When Israel launches airstrikes and artillery bombardments on Gaza, Palestinians have few sources of protection. But when Palestinians fire rockets at the Jewish state, its citizens can count on one of the world’s most proven air defense systems for security – the Iron Dome.
Hamas, the Palestinian militant group that controls the Gaza Strip, has since Monday launched more than 2,000 rockets at Israel, targeting major cities such as Jerusalem and Tel Aviv as well as other cities.
The Islamist movement maintained its roadblock even as Israeli fighter jets, artillery and tanks pounded the impoverished Palestinian territory of 2m of people. At least 122 people have been killed since Monday in Gaza, including 31 children and 20 women, and 900 others injured, Palestinian medical officials said.
But, according to the IDF, nearly 1,000 Palestinian rockets were intercepted by the Iron Dome, a system built by Israeli defense companies and jointly funded and developed with the United States. Palestinian rockets killed nine Israelis, including a child, while a woman died running to a shelter and a soldier was killed by an anti-tank missile.
“The number of Israelis killed and injured would be much higher if it weren’t for the Iron Dome system which saved the life as it always has been,” said Lt Col Jonathan Conricus, the – speech of the Israeli army.
The Iron Dome has been specially designed to treat the most rudimentary and shorter range missiles fired at Israel by Palestinian factions, and was first used 10 years ago to intercept projectiles fired by Hamas from Gaza. Its development accelerated after Israel’s month-long war in 2006 with Hezbollah, the Iranian-backed Lebanese movement, and its conflict with Hamas three years later.
Justin Bronk, a researcher at the Royal United Services for Defense and Security Studies, said much of Iron Dome’s success was due to a sophisticated radar system that allows it to quickly determine which incoming rockets are likely to strike built-up areas. and which will land safely on open ground. The Israeli military says it is 90% effective.
Iron Dome has 10 batteries deployed across the country, each with three to four launchers that can fire 20 interceptors, giving the system the ability to launch up to 800 missiles at incoming rockets, not counting reloads.
Since it is designed to counter shorter range and slower rockets, the missiles it uses are relatively small and inexpensive compared to those used in other air defenses, such as the US Patriot system, with interceptors costing between $ 40,000 and $ 100,000, Bronk mentioned.
The Obama administration has stepped up US funding for Iron Dome, in part to show support for Israel. But he also hoped it would help prevent conflicts from escalating.
“It was a deliberate calculation by the Obama administration to fund it with [general] American rather than just American military aid ultimately amounts to around $ 1.5 billion, ”Bronk said. He added that a condition was that the Americans could use the intercept data for their own research and development purposes.
Ulrike Franke, senior researcher at the European Council on Foreign Relations, said this week’s events underscored the “political importance” of Iron Dome, which enabled Israelis “to continue a somewhat normal life under attack”.
“It gives the government leeway – if the Hamas attacks killed hundreds of Israeli civilians, the Israeli government would be pressured very hard to intervene with a ground operation,” she said. “With the protection of Iron Dome, the government has more leeway. However, on the other hand, it also gives the government the freedom not to try to find a peaceful solution – as it can endure, at least for a while, the attacks.
But the scale of the salvos fired this week by Hamas shocked Israelis again, striking terror in neighborhoods where rockets shattered defenses.
“I know I’m not supposed to be scared, but you hear the sirens and you panic – what if you’re the luckiest man in the land today?” Tomer said, dragging himself to a garage in Jaffa with his baby. A few minutes later, an Iron Dome interceptor released a rocket overhead, leaving trails of smoke in the sky.
The IDF was also surprised that Hamas was prepared to launch such a campaign against the best-equipped and sophisticated military force in the Middle East and risk the consequences.
There is a risk that a sustained barrage of hundreds of rockets will overwhelm the system. Hezbollah has a larger and much more sophisticated stockpile of rockets than the Palestinian militants.
“Hezbollah has an arsenal of over 100,000 rockets and is much better equipped to fire sustained bursts in large numbers,” Bronk said. “A lot of its rockets are also now equipped with Iranian guidance devices so that they are more precise, which also increases the number of those who are expected to intercept Iron Dome.”
But he added that Iron Dome was never intended to be “total defense”.
“In many ways, it changes the game psychologically more than it changes the general balance of power in any large-scale clash,” Bronk said.
Additional reporting by Mehul Srivastava in Tel Aviv