Trapped under the Iron Dome

Israel’s siege mentality represents a fundamental strategic failure.

Iron Dome battery 370 (photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem)
Iron Dome battery 370
(photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem)
This month, all of Israel was subjected to an unrelenting eight-day missile blitz, disabusing middle Israel of the notion that there is any distinction between the periphery and the center of Israel in its ongoing war with Hamas. Israel’s Iron Dome anti-missile system, which featured prominently in the conflict, is being hailed as a great success. In reality, however, it represents a total failure of strategic vision and erodes the concept of deterrence for the State of Israel. Now, the barometer of success is not Israel’s abilities to deter rockets, but its ability to blow them out of the sky.
The deployment of Iron Dome illustrates the entrenched political weakness engulfing Israel today. On a tactical level, it cannot be denied that the Iron Dome represents a revolution in modern warfare. Since the early 1990s, an estimated $10 billion has been allocated to anti-missile programs, and at a cost of over $50,000 per Iron Dome interceptor the cost will continue to rise. Already we have some preliminary reports according to which in Operation Pillar of Defense, the Iron Dome cost between $25m.- $30m. for 421 rockets shot down.
The IDF now estimates that there are 200,000 rockets and missiles pointed at it by Iran, Syria, Hezbollah and Hamas. The long-term investment gives the Iron Dome system more of a “golden dome” sheen. And though the Iron Dome may represent a new layer of defense, it in no way brings Israel closer to destroying Hamas. Herein lies the political weakness that the Iron Dome exposes.
The technology employed and military imagery used by warring parties throughout history have been indicative of the way they perceived themselves.
For the Greeks it was the phalanx, while the Romans had the legion. For the Mongols it was the horseman, for the British their frigate, for the US the bomb, for the Palestinians the suicide belt. As of this November, Israel has the anti-missile.
What does the image of a system which does not confront the enemy head-on say about Israel’s narrative? The Iron Dome does not paint a pretty picture for a country that needs to thrive, not just survive.
The symbolism of the Iron Dome further engrains a “siege mentality” narrative among Israelis. Israel’s military, academic and cultural celebration of a so-called “strategic” weapon system that neither neutralizes its threats nor expands its geo-political position ensures Israel will face more conflicts and hardships. It is only through the use of offensive vehicles that the enemy can be destroyed or deterred.
THIS SIEGE mentality extends to how Israel interprets and employs its resources, as we have seen in Israel’s latest engagements with Hamas and Hezbollah. The Iron Dome system is also indicative of how Israel approaches the moral dilemma it faces with regard to the use of force. The last offensive military program Israel sought to develop was the failed Lavi fighter jet program during the 1980s.
Since then, Israel has not invested in any major strategic military platforms other than anti-missile defenses.
This reluctance to pursue offensive military capabilities is an ominous sign for a country surrounded by hostile elements which requires an exceptional fighting force unimpeded by international pressure. Instead of tools designed to achieve victory, Israel uses its resources to ensure survival.
This leads to the pathetic situation in which a siege in our backyards and playgrounds is preferred over assaulting the attackers preemptively in their own territory given international considerations and political expedience.
Creating better tools requires revaluation by the toolmaker. In order to make instruments of war that will incite fear in and wreak havoc against Hamas and Hezbollah, the Israeli public must confront crucial decisions regarding their nation’s future. Possessing the right military posture requires narrative and cultural vigor, which promotes initiative and rewards risk taking.
Israel must also address the complicity of a Palestinian family, which, though maybe not supportive of Hamas, allows them to launch rockets from their home, schools, hospitals and mosques. Breaking the siege mentality means creating realistic and just rules of engagement for fighting an enemy that is embedded within a civilian population. Israel needs a cogent policy regarding proportionality, which does not render it toothless when hundreds of rockets are falling on civilian centers from civilian centers.
These are difficult and wrenching decisions, but crucial if Israel wants more than mere survival.
Breaking the siege mentality requires that Israel reassert its sovereignty in what is clearly a just war with Hamas. To do this, the cost of inaction or passive defense must be understood on a cultural level to be far worse than confronting facile accusations of “disproportionate response.”
Israel must show Palestinians that if they pursue a path of aggression through active or tacit support, Israeli public opinion will force its politicians’ hands. Only this Israeli mentality will support military initiatives to neutralize enemies rather than to purely defend against them. Begin a rethink of the stale military-political calculations that only serve to tie Israel hands, return to defense industry building home-grown instruments of power projection that can dominate the enemy, rather than US-funded anti-weapons that only manage the enemy.
The writer is co-founder of the Jewish National Initiative.