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

For Lebanon-based Refugees, Desperation Fuels Perilous Passage

In a war that has caused an estimated three million people to flee Syria, efforts to make perilous sea journey in search of asylum expected to increase More

South African Brewer Tackles Climate Change

Mega-brewer SAB Miller sent delegates to climate summit in Peru, says it is one of many private companies taking their own steps to fight climate change More

Indonesia Reports Increase in Citizens Joining Islamic State

Officials say more than 350 of its citizens are now in Syria or Iraq to fight with Islamic State - 50 more than last month More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Will Pakistan School Shooting Galvanize Pakistan Against Extremism?i
X
Ayesha Tanzeem
December 17, 2014 11:54 AM
The attack on a military school in Pakistan’s northwest city of Peshawar left 141 dead, including 132 children. Strong statements of condemnation poured in from across the world. The country announced three days of mourning, and the leadership, both political and military, promised retribution. VOA's Ayesha Tanzeem looks at how likely the Pakistani government is to clamp down on all extremist groups.
Video

Video Will Pakistan School Shooting Galvanize Pakistan Against Extremism?

The attack on a military school in Pakistan’s northwest city of Peshawar left 141 dead, including 132 children. Strong statements of condemnation poured in from across the world. The country announced three days of mourning, and the leadership, both political and military, promised retribution. VOA's Ayesha Tanzeem looks at how likely the Pakistani government is to clamp down on all extremist groups.
Video

Video ‘Anti-Islamization’ Marches Increase Tensions In Germany

Anti-immigrant rallies in Germany have been building in recent weeks, peaking Monday night in the city of Dresden where tens of thousands of people turned out to demonstrate against what they call the ‘Islamization’ of the West. Germany has offered asylum to more Syrian refugees than any other country, and this appears to have set off the protests. Henry Ridgwell reports from London.
Video

Video Aceh Rebuilt Decade After Tsunami, But Scars Remain

On December 26, 2004 there was an earthquake in the Indian Ocean so powerful it caused the Earth’s axis to wobble a few centimeters. Onshore on the island of Sumatra, the resulting tsunami was devastating. A decade later, VOA Correspondent Steve Herman reports from Banda Aceh, Indonesia, where although there is little remaining evidence of the physical devastation, the psychological scars among survivors remain.
Video

Video Refugees Living in Kenya Long for Peace in the Home Countries

Kenya is host to numerous refugees seeking safe haven from conflict. Immigrants from Somalia face challenges in their new lives in Kenya. Ahead of International Migrants Day (December 18) Lenny Ruvaga has more for VOA News from the Kenyan capital.
Video

Video Turkey's Authoritarianism Dismays Western Allies

The Turkish government has been defiant in the face of criticism at home and abroad for its raids targeting opposition media. The European Union on Monday expressed dismay after President Recep Tayyip Erdogan lashed out at Brussels for criticizing his government's action. Turkey's bid to be considered for EU membership has been on hold while critics accuse the NATO ally of increasingly authoritarian rule. Zlatica Hoke reports.
Video

Video US-China Year in Review: Hong Kong to Climate Change

The United States is pushing for a code of conduct to resolve territorial disputes in the South China Sea as it works to improve commercial ties with Beijing. VOA State Department correspondent Scott Stearns reports on a year of U.S. policy toward China from Hong Kong to climate change.
Video

Video Japanese Leader’s Election Win Raises Potential for Conflict with Neighbors

Japan’s Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and his allies easily won a two-thirds majority in parliament Sunday, even though the country has slipped into recession under his conservative policies. VOA’s Brian Padden reports from Seoul, that the prime minister’s victory will empower him to continue economic reforms but also pursue a nationalist agenda that will likely increase tensions with Japan’s neighbors.
Video

Video Nuba Mountain Families Hide in Caves to Escape Aerial Bombings

Despite ongoing peace talks between Sudan's government and the rebel Sudan People’s Liberation Movement-North, or SPLM-N, daily aerial attacks continue in South Kordofan province’s Nuba Mountains. Adam Bailes was there and reports for VOA that government forces are targeting civilian areas, rather than military positions, with their daily bombardments.

All About America

AppleAndroid