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

China’s Influence Grows With New Infrastructure Bank

Multibillion-dollar China-backed and BRICS-supported Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank seen as possible challenger to such lenders as IMF, World Bank More

Video Rabbi Hits Road to Heal Jewish-Muslim Relations in France

Rabbi Michel Serfaty makes the rounds in his friendship bus to encourage dialogue and break down barriers between the two groups More

Post-deal Iran Leaders Need 'Economic Momentum' to Solidify

Economists say deal could inject more than $100 billion into coffers - not enough to entirely rescue ailing economy - but maybe adequate to create 'economic momentum' More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
US Gay Marriage Ruling Yields Real-life Impacti
X
Michael Bowman
June 28, 2015 10:05 PM
Friday’s landmark Supreme Court decision legalizing same-sex marriage throughout the United States is an outcome few thought possible just years ago, and shows a nation that increasingly tolerates and even celebrates the hopes and aspirations of gay people. VOA’s Michael Bowman spoke to a same-sex couple that will benefit from the high court ruling, and to a Christian scholar who is apprehensive about its potential consequences for America’s faith community.
Video

Video US Gay Marriage Ruling Yields Real-life Impact

Friday’s landmark Supreme Court decision legalizing same-sex marriage throughout the United States is an outcome few thought possible just years ago, and shows a nation that increasingly tolerates and even celebrates the hopes and aspirations of gay people. VOA’s Michael Bowman spoke to a same-sex couple that will benefit from the high court ruling, and to a Christian scholar who is apprehensive about its potential consequences for America’s faith community.
Video

Video Syrians Flee IS Advance in Hasaka

The Syrian government said Monday it has taken back one of several districts in Hasaka overrun by Islamic State militants. But continued fighting elsewhere in the northern city has forced thousands of civilians from their homes. In this report narrated by Bill Rodgers, VOA Kurdish Service reporter Zana Omer describes the scene in Amouda, where some of the displaced are taking refuge.
Video

Video Rabbi Hits Road to Heal Jewish-Muslim Relations in France

France is on high alert after last week's terrorist attack near the city Lyon, just six months after deadly Paris shootings. The attack have added new tensions to relations between French Jews and Muslims. France’s Jewish and Muslim communities also share a common heritage, though, and as far as one French rabbi is concerned, they are destined to be friends. From the Paris suburb of La Courneuve, Lisa Bryant reports about Rabbi Michel Serfaty and his friendship bus.
Video

Video S. Korea Christians Protest Gay Rights Festival

The U.S. Supreme Court decision mandating marriage equality nationwide has energized gay rights supporters around the world. Gay rights remain a highly contentious issue in a key U.S. ally, South Korea, where police did a deft job Sunday of preventing potential clashes between Christian protesters and gay activists. Kurt Achin reports from Seoul.
Video

Video Saudi Leaks Expose ‘Checkbook Diplomacy’ In Battle With Iran

Saudi Arabia’s willingness to wield its oil money on the global diplomatic stage appears to have been laid bare, after the website WikiLeaks published tens of thousands of leaked cables from Riyadh’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs. VOA's Henry Ridgwell reports.
Video

Video Nubians in Kenya Face Land Challenges

East Africa's ethnic Nubians have a rich cultural history that dates back thousands of years, but in Kenya they are facing hardships, including the loss of lands they have lived on for generations. They say the government has reneged on its pledge to award them title deeds for the plots. VOA's Lenny Ruvaga reports.
Video

Video Syrian Refugees Return to Tal Abyad

Syrian refugees in Turkey confirm they left their hometown of Tal Abyad because of intense fighting and coalition airstrikes, not because Kurdish fighters were engaged in ethnic cleansing, as some Turkish officials charged. VOA Kurdish Service reporter Zana Omer, in Tal Abyad, finds that civilians coming back to the town agree, as we hear in this report narrated by Roger Wilkison.
Video

Video Military Experts Question New Russian Tank Capabilities

Russia has been showing off its new tank design – the Armata T-14. Designers claim it is 20 years ahead of current Western designs - and driving it feels like playing a computer game. But military analysts question those assertions, and warn the cost could be too heavy a burden for Russia’s struggling economy. Henry Ridgwell reports.
Video

Video In Kenya, Police Said to Shoot First, Ask Questions Later

An organization that documents torture and extrajudicial killings says Kenyan police were responsible for 1,252 shooting deaths in five cities, including Nairobi, between 2009 and 2014, representing 67 percent of all gun deaths in the areas reviewed. Gabe Joselow has more from Nairobi.
Video

Video In Syrian Crisis, Social Media Offer Small Comforts

Za’atari, a makeshift city in Jordan, may be the only Syrian refugee camp to tweet its activities, in an effort to keep donors motivated as the war in Syria intensifies and the humanitarian crisis deepens. Inside the camp, families say mobile phone applications help hold together families that are physically torn apart. VOA’s Heather Murdock reports.
Video

Video Chemical-Sniffing Technology Fights Australia's Graffiti Vandals

Cities and towns all over the world spend huge amounts of resources battling graffiti writers who deface buildings, public transport vehicles and even monuments. Authorities in Sydney, Australia, hope a new chemical-sniffing technology finally will stop vandals from scribbling on walls in the passenger areas of commuter trains. VOA’s George Putic has more.
Video

Video Cambodia Struggling to Curb Child Labor

Earlier this year a United Nations report found 10 percent of Cambodian children aged 7-14 are working – one of the highest rates in the region – and said one in four children in that age bracket are forced to quit school to help their families. Although the child labor rate has dropped over the past decade, Cambodia has a lot more to do – including keeping more children in school. Robert Carmichael reports for VOA from Phnom Penh.

VOA Blogs