Iron Dome Success Excites, but Army Balks at the Bill

The U.S. Congress passed Obama's initiative to provide Israel with a $205 million grant to procure Iron Dome batteries, but defense experts say more funding is needed.

A day after the last test trials for the Iron Dome rocket intercept system, the defense establishment reactions are mixed. Great satisfaction at the tremendous progress made by the engineers of Rafael is tempered by economic concerns.

An illustration of the Iron Dome anti-missile defense system
Rafael Advanced Defense Systems LTD.

An observer who watched Monday's test and has no active role in the defense establishment said the test was "amazing."

Iron Dome, he said, when "faced with a volley of Grad-type Katyushas, fires a counter-volley and the interceptors are required to select and intercept specific Grads in this flying pack. It looked impossible, but they did the impossible," he said. "Every missile picked the specific Grad it was asked to select and destroyed it. There's no doubt this is historic."

Later a rocket was fired in place of a Qassam. "According to the choir of those deriding Iron Dome, it should not have had sufficient time to intercept a short-range rocket." He said the interceptor had more than enough time to destroy it. "The Rafael people were also shocked by the performance. We also saw the radar made by ELTA. Its sensor, its command and control capabilities - just amazing. By comparison, the Arrow looks like technology from a previous century." The question now, he said, is "whether the politicians will turn the achievement into defense for the people of Israel?"

Congressional funding

The U.S. Congress passed last week the Obama administration's initiative to provide Israel with a $205 million grant to procure Iron Dome batteries. To date, the Defense Ministry has bought two batteries. Several months ago, the ministry's top brass estimated the sum the Americans allotted would be sufficient for procuring eight or nine batteries, half of what is necessary to protect the Negev and the Galilee from short- and intermediate-range rockets and missiles.

The defense establishment is still weighing the balance between the number of radars for the systems to the number of intercept missiles necessary. Different estimates suggest that each intercept missile will cost $40,000.

The Israel Defense Forces insists it should not have to pay for procurement from its budget, and that alternative sources of funding are required.

Deputy Chief of Staff Benny Gantz, who observed the trials Monday, was impressed with the system's capability, but was doubtful this would alter the army's view on funding.

A French magazine had reported that Singapore is participating in funding the project to be able to procure it at a lower cost in the future.

If the success of the system is as accurate as the excited descriptions of its performance, the system may draw the attention of other countries and provide a source for funding Israel's batteries.