The Porous Shield of Israel's Iron Dome

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The Iron Dome anti-missile defense system has been making an impressive appearance since Operation Pillar of Defense began on Wednesday, intercepting more than 300 rockets so far, but it has also been raising concerns over the damage caused by shrapnel of interceptor missiles.

Residents in the south of Israel have said their homes are not only being hit by remains of Qassam and Grad rockets, but also by the shrapnel of the Iron Dome's Tamir interceptor missiles. On Saturday, there was a fault in the interception in the Ashdod area, during which the interceptor missile emerged from the launcher and landed next to the battery, near a residential area. On Sunday, shrapnel from one of the successful interceptions in the Tel Aviv area burned down a car in Holon. One Eshkol Regional Council resident said the explosive part of one of the interceptor missiles landed in his yard. Other residents reported that the shrapnel itself damaged the windows of cars and houses. These citizens are eligible for state compensation similar to that paid after enemy rockets hit, once their requests are examined and approved by property tax officials.

Israel Air Force officials explain that while launching Tamir missiles, the Iron Dome system calculates a "destruction area" where its missiles can land after interception. "It's a 'cemetery' for missiles that have completed their mission – they fly to open areas and self-destruct," said Major Itamar Abu, commander of an Iron Dome battery stationed near Tel Aviv. That battery, like all others, launches two missiles at each rocket, in order to ensure it "seriously" harms the rocket, explains Abu. "There are two possibilities," he adds, "either the rocket reaches its target and causes great damage, or the shrapnel from the interceptor missiles, which aren't very large, fall and cause limited damage. Whoever stays in a secure space will remain protected," he says. Since the target does not "evaporate in midair," says Abu, the shrapnel is part and parcel of the interception process.

The deployment of Iron Dome batteries in Tel Aviv is more complex since it is a densely populated area, with barely any open spaces. According to a report in the last issue of the IDF journal Bamahane, published after Operation Pillar of Defense was launched, the IAF decided that all rockets fired toward the Tel Aviv area would be intercepted, even if the Iron Dome battery's computer determines it was headed for an open space.

Operating an anti-missile defense system in a dense aerial space is dangerous and requires special attention. Flights heading for Ben Gurion Airport have already altered their routes, and now fly over northern Tel Aviv in order to allow the Iron Dome battery to operate in the southern part of the city. Abu insists that this rerouting is "unavoidable if we wish to allow for the large space necessary for interception." Yossi Druker, one of the Iron Dome's developers, told Haaretz that in recent days there is "a top priority for the safety of planes taking off and landing at Ben Gurion International Airport," emphasizing that "No missile has yet endangered a civilian flight."

Israel's Home Front Command has instructed the public to remain inside safe spaces for ten minutes after a Code Red missile alert, in order to be protected from the shrapnel of both incoming rockets and interceptor missiles. "We are aware that people have been leaving the secure spaces as soon as the alert stops sounding, but because of these events, we decided that residents should remain in the secure spaces for ten minutes. That will provide optimal protection," said one Home Front Command official. The official added that when an alert is sounded and people remain inside secure spaces, they should not be at risk of being hurt by shrapnel, so long as all windows are closed. He also clarified that rooms designated as safe spaces should in any case be those with the fewest windows.

Shrapnel from a rocket that hit a plant in Ashkelon.Credit: Ofer Vaknin
Shrapnel damage to a wall from a rocket strike in Netivot. Credit: Eliahu Hershkovitz

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