News / Middle East

    Is Israel’s ‘Iron Dome’ All It’s Cracked Up to Be?

    A missile is launched by an "Iron Dome" battery, a short-range missile defense system on July 11, 2014 in the southern Israeli city of Ashdod.
    A missile is launched by an "Iron Dome" battery, a short-range missile defense system on July 11, 2014 in the southern Israeli city of Ashdod.
    Cecily Hilleary

    A U.S. Senate defense subcommittee has voted to double funding for Israel’s Iron Dome missile defense system.  The Pentagon originally requested $175 million for Iron Dome, but if the new bill passes, Israel would receive more than $350 million.

    That’s good news for Israel—and for American defense contractors slated to receive more than half those funds to co-produce more Iron Dome units.   But critics question such big spending on a system they say doesn’t live up to its glowing reputation.

    A clever system

    Iron Dome was developed after Israel’s second war with Lebanon in 2006, when about 4,000 rockets were fired from southern Lebanon. 

    Jeremy BinnieJeremy Binnie
    x
    Jeremy Binnie
    Jeremy Binnie

    “What is special about Iron Dome is that it’s the only one of its kind,” said Jeremy Binnie, Middle East/Africa editor for IHS Jane’s Defense Weekly.  

    “It’s the only missile interception system which is designed to intercept short-range rockets.  And that is largely because of the relatively unique situation that Israel has found itself in, where it has had this particular threat both coming from Gaza and from Hezbollah in southern Lebanon,” he said. 

    Iron Dome consists of several units, or batteries.  It is not clear how many batteries are currently deployed.

    “Because of operational considerations, we unfortunately can't elaborate about the number,” Israeli Defense Force spokeswoman Libby Weiss told VOA in an email.

    Israel said it would need as many as 15 batteries to fully protect its citizens from attacks by Hamas and Hezbollah in Lebanon. 

    Each battery is a cluster of three transportable components: a computerized radar detection and tracking unit; a management and control unit; and a box launcher, outfitted with about 60 missiles called interceptors.   These can be moved and positioned wherever they are needed.

    It’s an expensive system.  Each battery costs about $50 million.  Each interceptor costs as much as $100,000.   

    Here’s how it is designed to work.

    The detection and tracking unit uses radar to scan a defined area for any incoming short- to medium-range rockets, that is, coming from up to about 43 miles away.  A separate control unit consists of computers and other high-tech instruments that quickly analyze the radar’s data. 

    “The Iron Dome is very clever, in that its radar can see a rocket coming and very quickly calculate whether that rocket will be landing in a populated area and could threaten life,” Binnie said.  “It makes those calculations in a matter of seconds and launches the intercept at anything it determines is a threat.”

    Defining ‘success’

    Here’s where things can get tricky, says Theodore Postol, a physicist and missile-defense expert at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.  In order to be effective, the interceptor has to be able to hit the incoming rocket head-on and destroy the actual warhead, i.e., explosive material loaded onto its front tip.

    “The only way the Iron Dome interceptor can tell where the front of the artillery rocket is by illumination,” Postol said.  “A ‘laser fuse’ projects a set of light beams toward the artillery rocket, which reflects light.” 

    Theodore A. PostolTheodore A. Postol
    x
    Theodore A. Postol
    Theodore A. Postol

    After a slight delay, says Postol, the Iron Dome interceptor detonates a cylindrical-shaped bomb comprised of multiple rods.  These should disperse into blow fragments into both the incoming rocket and its warhead, destroying both.

    But a lot can go wrong during that delay between detonation and impact, says Postol.  By examining the “contrails”—those plumes of smoke in the sky seen in videos of Iron Dome interceptions from 2012 on through to recent weeks—he and other scientists say that Iron Dome misses the mark more often than not.

    “The rocket will still go on to the ground and the warhead will still explode,” he said.  “So the only meaningful definition of ‘intercept’ in this circumstance is destruction of the warhead.  And sometimes people have incorrectly argued that if they hit the incoming artillery rocket, they divert it.  But that’s also not true.” 

    “The Iron Dome success rate is roughly 90 percent,” said Israeli Defense Force spokeswoman Libby Weiss in an email.

    But it’s hard to tell what that figure actually means. Has Iron Dome destroyed the warheads of 90 percent of the rockets Hamas has fired?  Or has the defense system merely intercepted the rockets without destroying the warheads?

    VOA posed that question to Weiss.

