The media circus surrounding the successes of the Iron Dome missile defense system is undoubtedly raising morale and filling Israeli hearts with pride. Unfortunately, the joy is a bit premature and to a large extent misplaced.
Rafael Advanced Defense Systems, which produced Iron Dome, has inarguably racked up an impressive achievement. It's no small matter to develop a defense system capable of intercepting a rocket in flight. The only problem is that Iron Dome is not the right or desirable solution to the Qassam rockets and mortar shells being fired from the Gaza Strip.
Let's start with the financial angle. The cost of intercepting each rocket is so high that all the Palestinians need to do is keep firing more and more of their cheaply made rockets, and within a relatively short time they will deplete the stockpiles of Israel's anti-projectile missiles - each of which costs an estimated $100,000. This means the quantity of missiles Israel can acquire is limited from the outset, unless the defense budget becomes dominated by defense- missile purchases.
In a drawn-out war with Hamas, which has thousands of rockets, Iron Dome is likely to run out of missiles, and then we'll be just as exposed as we were before. At the moment the Israel Defense Forces has two Iron Dome systems. The number of missiles allocated for each is classified, but there is reason to fear that if the Palestinians intensify the rate of rocket fire, we will soon be left without defense missiles.
In addition, these batteries can only defend a limited area, leaving the rest of the south - Ashdod and the surrounding area, for example - unprotected.
In any case, Iron Dome does not provide hermetic defense. On Sunday the system tried and failed to intercept a Grad rocket. Fortunately, the rocket didn't cause any injuries. But what will happen if a Grad that pierces the defense system ends up hitting a school in Ashkelon in the middle of the day? The euphoria surrounding the deployment of the Iron Dome system will evaporate immediately.
Nonetheless, the media reported this week that on the heels of the system's success in intercepting rockets, the cabinet is expected to approve the purchase of four more Iron Dome batteries. Not only will this be extremely costly, it also fails to provide immediate protection since it will take years before the units are deployed.
And these aren't the only problems. The main problem is that Iron Dome is simply incapable of protecting the Israeli population centers nearest the Gaza border, particularly Sderot and the schools that fall under the jurisdiction of the Sha'ar Hanegev Regional Council. It has been clear since the development of Iron Dome began that the anti-missile system cannot intercept rockets aimed at areas less than four kilometers from the border.
Iron Dome is also incapable of countering mortar shells, which are a very significant aspect of the threat to the border area. In other words, the defense system does not provide a solution for the basic need that prompted its development - to protect Sderot and its neighbors.
As the celebrations of Iron Dome's success continue, defense officials are ignoring the existence of an efficient, functional and cheap defense system that is protecting U.S. forces in Iraq and Afghanistan from rocket and mortar fire and could also be used to counter the threat facing the Gaza border area. The system being used there is the Vulcan Phalanx rapid-fire cannon system, which can be brought to Israel immediately, at a negligible cost. The time has come to figure out why Israel's defense establishment has not brought it here and deployed it near Sderot. After all, it can't hurt.
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