With tensions heating up between Israel and Palestine in the much disputed Gaza strip this week, Americans are racing to get caught up on the latest air strikes and rocket attacks, and to fill in the gaps of Israeli-Palestinian relations since the last time tensions erupted into war in 2012. As Palestine and Israel trade strikes and militant groups on either side swap attacks on either side’s civilians, many are wondering about the seemingly impenetrable defense system Israel has built around its air space, called the “Iron Dome.” The system has served to intercept and destroy numerous rockets from Palestine since the week-long war in 2012, but its use in the new conflict has many wondering what exactly it is and how it works.
The Iron Dome, a name given to the Israeli system of interceptor missiles which work to strike down any incoming attacks over a certain radius of air space near the Gaza Strip, is not a new concept. The idea was originally brought to the table in 1998 during Israel’s first major conflict with the Lebanese based Hezbollah. At the time, the idea was thought to be impractical, and funding was rejected. In another rash of attacks from Lebanon in 2006, the project was brought back to the table and this time received a green light and financial backing from the United States. At the time it was thought that Israeli cities’ lack of appropriate bomb shelters made the country a good candidate for developing such technology.
The project began in earnest in 2007 with Haifa-based Rafael Advanced Defense Systems picking up the project. The technology seems simple enough. A series of radar-based medium-range missile batteries are set on or near certain areas the Israeli Defense Forces feel are targets, and when a rocket comes within range of these targets, the batteries are deployed and can reach as high and as far as 45 miles to intercept and disarm its target in mid-air. In 2011, the first Iron Dome batteries were installed outside of the southern Israeli city of Beersheva. There are now three more Iron Dome batteries near the cities of Ashkelon, Tel Aviv, and Jerusalem, but the missile launchers are portable, and can be moved quickly if an enemy decides to strike a lesser-known area.
In 2012, the Iron Dome got its first real-life testing in the form of Israel’s week-long conflict, what is also considered a short war, with Palestine, wherein over 250 rockets were fired out of Gaza, and 56 of the 71 which seemed to be heading towards populated areas were intercepted and destroyed by Iron Dome batteries. Israel counted it a success, with 85 percent of the rockets being intercepted before causing any damage on the ground.
The current rash of rockets coming from Hamas forces in Gaza is seeing the Iron Dome batteries able to reach even farther to intercept rockets, as newer models of the missiles are clocking up to 70 miles in range, and while the original stock of interceptor missiles was said to be about 250, it looks as though Israel will not run out of them any time soon, despite having already deployed 53 missiles in the conflict so far. Israel has said its technology has evolved with Hamas’ ability to attain more sophisticated and long-range rockets itself, and seems to have been put in place just in the nick of time. Even more systems like Iron Dome will be coming out of Isreal in the future, say defense representatives. A similar program with even longer-range missiles, tentatively called David’s Sling is in development, aimed at creating arms which could intercept rockets from as far away as Iran.
Isreal’s Iron Dome and its other systems may seem to the rest of the world like a proclivity towards overkill, but in a region where diplomatic relations fail often, and street violence can often incite a tense political situation to boil over into real national threats, Israeli defense forces don’t plan to take any chances. In what looks like an ongoing ebb and flow of peace talks and violence, Israel’s Iron Dome and other proactive programs like it don’t look like they will be disarmed any time soon.
By Layla Klamt