    “The Iron Dome Air Defense system has been incredibly successful in preventing death and unimaginable destruction all over Israel,” was her emailed reply.  “Hamas is launching rockets with the goal of terrorizing and targeting Israel's civilian population and Iron Dome has played a central role in safeguarding Israel's civilians.”

    Postol says that he believes the interception rate could be more like 5 percent, and he says he should know.

    “Remember, I was the guy who showed that the 96 percent intercept rate claimed for the Patriot missile in the Gulf War of 1991 was instead probably zero, and pretty much everybody now accepts that finding,” he said.

    If he is correct, how is it that only one Israeli has died?  

    According to the Israeli Home Front website, the rockets being fired into Israel carry a relatively small amount of explosives which can damage buildings and injure people out in the open.  But thanks to a sophisticated civil defense system that includes shelters in every building and a sophisticated early warning system, Postol says most Israelis are able to quickly get out of harm’s way.

    As for Binnie, he says Israel is “firing a very expensive system in order to intercept a very cheap threat,” adding, “It would be nice to have a lot more information so that people have a better idea of what’s going on here.”

    You May Like

    Video As Refugees Perish, Greek Graveyards Fill

    Before burial at overflowing cemeteries, unidentified dead being swapped for DNA, in case some day relatives come to learn their fate

    Russian Opposition Leader Sues Putin for Conflict of Interest

    Alexei Navalny tells VOA in exclusive interview why transfer of $2 billion from country’s wealth fund to company with ties to President Putin’s son-in-law triggered lawsuit

    Clinton, Sanders Fight for African American Votes

    Some African American lawmakers lining up to support Clinton in face of perceived surge by Sanders in race for Democratic nomination in presidential campaign

    This forum has been closed.
    Comment Sorting
    Comments page of 2
        Next 
    by: steve donato from: florida
    July 22, 2014 2:31 PM
    Jeremy Binnie said " Iron dome is a one of a kind system" But, is it not a COPY of the USA designed and built, Patriot Missile System which appeared before Iron Dome?

    by: Not Again from: Canada
    July 19, 2014 10:31 PM
    In my opinion, Postol is arguing theoretical issues, which are good on paper; the facts are absolutely clear, if you look at the amount of destruction, in Israel, before Iron Dome, during the the last two wars Hamas started, and today with Iron Dome protecting Israel; the difference is like night and day. And when you compare the size, range, and quantity of missiles launched, by the Hamas terrorists, in this war, their third war on Israel, it further adds to the fact that Iron Dome is providing very a effective shield. Add it all up, and Postol is demonstrated to be talking, for the purpose of grabbing headlines..
    Like any human built system, Iron Dome is not perfect, but it does provide a huge level of protection, compared to the situation Israel faced without Iron Dome.
    Postol needs to look at the results on the ground, rather than just wrap himself in the calculations. Postol needs to investigate from the observed facts today, as compared to the observed facts in the last two wars.
    From a regional perspective, Israel will need to field, at least, six times the number of anti-ballistic defensive systems, to in essence account for the numbers that Israel's enemies could potentialy launch. Based on current arsenal estimates, by the IDF/intel orgs from media rpts, the potential total numbers exceed 50,000+ projectiles. What is really required, is a system that can destroy the projectiles launched by terrorists, immediately upon launch, or before the projectiles' trajectory arches towards its destined path.
    Bottom line, Iron Dome is clearly making a tremendous difference in shielding Israel and its civilians from terrorist attacks.

    by: tom from: Texas
    July 19, 2014 9:06 AM
    Sounds like a lot of sour grapes from anti-Israeli people.

    by: Decker from: Beer Sheva
    July 18, 2014 1:46 AM
    Trust me, it works
    In Response

    by: Abe Bird from: Brussles
    July 18, 2014 2:25 PM
    It started as conspiracy theory made by Mordechai Shefer, the Israeli engineer that lost his "Bell" Laiser project to "Iron Dome" as the first rocket system against missiles. .Shefer tried hard to spam of the "Iron Dome" and called Theodore A. Postol to help him. But other 300 engineers proved that the system works well, as we see actually in reality for at least 4 years. Let the conspirators hearts break!

    by: Gene Murphy from: Northern California
    July 17, 2014 4:51 PM
    It's hard to hit a bullet with a bullet, Patriot missileers claimed the world but the only guarantee is/was the pieces fall back to earth
    In Response

    by: AbeBird from: Brussles
    July 18, 2014 3:32 PM
    The Patriot of 1991 was designed to tackle aircraft and not missiles. That's why they couldn't intercept any of the 39 Iraqi Scud B missiles that were shot against Israel in 1991 Gulf War. Only the later improved version, which Israel offered to the US was designed and affective to intercept medium and long range rockets/missiles. The improved Patriots are not effective against short range rockets that are used to terrorise Israel from Gaza.
    In Response

    by: Gerald O'Hare from: New Jersey, USA
    July 17, 2014 6:57 PM
    This is Patriot 2.0

    by: scristaldi from: US
    July 17, 2014 4:13 PM
    Israel does not need financial help from the US. They are doing just fine by themselves.

