What Is The Iron Dome? Israel's High-Tech Rocket Shield

The 'Iron Dome' in action on November 15, 2012, during the second day of the military operation. Image credit: makarenko7/Shutterstock.com

Violence between the Occupied Palestinian Territory and Israel is threatening to spiral out of control into a full-scale war with at least 83 people killed in Gaza, including over a dozen children, and seven people dying in Israel, as of Wednesday, May 13. 

As the crisis continues to deepen, the Israeli Defence Forces (IDF) are continuing to rely on the so-called Iron Dome, an air defense system that’s being used to intercept and neutralize the back and forth of rockets being fired by the militant group Hamas from West Bank and Gaza into Israel. Videos posted on social media show this piece of military technology in action, appearing to show streaks of missiles cruising into the air before stopping mid-flight in a flash. 

The idea of such an air defense system was given a boost in 2006 following a bloody conflict between Israel and Hezbollah, a Shia Islamist militant group based in neighboring Lebanon. After several years of development and discussion, the Iron Dome was declared operational in 2011 and the system successfully intercepted a rocket launched from Gaza for the first time on April 7, 2011.

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The air defense system was developed by the Israeli firms Rafael Advanced Defense Systems and Israel Aerospace Industries. The system cost somewhere in the ballpark of $210 million when it was built. While developed solely using Israeli funds, the project has received some financial backing from the US

In simplest terms, the system uses interceptor missiles to detonate the incoming rocket in the air. This process starts with a tracking and radar system that monitors the skies for any incoming object. Within seconds, advanced algorithms quickly work to identify the missile, then calculate the speed and trajectory of the rocket. The system will then promptly launch an interception missile that races towards the offending missile, causing it to detonate mid-air with minimal damage on the ground.

The system is surprisingly effective. According to Rafael, the system blocks over 90 percent of rockets, mortars, artillery shells with a range of about 7 to 70 kilometers (4.3 to 43 miles). It’s also capable of working day or night regardless of the weather conditions. 

Iron Dome.
Ashkelon, April 14, 2011: Israeli soldiers guarding a deployed Iron Dome air defense system. Image credit: ChameleonsEye/Shutterstock.com

The Israeli Defence Force currently has 10 Air Dome batteries, each armed with three launchers for 20 interceptor missiles. Israel also uses another air defense system for medium- to long-range rockets and cruise missiles known as David’s Sling, named after the biblical story of David and Goliath. 

The Iron Dome has already shaped the ongoing crisis between the Occupied Palestinian Territory and Israel. As per the Times, Hamas has attempted to overwhelm the missile defense system and pierce the shield by firing an unprecedented volume of rockets. The majority of these rockets have been successfully blocked, but it's worth remembering that around 10 percent of the missiles will slip through the net.

While the Iron Dome system has undoubtedly saved lives over the past decade or so, some critics argue that it fundamentally serves to prolong the conflict and could result in more fatalities on both sides in the long run. 

“Over time, Iron Dome may do them more harm than good,” Yoav Fromer, an Israeli political scientist, wrote in an Op-Ed for The Washington Post in 2014. “The Netanyahu government is not exactly brimming with creative ideas to reignite the peace process with the Palestinians. And with Iron Dome, why would it?”

"As long as the Israeli public believes it is safe, for now, under the soothing embrace of technology, it will not demand that its political leaders wage diplomacy to end violence that mandated Iron Dome in the first place," he added. 


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