The usual ritual has returned. A top defense official has again promised residents of communities around the Gaza Strip that it's only a matter of time before a system is set up to protect them from Qassam rockets. This time it's the commander of the Northern Command anti-aircraft division, Col. Zvika Haimovich: "We can promise that after many years of Qassam rocket fire on the communities of the Gaza envelope, there will be an efficient, effective solution to them." The Iron Dome rocket defense system will be operational, he said, in mid-2010.
Senior officials in the Israel Defense Forces and security services are apparently relying on the short memories of those communities' residents. After the previous defense minister, Amir Peretz, approved Iron Dome, those officials promised that the system would be operational toward the end of 2008. The target date was then pushed to the end of 2009, and now to June 2010. And this, it is virtually certain, is not the end of the matter.
Still worse than these empty promises is the feint, which Haimovich himself repeated, that Iron Dome would provide an effective solution to Qassams. Let's be clear: Iron Dome is completely unable to protect the communities around Gaza. Due to the short trajectories of the rockets, Iron Dome cannot complete all the steps involved in rocket interception, which include locating the launch site, following the rocket's trail, computing its coordinates, providing coordinates to the intercepting projectile and giving the order to fire. The Iron Dome's reaction time is more than 30 seconds, but the Qassams that strike Sderot and neighboring communities are in the air for only about 14 seconds.
None of this is a secret. As early as the start of 2008, government ministers understood what had been clear to the developers of Iron Dome from the outset, namely that the system would be unable to protect the communities surrounding Gaza from rockets fired from the coastal territory. Following pressure from then-prime minister Ehud Olmert, the government decided to protect 6,000 housing units in communities up to 4.5 kilometers from the Strip at a cost of NIS 700 million. And now we have another senior official sowing illusions among residents near Gaza.
It remains unclear what the IDF hopes to accomplish by calling in military correspondents for a briefing with Haimovich to deliver the news that 2010 will be the year of Iron Dome. Amid security failings in the offices of the top brass, training accidents and mendacious senior officers, does the army now have an urgent need for goals and achievements, even those mistaken and misleading?
Two questions arise in connection to Haimovich's briefing. First, what happened to the Defense Ministry's promise to bring to Israel the Vulcan Phalanx system, which U.S. forces use to effectively and quickly intercept rockets and mortars in Iraq? Does the defense apparatus fear that the highly-efficient system could place the need for investing billions in the Iron Dome in question? Second, did the failure of Operation Cast Lead to stop Qassam rocket fire prove that the operation was a failure?
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