Iron Domeís Crucial Gaza Test (COMMENTARY MAGAZINE) Leor Sapir 03/27/12)
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Earlier this month, Palestinian militants fired approximately 300
rockets and mortar shells into Israelís southern population centers.
The ensuing escalation left more than 20 Palestinian militants dead,
and about the same number of Israelis wounded. The barrage ensued
after Israel killed Zuhir al-Qaisi, head of the Popular Resistance
Committees in Gaza, who had been planning an attack on Israeli
civilians similar to that of 2011, which left eight Israelis dead. He
was also one of the masterminds behind the 2006 kidnapping of Gilad
Shalit. But the most important result of this exchange is that the
fighting resulted in a crucial test of the Iron Dome missile defense
Iron Dome is an anti-missile defense system developed by Rafael, an
Israeli-based military technology firm, in response to the 2006 war
with Hezbollah in which almost 4,000 rockets were fired from Lebanon
into Israel. At a unit cost of $50 million, and with pricey $50,000
missiles, Iron Dome was an expensive but necessary addition to the
tiny countryís civilian defense scheme, and this March it performed
remarkably well. In order to cut costs and make target acquisition
more efficient, Iron Dome is designed to intercept only projectiles
bound for population centers. Seventy-three out of the 300 rockets
and mortar shells fired from Gaza fell under this category, of which
Iron Dome shot down 56: an impressive 76 percent hit rate.
There are five reasons why the recent escalation has resulted in
strategic benefits to Israel.
First, as with any new weapon system, there was a real need to test
it in an authentic operational setting. In 2006, Israeli government
officials and military leaders learned (the hard way) how civilian
vulnerability to rocket fire translates into political and even
military operational setbacks. A campaign against Iran, which would
likely draw out for days if not weeks, would likely lead to Iranian
ICBM attacks against Israeli population centers. Therefore, it is
necessary for Israeli leaders to ascertain the approximate number of
hits civilian areas would sustain, in order to better grasp the
political and military freedom of action they would enjoy.
Second, a systems check provided crucial data regarding Iron Domeís
technology and whether it meets its original expectations. In the
first month of 2012, Rafael upgraded part of Iron Domeís operating
system. One could presume that following the recent confrontation in
Gaza, Iron Domeís new technologies will be reexamined and, if
Third, and also based on the experience of 2006, it is important to
inspire confidence in the systemís capabilities on the one hand, but
set realistic expectations on the other. When Iron Dome was
announced, optimists projected a 100 percent interception rate, due
in part to wishful thinking, and in part to the Defense Ministryís
public campaign to justify the enormous expenses involved in the Iron
Dome program. But a perfect system with perfect results is clearly
not possible, and it is now time to modify the expectation many
Israelis have unjustifiably developed during the past few years.
Concurrent with recent events in Gaza, Defense Minister Ehud Barak
publicly acknowledged that an Iranian-Hezbollah attack on Israel
would likely result in approximately 500 casualties.
The fourth beneficial result of this round was that the Gaza
terrorist infrastructure wasted a significant number of rockets in a
controlled conflict in which Israel clearly had the upper hand.
Israel also managed to knock out some of their rocket-launching
teams. Israel, at a relatively negligible cost, managed to induce at
least a partial reduction of the Palestinian rocket threat.
Last and most important of all, is the deterrence factor. Activating
Iron Dome in an authentic operational setting with a 76 percent hit-
rate sends a powerful message to Iran and its proxy, Hezbollah. A
successful Iron Dome is unlikely to altogether deter Iran and
Hezbollah from firing ICBMs and rockets at Israel. But it would give
Iran another reason to pause before retaliating after its nuclear
facilities would come under attack, thereby risking further Israeli
strikes without a credible enough threat of their own.
The hope in Jerusalem is that Tehran will follow a course similar to
that of Bashar al-Assad in Israelís 2007 attack on the clandestine
Syrian reactor. The Syrian president, fearing a harsher Israeli
counter-attack, decided against retaliation, opting instead (and in
cooperation with Israel) to cover up the Israeli operation. With
Assadís regime facing increasingly grim chances of survival, the risk
of a Hezbollah-initiated confrontation with Israel as a diversion
tactic is growing.
Iron Domeís success in Gaza might give Nasrallah and his Iranian
patrons a good reason to reconsider.
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