    It's time the US politicians stop funding the world and start taking the US budget and deficit down NOW.
    In Response

    by: heu from: UK
    July 28, 2014 10:16 PM
    Yet they keep on asking for money and never seems to be enough, don't they? How would you call that?

    by: Awesome
    July 17, 2014 4:03 PM
    Why is American taxpayers money being spent on Israeli defense? Perhaps Israeli citizens should pay taxes to Uncle Sam in order to defend itself. The bottom line is Americans have no representation whatsoever is Israeli parliament. This is taxation without representation. Our forefathers must be turning in their graves. American media is deaf, dumb and blind when it comes to American involvement in Israel's affairs.

    by: Bernie from: New Jersey
    July 17, 2014 3:31 PM
    Mr Postol knows nothing what he is talking about. He should stay in the classroom and read all about the successes of the
    Iron Dome.
    In Response

    by: meanbill from: USA
    July 18, 2014 12:44 AM
    THE WISE MAN said it; .. If the Iron Dome missile defense system was so effective, why is Israel spending all that money using all those Iron Dome missile defense systems, fighter planes, rockets and missiles against the Gaza Hamas Palestinians, and calling up all those Israeli troops and reserve troops, tanks, artillery, and mobile missile launchers, for a ground attack, (against Hamas who only fires some rockets, and have some assault rifles, and RPGs)...... It's like Israel using a sledge hammer, to kill an ant, isn't it?

    by: Ed Simonis from: Carmichael, CA
    July 17, 2014 3:27 PM
    As long as Israel keeps suppressing the Palestinian people, I don't want any of my tax dollars used to support Israel.
    Israel must rescind their settlement scheme before we consider any kind of support....
    In Response

    by: Mike from: New York
    July 17, 2014 11:28 PM
    Israel is not suppressing the Palestinians, in fact Israel helps the Palestinian authority financially, they give them taxes collected in Israel for items brought in from the Palestinian territory, on top of that Israel provides work opportunity for tens of thousands Arabs living in Israel, Israel provides freedom of all kinds to the Arabs living in Israel including freedom of speech and most of all Israel NEVER initiates fighting, the Palestinians are the ones to initiate any sort of confrontation by launching rockets at innocent civilians.
    To make a long story short Israel is the only democratic country in the middle east and the ONLY humanitarian country in the region.
    Your money is being used for good cause, better than Obama wasting it on pet projects and a failed American economy.

    by: Scott Hamlin from: Georgetown
    July 17, 2014 3:26 PM
    Actually the only thing "everybody accepts" ...or at least is likely to accept and assume...is that Postol is full of the stuff that comes out of the south side of a north bound mule.
    Comments page of 2
        Next 

    Featured Videos

    Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
    As Refugees Perish, Greek Graveyards Filli
    X
    Hamada Elsaram
    February 11, 2016 8:01 PM
    Aid workers on the Greek island of Lesbos say they are struggling to bury the increasing number of bodies of refugees that have been recovered or washed up ashore in recent months.  The graveyards are all full, they say, yet as tens of thousands of people clamor to get out of Syria, it is clear refugees will still be coming in record numbers. For VOA, Hamada Elrasam reports from Lesbos, Greece.
    Video

    Video As Refugees Perish, Greek Graveyards Fill

    Aid workers on the Greek island of Lesbos say they are struggling to bury the increasing number of bodies of refugees that have been recovered or washed up ashore in recent months.  The graveyards are all full, they say, yet as tens of thousands of people clamor to get out of Syria, it is clear refugees will still be coming in record numbers. For VOA, Hamada Elrasam reports from Lesbos, Greece.
    Video

    Video To Fight Zika, Scientists Target Mosquitoes

    Mosquitoes strike again. The Zika virus outbreak is just the latest headline-grabbing epidemic carried by these biting pests, but researchers are fighting back with new ways to control them. VOA's Steve Baragona takes a look.
    Video

