With the outbreak of the second intifada in late 2000, the threat of indirect fire weapons in the hands of terrorist organizations increased. Between 2001 and 2006, 4,584 mortars and 1,914 Qassam rockets landed in Israel, all fired from the Gaza Strip. Even after the Israel Defense Forces withdrew from the Gaza Strip in September 2005, the Qassam rocket attacks continued, and in 2006, 1,025 rockets were fired against the towns of the northern Negev.
The state comptroller, who last week published a report entitled "The response to indirect fire from the Gaza Strip," concluded that in spite of the seriousness of the Qassam threat, the IDF did not really prepare to counter it. "Only in October 2004, some three years after the Qassam threat began to manifest itself ... did then-chief of staff Moshe Ya'alon appoint his deputy, Major General Dan Halutz, to head an inter-divisional task force to examine how to deal with the Qassam threat." However, this task force only served to emphasize the lack of seriousness in the army's approach. "In the evaluation, we found shortcomings in the work methods of the IDF staff ... stemming from a lack of the big picture, and due to their lack of integrative handling of the indirect fire," he wrote.
But have no fear: the defense establishment is never at a standstill. In February 2007, Defense Minister Amir Peretz declared he had selected a defense system to intercept Qassam and Katyusha rockets. "This system has enormous significance," Peretz said. "It is unfortunate that no investment in it was made in past years." The defense minister was referring to the Iron Dome defense system developed by Rafael. Deputy Defense Minister Ephraim Sneh went further: "I believe that the residents of Israel will have complete protection," he said.
And thus, once more, politicians, senior officers and engineers are joining forces to throw sand in our eyes. Just like Shimon Peres made an empty promise to the residents of Kiryat Shmona more than a decade ago, now Peretz is promising the residents of Sderot something he cannot deliver.
The Iron Dome system is based on a missile that intercepts Qassam rockets. The problem is that the technological obstacles facing such a system are tremendous, and it is doubtful whether they could be overcome at a reasonable cost. In about 20 seconds, the flight time of a Qassam, the system needs to identify the launch, track the rocket's trajectory, feed the data to the intercepting missile and then launch it. According to Rafael, the development cost of the system is estimated at NIS 1 billion, and the work will last at least 30 months. Lessons from past development of advanced systems suggest that in every case, the development costs were much higher than the original estimates.
But even if Rafael does not exceed the cost and development schedule, the fundamental concept of Iron Dome is unrealistic. The cost of an intercepting missile is supposed to be about $100,000, while the cost of a single Qassam is a handful of dollars. The Palestinians' victory will lie in the continued production of Qassam rockets, leading Israel to produce more and more missiles for Iron Dome. The Palestinians will therefore force us to invest hundreds of millions of shekels in missiles whose use is uncertain. The decision to invest such sums in developing a defense system against metal pipes manufactured in backyard workshops is therefore, at best, problematic.
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