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Does Israel’s Iron Dome Success Mean Ronald Reagan’s 'Star Wars' Push Was Right All Along?


"Somewhere, wherever he is now, the Gipper must be smiling."

Iron Dome battery in action (photo credit: IDF)

After he proposed the Strategic Defense Initiative in 1983, President Ronald Reagan was widely derided by his critics for launching what they believed to be an unrealistic initiative, based more in wishful thinking than in hard science. But the achievements being racked up this week by Israel’s Iron Dome missile-defense system is reminding some observers of Reagan’s prescience.

Max Boot writes in Commentary Magazine (emphasis added):

The latest Gaza war is only a few days old, but already one conclusion can be drawn: missile defense works. This is only the latest vindication for the vision of Ronald Reagan who is emerging as a consensus pick for one of the all-time great U.S. presidents.

For it was Ronald Reagan who made missile defense a major priority for the U.S. and our allies. His 1983 speech on the subject was widely derided as “Star Wars” because he envisioned that some missile would be intercepted in space. For years critics claimed that it was impossible to intercept missiles in flight, or that at the very least it would be prohibitively expensive to do so. But now the U.S. West Coast is actually protected by a limited ballistic-missile defense system based primarily around satellites, sea-based Aegis and X-band radars, and Standard Missile-3 interceptors. We don’t know how the system would work in combat but it has been vindicated in testing.

Defense Minister Ehud Barak says that the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) is achieving an “exceptional” 90% success rate in shooting down projectiles flying toward the cities where the Iron Dome batteries are deployed. On a visit to one installation this week, U.S. Ambassador Dan Shapiro said the American government will provide Israel with $300 million to help keep the Iron Dome operating.

The Wall Street Journal in an editorial also suggests Reagan’s idea has been vindicated (emphasis added):

Israeli interceptors have eviscerated the Iranian-supplied Hamas missiles heading for population centers. Chalk up an important strategic and technological win for missile defense.

The Jewish state's Iron Dome system was conceived after the 2006 war with Lebanon, when nearly 4,000 Hezbollah missiles killed 44 civilians in northern Israel; it was deployed only last year. Missile defenses have had vocal doubters since Ronald Reagan championed them in the 1980s, and Israeli critics focused on the price—around $50,000 for each Tamir interceptor—and supposedly dubious reliability. The last week ends that debate.

The IDF reports that “600+ rockets were fired” from Gaza in the last week alone. Calling missile defenses “more urgent than ever,” the Wall Street Journal writes that the U.S. administration needs to heed the important lessons from Israel’s experience facing “rogue missiles” (emphasis added):

There's a lesson here as well for the U.S. In an overlooked study in September, the National Research Council pointed out shortcomings in current American missile-defense strategy, saying the U.S. needs to do more to protect the homeland against long-range attacks from Iran, North Korea and other countries. The report specifically recommended an additional defense site on the U.S. East Coast to augment interceptors in California and Alaska.

Three years ago, the Obama Administration pulled the plug on a site in Poland and the Czech Republic, bending to Russian pressure. In its place, the White House decided to protect Europe from a short- and medium-range Iranian missile with Aegis interceptors initially based at sea and later on land.

The revised plan's last, fourth stage would eventually address the long-range threat by putting interceptors in Central Europe. But that's the issue that President Obama famously promised Russian counterpart Dmitry Medvedev that he'd have "more flexibility" on in a second term. Missile defense could also suffer from budget cuts.

Presently, Israel has five Iron Dome batteries deployed. It says it needs 13 to protect the entire country. As for President Reagan, Max Boot writes: "Somewhere, wherever he is now, the Gipper must be smiling."

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