Operation Pillar of Defense finally proved that it is possible to intercept rockets in-flight and accurately hit their warheads. It also proved that it is possible to provide good protection to cities and towns in Israel against the terror of rockets from Gaza, and that it can be done by Jewish genius with blue and white technology.
According to the defense minister, in the lead-up to the cease-fire the Iron Dome anti-missile defense system – developed by the Defense Ministry – destroyed more than 400 rockets. As a result, only 70 hits in urban areas – an 85 percent success rate. No less impressive is the statistic that only 500 Tamir interceptor missiles were launched. This means that Iron Dome's achievement was reached in an incredibly cost-effective way, since in most cases, only one intercept was needed to destroy a Grad or Fajr rocket inflight. The United States' Patriot system's missiles are several times more expensive than Iron Dome's interceptor missiles and it routinely fires two missiles per target.
The objections mounted against Iron Dome while it was in development are known, and there is no point dwelling on them. Many of those who opposed the system have admitted they were wrong. Others, however, continue to stubbornly insist that Iron Dome isn't the right solution to the rocket problem, offering instead the mythological laser solution over and over again. In doing so, they are misleading – and mistaken.
Advocates of a laser-based defense system have two main arguments: First, that the decision to use Iron Dome was biased and mistaken. Second, that in their opinion it is possible to "repair the damage," and equip ourselves with the American laser system that is just waiting for us on the shelves.
As to the first argument, the Defense Ministry, like every other government ministry, makes good decisions and bad decisions. Today there is no doubt that the decision to use Iron Dome was one of the best it has ever made, especially from the perspective of the freedom of action provided by technological independence versus the limiting dependence involved in purchasing foreign systems.
Iron Dome was first deployed in April 2011 and was an immediate success. It was tested in repeated rounds of escalation and was improved from round to round, nearly in real time, by engineers who developed it side by side with soldiers from the Israeli Air Force. The most difficult technological and logistical operation of them all was probably placing the emergency Iron Dome battery in Tel Aviv, which provided protection to the city a mere hour and a half after it was positioned. It is hard to imagine that a system developed overseas, made using technology we don’t possess and whose engineers live in Los Angeles, would provide an immediate response to this emerging threat.
The time scale and cost of equipping ourselves with a laser cannon isn’t exactly a steal. The low cost of firing the laser obscures the high cost of the cannon itself, and many of the tempting promises from foreign companies to provide systems at fixed prices and with fast schedules have been shown to be sorely lacking in reality , as this author can say from experience.
The second argument – that it is still possible to equip ourselves with the "Skyguard" laser system – is simply unrealistic. After the Defense Ministry made the decision in 2007 to favor Iron Dome, another client was not found for this project, not even in the United States, whose army to this day is subject to rocket attacks in Afghanistan.
The Northrop Grumman Corporation, which offered to produce the system, closed the project, shelved the blueprints, retired the project manager and directed the teams of engineers towards other tasks. Its commitment from 2007 to develop a system for Israel within a year or two, no longer holds any value. The U.S. Army Ground Forces stopped all technological support for "Skyguard," and the U.S. Air Force closed its airborne laser project and sent the only (not so successful) prototype to a museum. The resurrection of the Skyguard project is about as realistic as the resurrection of the Palmach.
Iron Dome was, and is, the best answer to the threat of rockets from Gaza and Lebanon. It's true that like other systems, it isn't a perfect solution. It allows a certain number of rockets to penetrate, and there are also other threats such as mortars, which require additional solutions. I have no doubt that the Jewish genius will find blue and white solutions for these problems too. Let's face the fact that we are the world leaders in the field of missile defense, and stop searching for miracle cures from foreign countries.
The writer was the head of "Homa" missile defense system at Defense Ministry.