Without minimizing the impressive technological achievements of the engineers at Rafael Advanced Defense Systems, there is concern that the defense establishment is feeding the public with illusions. Following its successful test of the Iron Dome system, the defense establishment has been sending the message that now, the rocket problem that threatened the country's citizens has been solved, and the nightmare faced by residents of the south and north will not recur.
In an interview with Israel Radio's Reshet Bet, Yossi Drucker, who heads Rafael's air-to-air division and was in charge of developing the anti-rocket system, said Iron Dome provides a solution to "all the threats that have ever been fired at the State of Israel from Lebanon and the [Gaza] Strip." And it seems his words fell on attentive ears: Sderot Mayor David Buskila hastened to declare that "the success of the tests is very welcome news for residents of Sderot and other communities near the Gaza Strip, who for more than eight years have been hoping for this moment ... The system will give a welcome sense of security to area residents."
The truth, regrettably, is far from what Drucker promised, and could dash Buskila's hopes. Iron Dome does not provide a solution to "all the threats," and in particular, it is not capable of protecting Buskila and the residents of his town: Due to the short flight time of Qassam rockets fired at Sderot from, say, Beit Hanun in the Gaza Strip, Iron Dome will have difficulty intercepting them.
There is general agreement - which the people at Rafael don't dispute - that the system is designed for rockets with a range of more than 4.5 kilometers. And the distance from the outskirts of Beit Hanun to Sderot is less than 4 kilometers. Perhaps this assessment is mistaken. But my requests to the defense establishment for details of the rocket ranges against which Iron Dome was deployed in the latest tests were not answered.
Another issue that raises questions about Iron Dome's ability to solve the problem of Hamas and Hezbollah rockets is the system's high cost. In an interview yesterday with the CBN News website, Drucker acknowledged that the price of one Iron Dome missile comes to $100,000. Since the cost of a Qassam is just a few dollars, it is clear that from an economic standpoint, the mere accumulation of several thousand rockets by Hamas will be enough to defeat Israel.
In the north, the situation is even more acute, since Hezbollah already has about 50,000 rockets. Thus after several interception attempts, the stockpile of Iron Dome missiles is liable to run out, while the other side will be able to continue shooting thousands of rockets.
The defense establishment's contention that Iron Dome will only intercept rockets aimed at populated areas, thereby saving many Iron Dome missiles, is also problematic. First of all, to calculate the rocket's trajectory and decide whether it will fall in a populated area takes time. Even if the time involved is relatively short, this will expand the minimum range of the rockets the system can intercept.
Another problem stems from the possibility of improvements in the rockets' accuracy. Uzi Rubin, who headed the Defense Ministry program that developed the Arrow anti-missile system, contends that the Iranians have already managed to make their rockets accurate to within a few meters through simple and inexpensive means. If the Iranians transfer this technology to Hamas and Hezbollah, the entire subject of selective fire will become irrelevant, since all the rockets will be aimed at populated areas.
While elation at this technological achievement is justified, we must remember that Iron Dome does not provide a solution to "all the threats." Far from it. And those who attempt to present it that way are both doing an injustice to the truth and deceiving the people who rely on them for their safety.
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