Where Have All the Gaza Rockets Gone?

If only 10 percent of the rockets fired from Gaza were intercepted by the Iron Dome system, where did the nearly 430 rockets that apparently fell nowhere vanish?

Uzi Rubin
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Uzi Rubin

About two weeks ago Reuven Pedatzur informed us that an American Jewish scientist, Prof. Ted Postol of the very prestigious Massachusetts Institute of Technology, investigated and found that Iron Dome is apparently a dome of illusions, an ineffective weapon that succeeded in intercepting only 5 percent to 10 percent of the rockets fired into Israel during Operation Pillar of Defense ‏(“How many rockets has Iron Dome really intercepted?”, March 9‏). If indeed this sensational statement is correct, as the writer implies ‏(and as the international media hastened to cite‏), ostensibly the citizens of Israel have fallen victim to a sophisticated deception by the defense establishment, which reported that more than 80 percent of the rockets aimed at built-up areas were intercepted and destroyed in the air.

This grave finding merits serious discussion. First and foremost the question arises: If only 10 percent of the rockets were intercepted, where did the rest of them go? The numbers here are not trivial. In a rare case of agreement between Israel and Hamas, the two sides published nearly identical numbers as to how many rockets were fired from Gaza into Israel during the course of Pillar of Defense: 1,506 rockets according to Israel and 1,569 according to Hamas. Going by past experience, it is almost certain that between a quarter and a third of the rockets landed or were about to land in population centers. And indeed, according to Defense Ministry figures, about 480 rockets were about to fall in built-up areas.

If only 10 percent of them were intercepted, where did the nearly 430 rockets that apparently fell nowhere, at least not in one piece, vanish? Both Pedatzur and Prof. Postol ignore this paradox. A cursory look at a draft of Prof. Postol’s article, which came into the hands of the writer of these lines, shows that it bears no resemblance to real scientific research. Postol − a veteran opponent of the doctrine of anti-missile defense − made a series of mistaken assumptions concerning the Tamir interception missile in the Iron Dome system, which effectively created a crippled missile with inferior performance which is not even a shadow of the real missile. Without asking himself why Israel would invest at all in the development of such a crippled missile, he turned to videos filmed by civilians on their smartphones, which show Tamir interceptor smoke trails jagged from high altitude winds, in which it is impossible to see the intercepted rockets.

From this half-blind sky picture, taken together with the poor performance of the interceptor he invented for the sake of this argument, Postol arrived at a gut feeling that no more than 5 percent or 10 percent of the missiles indeed destroyed the rockets that were fired. According to what he himself says, this is no more than a guess based on incomplete information but this is not preventing him from explicitly accusing Israel of a prolonged fraud. In the peroration of his “research” he calls upon the governments of Israel and the United States to no longer support the Iron Dome system.

As any sensible person could assume, the Iron Dome development teams have been constantly involved in deciphering its interceptions ever since the system first became operational, in April of 2011. Each interception is studied and reconstructed over and over again with the help of the complete and detailed sky picture received from the myriad sophisticated sensors that observe and document every battle. The results are compared to ground mapping of the landings of warheads and fragments of rockets. The rocket battles, successful or not, during Pillar of Defense have been fully reconstructed and analyzed, interception after interception, and the results are unambiguous: The success rate matches the defense establishment statements.

As noted, Prof. Postol is a veteran opponent of antimissile defense, who acquired his reputation by having been the first to have revealed that the performance of the Patriot system during the Gulf War was very far below the result the ground army of the United States ‏(mistakenly‏) published at the time. Almost certainly, had he not revealed this it would have been discovered anyway after a while, since all the missiles that were intercepted, both in Israel and in Saudi Arabia, were documented and filmed when they hit the ground. Since then Postol has been publishing many studies that cast doubt on the ability of anti-missile systems to do what they are supposed to do. These studies, the most recent of which “proved” that most of the tests of the American naval interception system did not succeed, constitute a focus of debate in the technical community and are not accepted as reliable by many of its members.

Thus far Prof. Postol has dealt with the American interception systems. Possibly the timing of his move to the Iron Dome system, on the eve of United States President Barack Obama’s visit to Israel, is not by chance. In any case, in the peroration of his article, Postol notes that he supports Israel’s right to self-defense. Iron Dome is today the pillar of the defense of Israel’s cities and their inhabitants against the increasing threat of rockets from Gaza and Lebanon. Anyone who purports to recognize Israel’s right to self-defense would do well to support reinforcement of the country’s anti-missile defense system instead of trying to undermine it with the help of supposedly “scientific” studies.

The author is former head of the Homa administration for anti-missile defense at the Ministry of Defense.

Soldiers arming an Iron Dome battery.Credit: Hadar Cohen

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