Since a terrorist ambush last Thursday that used the Sinai as a staging ground to kill eight Israelis, Hamas has fired dozens of rockets and mortars into Israel. Fortunately, very few Israelis have been injured or killed by these attacks, thanks in large part to the Israeli missile shield known as the "Iron Dome."
The Jerusalem Post reports that a senior Israeli defense official claims, “The Iron Dome has proven itself since the beginning of the recent escalation with over 90 percent success rate.” During a visit to the Iron Dome battery near Ashkelon on Sunday, Defense Minister Ehud Barak said of the Iron Dome that "this is an unbelievable achievement for us and the soldiers who operate it.”
Just as the Israelis built a security fence to end the threat of suicide bombers infiltrating Israel proper, the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) appear poised to build a virtual wall in the sky with its advanced missile defense technology. The Jerusalem Post gave a good overview Monday of both current Iron Dome deployments and plans for the Israeli Air Force (IAF) to expand them in the near future:
"The IAF Air Defense Division currently operates two Iron Dome batteries which are deployed in the South – one near Beersheba and another near Ashkelon. The two batteries have intercepted over 15 rockets fired into the South since the attacks near Eilat on Thursday. The IAF is expected to receive a third Iron Dome battery by the beginning of October... three more batteries and associated equipment and interceptors... will not be ready until the end of 2012...Defense Minister Barak said that he was working on an emergency plan under which nine batteries would be operational by the end of 2013."
So what exactly is the Iron Dome? In short, it's a missile interceptor system designed to defend against incoming rockets, artillery rounds, and mortars at ranges from 4 to 70 kilometers. Each Iron Dome missile battery has launchers equipped with 20 Tamir interceptors, and is reportedly capable of protecting an urban area of approximately 150 square kilometers.
The Iron Dome fires two such interceptor rounds at incoming missiles to destroy or deflect them before they can reach their target. It is similar in concept to the "Patriot Missile" system the U.S. deployed in the first Persian Gulf War, which was used to take out Saddam's SCUD missiles. The Phalanx CIWS (Close In Weapons System) is another missile defense technology used to protect naval vessels against incoming missiles, but it fires a barrage of thousands of 20mm cannon rounds instead of guided missiles like the Iron Dome.
This short video from three days ago shows the Iron Dome take out a Grad rocket fired from Gaza:
The Iron Dome has critical strategic implications for the safety and security of the state of Israel. It has the capability to nullify a weapon of terror against civilians and limits long-range attacks as a tool of incitement to draw IDF forces into an incursion. If Hamas, Hezbollah, and other terrorist groups cannot rain missiles down into Israeli towns and cities with impunity, and if Israel secures its border with Egypt and peace talks progress, perhaps Israel can avert a major Israeli military campaign in the short term.
If the Iron Dome is not able to continue knocking missiles intended for innocent civilians out of the sky, Israel could soon find itself in a full military incursion into Gaza or Lebanon to root out terrorists and their arms caches. No state -- not Israel or any other -- would allow terrorists outside its borders to kill its citizens and make life miserable with rockets fired from afar.
Still, even though the protective umbrella of the Iron Dome is in place, and poised to grow larger, the security situation appears increasingly precarious for Israel. Hamas requested a ceasefire yesterday and has already violated it.
Hamas will almost certainly continue to attack Israel, and kill innocents, in the weeks ahead. And to the north, Hezbollah waits, and watches, for its moment to strike.