School in Ashkelon Itai Levi / Jini
A school in Ashkelon, after being hit by a grad rocket in February 2009. Photo by Itai Levi / Jini
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The last few months have seen an increase in the number of Qassam rockets, mortar shells and Grad missiles fired at Israel from Gaza, according to a recent report by the Shin Bet security service. Yet the army and air force stubbornly refuse to activate the Iron Dome missile intercept system, which is supposed to protect Israeli towns near the Gaza border. A 12-barrel launcher successfully tested by the army months ago currently sits unused at an air force base in the south.

Dr. Nathan Farber, former head scientist of the missile division at Israel Military Industries, along with other experts, has said that deployment of the Iron Dome system would provide an excellent opportunity to test it under battle conditions, against real enemy rockets.

The army's insistent refusal to use the system has surprised many. It may be indicative of the possibility that the army has no intention to use the battery at all, or even just for the purpose for which it was developed: to defend Sderot and other southern towns.

Yossi Drucker, the project manager at Rafael Advanced Defense Systems, may offer some clues as to the nature of the enormous bluff by the security establishment regarding Iron Dome's deployment.

Drucker has said that each intercept missile costs $100,000. It is as clear as day that there is no logic in spending the amount of money equal to the cost of a one-room Tel Aviv apartment to "kill" Qassams and Katyushas that cost a few hundred dollars each.

Drucker made the comment about three months ago in an interview at the television station of the American evangelical preacher and Israel supporter Pat Robertson. Rafael spokesman Amit Zimmer has refused to respond to Drucker's remarks.

The story of the Iron Dome initiative is an accurate reflection of the faulty decision-making process in the Israeli government, which features a bunch of bureaucrats in the defense ministry and in the military's weapons industry working secretly, without supervision, misleading the public and sometimes even government ministers. They are able to do this under the wing of army censorship, preventing a genuine, honest public debate - all in the name of national security.

The project was born in sin. For years, the defense ministry, the army and the air force refused to develop a missile-intercept system, saying that it would be a waste of money and that it preferred to invest in offensive systems, in particular airplanes and missiles.

Only after the Second Lebanon War in 2006, during which Hezbollah launched 4,000 rockets and missiles at Israel, did public pressure grow for the quick development or acquisition of an intercept system. Amir Peretz, the defense minister at the time, was the one who managed to insist and overcome the opposition of bureaucrats and army officers.

The decision to hand over the development of Iron Dome to Rafael was intended to compensate the company for its exclusion from an earlier and larger intercept project - the Arrow - which had been awarded a decade an half before to Israel Aircraft Industries.

One way or another, the Iron Dome initiative was started even before the government approved it. According to the state comptroller's report, Brig. Gen. Dan Gold (until a year ago the head of the weapons research and development administration ), decided on his own to fund the project, without the knowledge of the defense minister or the government.

At the same time, according to a French publication, Rafael secretly approached Singapore and persuaded the country to share the costs of development or promise to buy the system. This information was withheld from the public.

Rafael is currently involved in talking to sell the system to India, the U.S. and other countries. The involvement of Singapore and other nations in the project raises an important question. Perhaps the system was intended from the beginning as a moneymaker for Rafael, and not a defense project for Israel?

In interviews with Haaretz four years ago, Farber said that the assumption that the system is designed to protect the south is wrong. In hindsight, it seems he is right.

While Iron Dome was being developed, sources at Rafael admitted that the system would not be capable of intercepting short-range (four-and-a-half kilometer ) mortar fire and Qassams with 25 to 30 second launch-to-impact time spans.

On the basis of this announcement, the Israeli government decided to build shelters for residents in the south who live within 4.5 kilometers of Gaza.

However, the problem is not distance, but time. In half a minute, a Grad rocket can cover 12 to 13 kilometers over flat ground.

This has already occurred: a Grad rocket shot from Beit Lahia hit a shopping mall in Ashkelon. This means that Iron Dome can't intercept Qassam and Grads at all and shelters are needed for people living within 13 kilometers of the border with Gaza. Though Rafael engineers developed the Iron Dome with proper speed, the south was still exposed to Hamas rocket fire until after the campaign in Gaza at the end of 2008.

Suggestions for an intermediate solution until Iron Dome was ready, including cheaper and more accessible systems such as the Vulcan Phalanx, which has proved its ability to intercept missiles in Iraq and Afghanistan, or restarting the development of a laser canon, were rejected by defense ministry bureaucrats with lies.

There are suspicions that this was done out of the concern that the Vulcan and laser could actually work and their success would have torpedoed Iron Dome.

And here the story ends. In 2010, Rafael partially fulfilled its mission in record time. It developed a model which is stored at a southern Israel air force base, and a few more launchers at other bases. But the army refuses to deploy them to protect the home front.

GOC Northern Command Gadi Eizenkot recently made this point clear as day, stating that Iron Dome is not meant to defend civilians, but only army bases. In other words, an army general has admitted that everything that has been said to the public about the purpose of the billion shekel investment in the Iron Dome project to improve public security is one big lie.

The behavior of the army and the defense system in this affair is shamelessly cynical, proof of the contempt of bureaucrats and decision-makers for the public and its money, and who have the feeling that they can make fools of the public without being asked to give explanations and without taking responsibility for their actions.