians can do no more than speculate on the scientific underpinnings of some recent successes in combating malignant disease.
It would be folly, however, to decline curative therapies because scientific rationale has not caught up with empirical results. It would be tragic to behold a patient forgoing effective treatment because a doctor is at loss to explain how a new drug functions or because the patient cannot grasp the complexity of the science.
In a recently published study of more than 700 women treated for breast cancer at the University of Illinois, investigators found that women who trusted their physicians and medical team were more likely to be satisfied with the treatments they received than were those who felt skeptical of the medical system. As a result, the trusting patients were more inclined to adhere to therapeutic recommendations. Does that bring about higher rates of survival? Even though intuition is generally not methodologically provable, my gut answer is yes.
In an age where information is so readily accessible, we are conditioned to seek the facts that will supposedly empower us in times of crisis, such as during war or life-threatening illness.
Sometimes, however, the quest for knowledge can be counterproductive.
The time we spend trying to satisfy our craving for data may cost us our opportunity to benefit from help.
Living through the challenges of either national or personal peril may convince us that a power greater than logic or reason exists – a power called faith. Experience may lead us to agree that, as Mitch Albom concludes in his book, Have A Little Faith, “profound comfort is readily achievable by believing in something bigger than ourselves.”
The author, an MD, is chairman of the Institute of Radiotherapy at Tel Aviv Medical Center and co-founder of the NGO Life’s Door. His blog (“52”) is hosted on