Iron Dome rocket-defense system - Defense Ministry
Test of the Iron Dome rocket-defense system on Monday July 19, 2010. The military said the test was highly successful. Photo by Defense Ministry
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A Grad missile fired from Gaza takes two minutes to cover the 40 kilometers to Be'er Sheva. That is more than enough time for the Iron Dome missile defense system to intercept and destroy it. In fact, Iron Dome can respond and destroy a missile in 25 seconds. If an Iron Dome battery were deployed in Be'er Sheva it could protect the 40-square-kilometer city.

For many months now, the Israel Air Force has had at its disposal one Iron Dome battery, developed by Rafael Advanced Defense Systems. But for some very strange reason, the Israel Defense Forces refuses to deploy it to intercept the missiles that have been launched over the past few weeks, or before this, from the Gaza Strip. Could there be a better real-life testing ground than intercepting a Grad in real time, instead of having to use "enemy simulation" missiles at the testing ground in Makhtesh Ramon?

The success of Iron Dome in intercepting a real Grad could have tremendous significance psychologically and in terms of morale. It would encourage the home front and strike a blow at morale among Hamas and Islamic Jihad. It would also compromise their security concept, according to which it is easy to hit Israel's civilian population, which has no protection against such strikes.

There can only be three explanations for this despicable conduct. One, IDF commanders and senior officials in the defense establishment - first and foremost among them Defense Minister Ehud Barak - are indifferent to the distress of the people in the south, who have suffered repeatedly from mortar and rocket attacks. Two, the IDF is afraid of a failure in intercepting a missile, which would publicly reveal the inadequacy of Iron Dome, which developers have boasted repeatedly is the best system of its kind in the world and has demonstrated remarkable success in testing.

The third, even more cynical, possibility is that Iron Dome has not been deployed because of the fear that it will be shown to have limited capabilities, which would not allow it to be sold abroad. According to reports in foreign publications over the past year, Israel is negotiating to sell the Iron Dome to Brazil, Singapore and India.

Lacking the stamp of "battle-proven" - the hallmark of Israel's security industries - Iron Dome cannot be exported. If these assumptions are true, then it is doubtful whether Iron Dome will ever be deployed. It was the GOC Northern Command which said several months ago that the IDF has no plans to use the system to protect the civilian population and that it would only be used to protect strategic sites and army bases. But neither is the IDF protecting those strategic sites, like the Ashkelon power station, with Iron Dome.

The Iron Dome project was born in sin. The IDF, and particularly the IAF, did not want it or any other missile protection system. Israel's security concept never believed in actively defended of the home front. They had to agree to develop the system as an outcome of the Second Lebanon War and public opinion and because of pressure from the "civilian" defense minister at the time, Amir Peretz. The decision to have Rafael develop the project was seen as compensation for having denied it the right to participate in the last lucrative project - the Arrow missile, developed to protect Israel from Iranian Scuds and Shihab missiles.

The public was promised at the outset that Iron Dome was intended to protect the civilian population. That was the justification for transferring a fat budget of NIS 1 billion to Rafael. The promise has proven to be hollow. Since that time, in fact, the Israeli government and the IDF have continued to lie shamelessly. Iron Dome does not protect the home front. It cannot, as promised, intercept mortars and rockets of a range of up to about seven kilometers, and now, it has also not been used for Grad rockets - a 122 Katyusha - that have been fired at Ashdod and Be'er Sheva.

There were and are means of protecting the inhabitants of the south. Less expensive systems can be installed, like the Vulcan Phalanx cannons that have been effectively used in Iraq and Afghanistan. Alternatively, a chemical laser cannon could be developed. These systems are no substitute for Iron Dome, but they can complement it. The governments of Israel, however, continue to act with shameless contempt toward the people who elected them. They do not purchase the cannons, they do not order the development of the laser cannon, they hide Iron Dome in warehouses or testing grounds, and they abandon the civilian population.