News / Middle East

Israel’s Iron Dome Missile Shield

Israel's Iron Dome missile defense system
Israel's Iron Dome missile defense system
Israel's Iron Dome missile shield appears to be passing its first major test, stopping hundreds of Gaza rockets from hitting Israeli communities in recent days. But that test also has revealed several weaknesses in the year-old U.S.-backed system.

The Israeli military said Tuesday that Iron Dome has intercepted at least 389 rockets since Israel began its offensive against Gaza militants November 14. An Israeli defense official said that figure represents at least 80 percent of all Gaza rockets targeted by the system over the period.

‘Impressive’ Results

Robert Powell, a Middle East analyst with the Economist Intelligence Unit in New York, said Iron Dome has proven "mightily impressive," given that it only became operational last year. He said the missile defense program has blocked short-range rockets that typically are difficult to intercept.

Iron Dome was developed by Rafael Defense Systems, an Israeli state-run defense company, with support from two other Israeli firms, state-owned Elta Systems and privately held mPrest Systems.

Israel began developing the shield after the Lebanese militant group Hezbollah fired thousands of rockets at northern Israeli communities in a brief 2006 war. Israeli authorities deployed the first Iron Dome battery in southern Israel last year to act against years of rocket fire from Gaza.

How Iron Dome Works

Each battery has three components that operate in sequence: a radar detection unit that picks up the launch of a rocket; a management center that predicts where the rocket will land and determines whether it should be intercepted, and a missile firing unit that fires the interceptor missile.

An Iron Dome launcher fires an interceptor rocket, Ashdod, Israel, November 16, 2012.An Iron Dome launcher fires an interceptor rocket, Ashdod, Israel, November 16, 2012.
x
An Iron Dome launcher fires an interceptor rocket, Ashdod, Israel, November 16, 2012.
An Iron Dome launcher fires an interceptor rocket, Ashdod, Israel, November 16, 2012.
Since 2011, Israel has deployed five Iron Dome batteries in the south and center of the country. They are designed to shoot down rockets with a range of five to 70 kilometers. If the shield deems a rocket to pose no threat to civilian or military sites, it allows that rocket to land on open ground.

Israel positioned the 5th battery on the outskirts of Tel Aviv on November 17, two days after the country’s commercial capital was targeted by Gaza rockets for the first time.

System Upgrades

Rafael Defense Systems vice president of business development Oron Oriol said the Tel Aviv unit is part of an upgraded 2nd batch of Iron Dome batteries.

“The [new] version of the battery has some improvements in the man-machine interface, in the capabilities of the radar and the [interceptor] missiles,” he said.

Oriol said Iron Dome has the capability to deal with the quantity of rockets fired at Israel so far.

“The system was designed to deal with [rocket] salvos. I can't tell you if [militants] will be capable of overwhelming the system or not. But, you can see the [interception] results already [achieved].”

Those results also have exposed some technical problems with Iron Dome.

Malfunctions and Debris

Israeli media said the system suffered a brief malfunction at the time that a Gaza rocket hit an apartment building in the Israeli town of Kiryat Malachi last Thursday, killing three residents.

An Iron Dome missile is launched in Tel Aviv to intercept a rocket launched from Gaza, November 17, 2012.An Iron Dome missile is launched in Tel Aviv to intercept a rocket launched from Gaza, November 17, 2012.
x
An Iron Dome missile is launched in Tel Aviv to intercept a rocket launched from Gaza, November 17, 2012.
An Iron Dome missile is launched in Tel Aviv to intercept a rocket launched from Gaza, November 17, 2012.
Shrapnel from successful mid-air interceptions also has fallen onto populated areas, causing some injuries and property damage.

Oriol said Rafael employees are working “day and night” to learn from every incident. He also said falling debris is inevitable because interceptors are designed to destroy rocket warheads, not entire rockets.

“Pieces of metal will come to the ground because this is gravity … and we can’t control it,” said Oriol. “This is why people should be in shelters or in buildings and not outside because they can [get] hurt.”

Another weakness of Iron Dome is tactical.

Limits as a Defensive Tool

EIU analyst Powell said the system’s effectiveness is limited to reducing the impact of militant retaliation for Israeli operations.

“In terms of Israel's choice of [offense] - naval, air, ground troops - Iron Dome does not really play a role. The system itself is not a game changer in terms of [ability] to hit Hamas targets within Gaza.”

Powell said Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu still faces a choice between continuing “moderately effective” air strikes and a ground invasion to “wipe out” Hamas.
“[An invasion] means potentially large numbers of [troop] losses and enormous expense when there is a general election [in January]. It seems he is not willing to do that, especially [considering] the budget deficit, which is increasingly worrying.”

High Costs

Israel already has spent $560 million on Iron Dome, with the United States providing $275 million of the funds. The Israeli government plans to spend another $190 million to deploy more batteries.

Each firing of an interceptor missile costs the Israeli government tens of thousands of dollars, according to the defense ministry.

But Iron Dome interceptions also help to prevent Israeli fatalities that could pressure the government into a much more costly ground war.

“It is not the cost of the interceptor that counts,” said Oriol. “What counts is what one interceptor can really save, and the cost of the damage [that] one rocket can really cause to the population.”

