Is­rael’s Iron Dome scores po­lit­i­cal hits de­spite high costs

The Washington Times Weekly - - Geopolitics - BY ELI LAKE

Is­rael’s cut­ting-edge mis­sile de­fense called Iron Dome scored an 85 per­cent suc­cess rate in knock­ing out rock­ets launched against Is­rael’s south­ern cities in re­cent clashes with Gaza.

“Iron Dome in April be­came the first anti-bal­lis­tic mis­sile sys­tem to be used in com­bat,” said Michael Oren, Is­rael’s am­bas­sador to the United States.

Israeli of­fi­cials said the coun­try’s two bat­ter­ies of Iron Dome mis­sile in­ter­cep­tors shot down Rus­sian-made Grad and Qas­sam rock­ets fired from Gaza po­si­tions by smaller ter­ror­ist groups such as the Pop­u­lar Re­sis­tance Com­mit­tees and Pales­tinian Is­lamic Ji­had.

The bat­tle­field suc­cess of Iron Dome could change the po­lit­i­cal cal­cu­lus in Is­rael by pro­vid­ing pro­tec­tion against at­tacks that pre­vented Is­rael from with­draw­ing after it dis­man­tled set­tle­ments in Gaza in 2005.

Mr. Oren said 1,000 Qas­sam rock­ets were fired into south­ern Is­rael from Au­gust 2005 to May 2006. At the time, Prime Min­is­ter Ariel Sharon formed a po­lit­i­cal party, Kadima, to com­plete what he called dis­en­gage­ment, or the with­drawal of Israeli forces and the dis­man­tle­ment of set­tle­ments in Pales­tinian ar­eas of the West Bank that the Jewish state did not in­tend to keep within its fi­nal borders. The con­tin­u­ous bar­rage of rock­ets from Gaza is widely seen as stop­ping dis­en­gage­ment in its tracks.

“This re­stores Is­rael’s de­ter­rence against a weapons sys­tem that Is­rael’s en­e­mies be­lieved Is­rael was in­ca­pable of de­fend­ing against,” said Pa­trick Claw­son, the di­rec­tor of re­search for the Wash­ing­ton In­sti­tute for Near East Pol­icy. “Sec­ond, by do­ing that, it makes it po­lit­i­cally pos­si­ble to talk about trad­ing ter­ri­tory for peace, even if you are not con­fi­dent that the new au­thor­i­ties can stop mis­sile at­tacks by ter­ror­ists from that ter­ri­tory.”

The Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion has sup­ported Iron Dome. In the cur­rent de­fense bud­get, the Pen­tagon pro­vides $205 mil­lion for Iron Dome de­ploy­ments, in ad­di­tion to the nearly $3 bil­lion Is­rael re­ceived in U.S. mil­i­tary fi­nanc­ing for 2011.

Rep. Steven R. Roth­man, a New Jersey Demo­crat who is the lead law­maker on the House Ap­pro­pri­a­tions Com­mit­tee that se­cured the ad­di­tional money for Iron Dome, said the mis­sile de­fense sys­tem “serves as an es­sen­tial part of Is­rael’s mul­ti­lay­ered um­brella of anti-rocket and anti-mis­sile de­fenses, and over the past week this sys­tem has shown just how ca­pa­ble it is.”

A for­mer se­nior Israeli de­fense of­fi­cial with de­tailed knowl­edge of the Iron Dome sys­tem said it is a cru­cial el­e­ment of Israeli de­fenses. “But it is not a sil­ver bul­let be­cause there will al­ways be 10 times more rock­ets than Iron Dome in­ter­cep­tors can stop,” he said.

De­spite the high suc­cess rate, one Grad rocket did get past the Iron Dome bat­tery pro­tect­ing the Israeli city of Be’er Sheva, killing one and wound­ing eight, ac­cord­ing to Israeli news re­ports.

Mr. Oren said the Iron Dome sys­tem can dis­tin­guish be­tween rock­ets and mis­siles that will land in civil­ian ar­eas and rock­ets that do not need to be in­ter­cepted be­cause they will im­pact in re­mote ar­eas.

One crit­i­cism of Iron Dome is that it costs about $100,000 to fire an in­ter­cep­tor, com­pared with the cost of about $1,000 for Pales­tini­ans to fire a Qas­sam rocket.

Einat Wilf, a mem­ber of Is­rael’s Knes­set who serves on the for­eign af­fairs and de­fense com­mit­tees, said “the cost is a ma­jor is­sue with Iron Dome.”

She added that the sys­tem works well for pop­u­lated ar­eas and strate­gic tar­gets. “We don’t use it to stop ev­ery­thing. This is one way to bal­ance the equa­tion fi­nan­cially,” Ms. Wilf said.

Ms. Wilf also said Iron Dome can­not de­fend ar­eas close to rocket launch ar­eas, such as the south­ern Israeli town of Sderot.

Ben Birnbaum con­trib­uted to this re­port.

Rep. Steven R. Roth­man, New Jersey Demo­crat.

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