    Video Mosul Refugees Talk About Life Under IS

    A top U.S. intelligence official told Congress this week that a planned Iraqi-led operation to re-take the city of Mosul from Islamic State militants is unlikely to take place this year. IS took over the city in June 2014, and for the past year and a half, Mosul residents have been held captive under its rule. VOA's Zana Omar talked to some families who managed to escape. Bronwyn Benito narrates his report.
    Video

    Video Scientists Make Progress Toward Better Diabetes Treatment, Cure

    Scientists at two of the top U.S. universities say they have made significant advances in their quest to find a more efficient treatment for diabetes and eventually a cure. According to the International Diabetes Federation, the disease affects more than 370 million people worldwide. VOA’s George Putic reports.
    Video

    Video NATO to Target Migrant Smugglers

    NATO has announced plans to send warships to the Aegean Sea to target migrant smugglers in the alliance's most direct intervention so far since a wave of people began trying to reach European shores.
    Video

    Video Russia's Catholics, Orthodox Hopeful on Historic Pope-Patriarch Meeting

    Russia's Catholic minority has welcomed an historic first meeting Friday in Cuba between the Pope and the Patriarch of Russia's dominant Orthodox Church. The Orthodox Church split with Rome in 1054 and analysts say politics, both church and state, have been driving the relationship in the centuries since. VOA's Daniel Schearf reports from Moscow.
    Video

    Video Used Books Get a New Life on the Streets of Lagos

    Used booksellers are importing books from abroad and selling them on the streets of Africa's largest city. What‘s popular with readers may surprise you. Chris Stein reports from Lagos.
    Video

    Video After NH Primaries All Eyes on South Carolina

    After Tuesday's primary in New Hampshire, US presidential candidates swiftly turned to the next election coming up in South Carolina. The so-called “first-in-the-South” poll may help further narrow down the field of candidates. Zlatica Hoke reports.
    Video

    Video US Co-ed Selective Service Plan Stirs Controversy

    Young women may soon be required to register with the U.S. Selective Service System, the U.S. government agency charged with implementing a draft in a national emergency. Top Army and Marine Corps commanders told the Senate Armed Services Committee recently that women should register, and a bill has been introduced in Congress requiring eligible women to sign up for the military draft. The issue is stirring some controversy, as VOA’s Bernard Shusman reports from New York.
    Video

    Video Lessons Learned From Ebola Might Help Fight Zika

    Now that the Ebola epidemic has ended in West Africa, Zika has the world's focus. And, as Carol Pearson reports, health experts and governments are applying some of the lessons learned during the Ebola crisis in Africa to fight the Zika virus in Latin America and the Caribbean.
    Video

    Video Smartphone Helps Grow Vegetables

    One day, you may be using your smartphone to grow your vegetables. A Taipei-based company has developed a farm cube — a small, enclosed ecosystem designed to grow plants indoors. The environment inside is automatically adjusted by the cube, but it can also be controlled through an app. VOA's Deborah Block has more on the gardening system.
    Video

    Video Illinois Voters Have Mixed Emotions on Obama’s Return to Springfield

    On the ninth anniversary of the launch of his quest for national office, President Barack Obama returned to Springfield, Illinois, to speak to the Illinois General Assembly, where he once served as state senator. His visit was met with mixed emotions by those with a front-row seat on his journey to the White House. VOA's Kane Farabaugh reports.
    Video

    Video Exhibit Turns da Vinci’s Drawings Into Real Objects

    In addition to being a successful artist, Renaissance genius Leonardo da Vinci designed many practical machines, some of which are still in use today, although in different forms. But a number of his projects were never realized — until today. VOA’s George Putic reports.
    Video

    Video Heated Immigration Debate Limits Britain’s Refugee Response

    Compared to many other European states, Britain has agreed to accept a relatively small number of Syrian refugees. Just over a thousand have arrived so far -- and some are being resettled in remote corners of the country. Henry Ridgwell reports on why Britain’s response has lagged behind its neighbors.
    Video

    Video Russia's Car Sales Shrink Overall, But Luxury and Economy Models See Growth

    Car sales in Russia dropped by more than a third in 2015 because of the country's economic woes. But, at the extreme ends of the car market, luxury vehicles and some economy brands are actually experiencing growth. VOA's Daniel Schearf reports from Moscow.