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Iron Dome: Shifting the Goalposts

Richard Smith

Israel successfully completed testing its new Iron Dome system yesterday, the latest attempt by the Ministry of Defense to protect its civilians in the Galilee and the Negev from rocket fire. According to the Ministry, which released footage of the test run, the first batteries will be operational by November.

Iron Dome is being manufactured by Rafael Advanced Defense Systems Ltd, a government defense firm. The project has been in the pipeline since Israel’s 2006 war with Hezbollah, in which around 4,000 rockets were fired upon Israel’s northern region, and yesterday’s trial run is the most significant to date. The system makes use of advanced radar to detect and assess the path of incoming rockets. If a threat is destined for a populated area, an Iron Dome battery launches a small guided ‘Tamir’ missile to neutralize it, whereas if the rocket is heading for empty territory then no action is taken. The system can even detect and take action against multiple rockets at once.

Illustration of how Iron Dome system will function.

The project was realized by American investment when, on May 20, Congress overwhelmingly approved $205 million to help fund the system, reaffirming America’s commitment to Israel’s security. Previously, Iron Dome had been delayed due to budgetary concerns, which is still restricting Israel’s ability to deploy as many batteries as is needed along the borders with Gaza and Lebanon. However, the Defense Ministry has confirmed that the first two batteries will be deployed near Sderot, which has been the target of approximately 10,000 rockets and mortars in the last decade.

The possibility therefore exists for Iron Dome to act as a real game changer in the Arab-Israeli conflict. Owing to the construction of the West Bank security fence, as well as Israel’s disengagement from Gaza, ballistics have been the favored weapon of Arab terrorism and the trigger of both major conflicts in the region since the end of the Second Intifada. The threat of rocket fire is perhaps the most compelling argument against further withdrawal from territories under Israeli control, as well as against the creation of a Palestinian state. Iron Dome might diffuse many of these fears, allowing thousands of Israelis to live a normal life again whilst also kick-starting the peace process.

Nevertheless, such optimism can be an ephemeral phenomenon in the Middle East. The major concern over Iron Dome is the cost: according to the Israeli-based Haaretz, each rocket interception could cost somewhere between $10,000 and $50,000. These figures are disheartening, given the relatively minimal costs involved in producing primitive Qassam rockets. Though Iron Dome may be cheaper than military retaliation, another spike in rocket attacks against Israel could bleed the country’s already insufficient defense budget. And ultimately, should the Iron Dome prove extremely successful, Arab terrorists will simply find a new way to continue their murderous activities.