Tests of the "Iron Dome" system to intercept short-range rockets ended on Monday. The Defense Ministry timed the announcement to coincide with the evening television newscasts, and it was indeed an impressive display: From one side an attacking Qassam or Katyusha rocket sailed in, and from the other side, a defensive projectile shot out, smashed the attacker and scattered the debris so that it would not hit the intended military or civilian target. The tests, according to the official announcement, also demonstrated a capability of intercepting salvos of rockets.
In itself, this is a positive development: Some defensive capability is better than total helplessness. Israel was slow to comprehend the potential for damage of rockets fired from Lebanon and Gaza. It belittled the impact of what Ariel Sharon's bureau chief called "flying objects."
The result of this disregard was evident in the eight years of deadly harassment of the Negev, which ultimately drew the Israel Defense Forces into a big operation in Gaza, and in the month-long rain of ordnance on Israel from Lebanon four years ago.
In developing "Iron Dome" and the system that is supposed to function one aerial floor above it, "Magic Wand," Israeli governments acknowledged that they had been mistaken in setting priorities and earmarking resources for the defense establishment. But this was only a grudging admission. Despite the completion of development and the announcement that the system is operational, there is still no intention to deploy the first two batteries, which will be ready in the fall, to protect Sderot and other communities in the south.
If the IDF's operation a year and a half ago, which began in Hanukkah 2008, was code-named "Cast Lead" because of its coincidence with the holiday, it seems the plan not to deploy the batteries deserves the code name "Hanukkah Candles." The launchers, rockets, radar and command vehicles of "Iron Dome" will evidently be for show, not for use.
This decision is baffling. It broadcasts doubt within both the government and the IDF that "Iron Dome" can actually move from television to the gritty reality of clashes with Hezbollah, Hamas and Islamic Jihad. It upsets residents of the south and could also puzzle Washington, which contributed more than $200 million to the program.
It is unclear whether the Katyusha and Qassam launchers who watched the test footage believed what they saw. But it is now fairly clear that those who are supposed to equip themselves with "Iron Dome" and deploy it still do not believe in it.
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