Kill the Rockets: How Effective is Israel’s Iron Dome?

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Earlier this month, Israel’s Iron Dome missile/rocket defense system intercepted a rocket above the coastal city of Ashkelon. Launched by Palestinian militants, the projectile was the first fired at the Jewish state from the Gaza Strip since April.

The Iron Dome has been a staple of Israel’s air defenses for more than a decade. With a 90% success rate, the Dome’s ability to take out short-range projectiles launched from the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip has been a key asset for the Israel Defense Forces. Watching the Dome in action is truly remarkable – videos describing his interception system at work have been widely circulated. In March, the United States House of Representatives approved $1 billion in funding for Iron Dome interceptor missiles.

Innovate to save lives

Israel’s need for advanced missile defense system emerged in 2006, when the Lebanon-based, Iran-backed Hezbollah group launched thousands of rockets into the Jewish state. Dozens of Israelis died and mass evacuations followed, forcing the government to prioritize the introduction of a system capable of effectively protecting its airspace. The Iron Dome was deployed in 2011, and that same year it intercepted a rocket launched from Gaza for the first time.

The system was designed by Rafael Advanced Defense Systems and Israel Aerospace Industries to intercept and eliminate short-range projectiles launched at ranges ranging from 2.5 miles to 90 miles. The Dome is crew with a radar that can locate incoming rockets, a command and control system that determines the level of threat, and an interceptor that can destroy the weapon before it hits. The Iron Dome relies on the high-resolution EL/M-2084 Active Electronically Scanned Array radar to detect incoming rockets and missiles. Once a projectile is detected and deemed a threat, one or more interceptors are launched to combat it.

The Dome has undoubtedly saved countless Israeli lives over the years. In the last May 2021 Hamas-Israel conflict, the Dome successfully foiled more than 90% of the 4,000 rocket barrages targeting civilian areas in Israel. Without its state-of-the-art air defense, Israel would witness many more civilian casualties, forcing the IDF to impose harsher retaliatory measures, ultimately leading to more deaths.

Not a perfect system

While the Iron Dome is the mainstay of the Israel Defense Forces’ air defense program, it also has its drawbacks. Each interceptor costs between $20,000 and $100,000, depending Forbes. Given that Gaza-based militants typically launch hundreds or even thousands of projectiles during prolonged periods of conflict, this could add up to a very expensive form of defense. Additionally, the Dome is not immune to swarm tactics. Militants began to figure out how to overwhelm the defense system by launching saturated strikes at shorter distances.

The Iron Dome is not a perfect system, but it is an essential part of IDF defense protocol. In May, Israel’s Defense Ministry announced the successful launch of its laser missile defense system. Once officially unveiled, the “Iron Beam” will bolster Israel’s already robust air defense capabilities.

Maya Carlin is a Middle East Defense Editor at 19FortyFive. She is also an analyst at the Center for Security Policy and a former Anna Sobol Levy Fellow at IDC Herzliya in Israel. She has lines in numerous publications, including The National Interest, Jerusalem Post and Times of Israel.

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