By Danielle Bella Ellison
The Iron Dome, a revolutionary mobile air missile defense system, saved tens of Israeli lives last week during the barrage of rocket attacks from terrorists in Gaza. The engineers and politicians behind the installation of the Iron Dome batteries certainly deserve congratulations. Nevertheless, this success has potentially provided a misleading sense of security, particularly in light of the possibility of far more severe attacks from Iran and its proxy Hezbollah in Lebanon. Furthermore, the Iron Dome’s preventing Israeli casualties has the problematic consequence that, at least to the wider international community, the week-long military confrontation between the Israel Defense Forces and the Islamic Jihad and Popular Resistance Committees in Gaza could seem more one-sided.
The Iron Dome system, designed to intercept rockets aimed at Israeli civilians, first operated successfully on April 7, 2011. The system’s capabilities were again tested on March 9, 2012 when a rocket barrage was initiated upon southern Israel. The rocket attacks lasted more than one week, including renewed rounds when Islamic terrorists in Gaza broke the cease-fire agreement achieved after the first four days of violence. The Iron Dome successfully intercepted rockets aimed at cities in southern Israel, such as Be’er Sheva and Ashdod, with a success rate of about 70%. Since the system shoots down only rockets that are calculated to be heading towards population centers, there was still much destruction in southern Israel as rockets hit farms, factories, and other buildings.
Despite the due praise appropriate for the Iron Dome’s prevention of Israeli casualties during this most recent episode of violence, it would be dangerous to allow this success to provide too high a sense of security. This past week the Iron Dome intercepted missiles coming from a single front. Furthermore, these missiles were being fired by Islamic Jihad and the Popular Resistance Committees, two terrorist organizations with far fewer funds and far less sophisticated weapons systems than Hezbollah, Hamas, and certainly Iran itself (although some claim that Iran was encouraging the Islamic Jihadists, Tehran was reportedly not providing the terrorists with direct support). There is an increasing likelihood of an Israeli pre-emptive attack on facilities in Iran that are most likely developing nuclear weapons. Such an attack would undoubtedly lead to Iranian retaliation towards Israelis, either in the form of direct attacks or more likely, attacks by Hezbollah and Hamas, Iran’s terrorist proxies in Lebanon and the Gaza strip respectively. Unfortunately, Israeli officials and military experts speculate that the Iron Dome system is not nearly comprehensive and developed enough to stand such a multi-fronted, Iranian-backed attack. The Israel Defense Forces is working tirelessly to extend and improve the air missile defense system. Currently there are four Iron Dome batteries operating in Israel, with a fifth one scheduled to be delivered next month. However, a key problem is the geographical limitations of any single battery; a much tighter network of batteries would be necessary to provide complete coverage of a given area. The Knesset’s (Israeli Parliament) Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee estimated that about thirteen Iron Dome batteries would be needed to protect all of Israel. Even still, the Iron Dome works well only within a range of seventy kilometers. Other missile defense systems are necessary to halt longer-range missiles and rockets, which unfortunately Iran and thus Hezbollah and Hamas possess.
In addition, the success of the Iron Dome in saving Israeli lives this past week, while of course wonderful, has potentially harmful effects on the perception of Israel in the international community. The Israel Defense Forces (IDF) killed tens of Palestinian terrorists who were behind the attack, while, thanks to both IDF defenses and extensive alarm warning and bomb shelter systems in southern Israeli communities, there were no Israeli casualties. The consequence of such disparate casualty outcomes is not a new one for Israelis. Despite the sinister goals of the terrorists in Gaza in contrast to the IDF’s goal of merely protecting Israeli civilians, when the Palestinians sustain far more casualties than the Israelis, they could appear the victims.
The Iron Dome is one of numerous IDF projects working to protect the lives of Israeli civilians in the face of terrorism and attacks from neighboring countries and territories. The significant recent success of the Iron Dome missile defense system is certainly encouraging, and more energy and funds are currently being put towards the building of more batteries and development of the anti-missile technology employed. Nevertheless, the Iron Dome is only a defense system, which, even if it eventually achieves a near 100% success rate, cannot achieve peace between Israelis and Palestinians or any other groups. Ultimately, other means, possibly military but hopefully primarily diplomatic, will have to be employed to achieve true peace in the region.
Danielle Bella Ellison ’15 is in Davenport College. She is a Globalist Notebook Beat Blogger on events in the Middle East. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.