Michael Lipin

Michael covers international news for VOA on the web, radio and TV, specializing in the Middle East and East Asia Pacific. Follow him on Twitter @Michael_Lipin

You May Like

Analyst: Joint-Arab Military Force Poses Perilous Challenge

Although international forces are desperately needed to counter the threat of the Islamic State group, analysts say conflicting alliances could escalate fighting More

Asia’s Middle Class Changes Demand for Wheat Grain Exporters

Changes in tastes and diets are boon for wheat exporters such as Australia and the United States More

S. African Comedian Taking Over Popular TV Show

Mixed-race comedian Trevor Noah, who is loved for his edgy jibes about race and language, is taking the helm from Jon Stewart at The Daily Show in US More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Film Tells Story of Musicians in Mali Threatened by Jihadistsi
X
Greg Flakus
March 30, 2015 6:48 PM
At this year's annual South by Southwest film and music festival in Austin, Texas, some musicians from Mali were on hand to promote a film about how their lives were upturned by jihadists who destroyed ancient treasures in the city of Timbuktu and prohibited anyone from playing music under threat of death. As VOA’s Greg Flakus reports from Austin, some are afraid to return to their hometowns even though the jihadists are no longer in control there.
Video

Video Film Tells Story of Musicians in Mali Threatened by Jihadists

At this year's annual South by Southwest film and music festival in Austin, Texas, some musicians from Mali were on hand to promote a film about how their lives were upturned by jihadists who destroyed ancient treasures in the city of Timbuktu and prohibited anyone from playing music under threat of death. As VOA’s Greg Flakus reports from Austin, some are afraid to return to their hometowns even though the jihadists are no longer in control there.
Video

Video With Coalition Airstrikes, Iraq Entering 'Last Page' of IS Battle

American warplanes joined Iraq's battle against the so-called 'Islamic State' in northern Iraq late Wednesday, as Iraqi ground troops launched a massive assault on Tikrit. Analysts say the offensive could take the coalition a step further towards Mosul, the largest city held by Islamic State forces. Others say it could also deepen already-dangerous sectarian tensions in the region. VOA's Heather Murdock has more from Cairo.
Video

Video Philippines Wants Tourists Spending Money at New Casinos

Tourism is a multi-billion dollar industry in the Philippines. Close to five million foreign visitors traveled there last year, perhaps lured by the country’s tropical beaches. But Jason Strother reports from Manila that the country hopes to entice more travelers to stay indoors and spend money inside new casinos.
Video

Video Civilian Casualties Push Men to Join Rebels in Ukraine

The continued fighting in eastern Ukraine and the shelling of civilian neighborhoods seem to be pushing more men to join the separatist fighters. Many of the new recruits are residents of Ukraine made bitter by new grievances, as well as old. VOA's Patrick Wells reports.
Video

Video Islamic State Prisoners Talk of Curiosity, God, Regret

Islamic State fighter, a prisoner of Kurdish YPG forces, asked his family asking for forgiveness: "I destroyed myself and I destroyed them along with me." The Syrian youth was one of two detainees who spoke to VOA’s Kurdish Service about the path they chose; their names have been changed and identifying details obscured. VOA's Zana Omer reports.
Video

Video Germanwings Findings Raise Issue of Psychological Testing for Pilots

More is being discovered about the co-pilot in the crash of Germanwings Flight 9525 in the French Alps. Investigators say he was hiding a medical condition, raising questions about the mental qualifications of pilots. VOA's Carolyn Presutti reports.
Video

Video Hi-tech Motorbike Helmet's Goal: Improve Road Safety

In cities with heavily congested traffic, people can get around much faster on a motorcycle than in a car. But a rider who is not sure of his route may have to stop to look at the map or consult a GPS. A Russian start-up company is working to make navigation easier for motorcyclists. Designers at Moscow-based LiveMap are developing a smart helmet with a built-in navigation system, head-mounted display and voice recognition. Zlatica Hoke has more.
Video

Video DOJ: Illinois National Guard Soldier Tried to Join ISIS

U.S. federal law enforcement agents arrested two suburban Chicago men accused of trying to join ISIS overseas, while also plotting attacks in the United States. As VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports from the Midwest state of Illinois, one of those arrested is a soldier of the Illinois National Guard.
Video

Video New Wheelchair Is Easier to Use, Increases Mobility

Traditional push-rim wheelchairs create a lot of stress for arm, shoulder and neck muscles and joints. A redesigned chair, based on readily available bicycle technology, radically increases mobility while reducing the physical effort. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Liberia's Almost Last Ebola Patient Grateful but Still Grieving

Beatrice Yardolo was to make history as Liberia’s last Ebola patient. Liberians recently started counting down 42 days, the period that has to go by without a single new infection until the World Health Organization can declare a country Ebola-free. That countdown stopped on March 20 when there was another new case of Ebola, making Yardolo’s story a reminder that Ebola is far from over. Benno Muchler reports from Monrovia.
Video

Video Cambodian Land Grabs Threaten Traditional Communities

Indigenous communities in Cambodia's Ratanakiri province say the government’s economic land concession policy is taking away their land and traditional way of life, making many fear that their identity will soon be lost. Local authorities, though, have denied this is the case. VOA's Say Mony went to investigate and filed this report, narrated by Colin Lovett.
Video

Video Space Program Status Disappoints 'Last Man on the Moon'

One of the films that drew big crowds last week at the annual South by Southwest festival in Austin, Texas, tells the story of the last human being to stand on the moon, U.S. astronaut Eugene Cernan. It has been 42 years since Cernan returned from the moon and he laments that no one else has gone there since. VOA’s Greg Flakus reports.

VOA Blogs

Circumventing Censorship

An Internet Primer for Healthy Web Habits

As surveillance and censoring technologies advance, so, too, do new tools for your computer or mobile device that help protect your privacy and break through Internet censorship.
More