The success of the Iron Dome missile defense system so far - nine interceptions including the system's first one on Thursday night - has surprised even the air defense troops who have been training to operate the device for several months. Two batteries have been deployed thus far, one north of Be'er Sheva two weeks ago and one near Ashkelon last week.

While most of the media attention has been given to the visible interceptions made over Gaza, the system actually clicks into action automatically when any projectile is launched from Gaza toward Israel. The commanders of the Iron Dome batteries were therefore faced with making dozens of real-time decisions on whether or not to fire an intercepting missile.

In the future, many of these decision will be made by the system's computers, but because the Iron Dome is currently in "experimental" mode, most of the decisions must be made by the operators themselves.

In the future, once the defense system's capabilities are better known, rockets heading toward open spaces in unpopulated areas will not necessarily be intercepted.

Israel Air Force Commander Maj. Gen. Ido Nechushtan visited the Iron Dome battery in Ashkelon over the weekend, saying afterward that "we have started on the right foot with some successful interceptions. But this is only the beginning, and things must be kept in perspective." Nevertheless, he said the system has made "world history."

Hundreds of Ashkelon and Be'er Sheva residents arrived at the Iron Dome batteries over the weekend to express their gratitude to the troops.

Although in the future the batteries will be moved to other areas in the south and north of the country, they are currently expected to stay where they are until the situation on the southern front calms down. Their deployment in the south was spurred by the government amid ongoing political pressure, especially from regional council leaders in the south.