Israel’s Iron Dome and its Lessons

Just recently, Hamas punched the Israeli Iron Dome full of holes. The Iron Dome is an Israeli missile defense system which was supposed to protect Israel from enemy missile and artillery attacks. While the Iron Dome was highly successful, Hamas fired 130 rockets against Tel Aviv, piercing through the Iron Dome’s defence.

Iron Dome was successful against single missiles, but proved unable to fully deal with a coordinated attack. Hamas appears to have used cheap ballistic rockets as “chaff” to protect more expensive Grad rockets, which have a range of 40 kilometers. Israel was for some time aware that Libanon’s Hezbollah has the ability to fire 500 rockets a day, which is far more than what the Iron Dome can deal with.

Further, there is an issue of cost. Iron Dome cost 2,5 to 3 billion USD; if each of Hamas’ rockets cost a thousand USD, then Hamas has achieved cost:value advantage of up to 6 million to one (two interceptors for each rocket). This means that unguided rockets are actually a good tool for piercing the Iron Dome: even if they do not strike targets, an enemy with enough rockets could force the Iron Dome to run out of the interceptors. Effectiveness of the system is also in question. For the most part, Hamas fired rockets in small salvos or individually. But while Hamas’ arsenal is limited, Hezbollah may have 150 000 rockets, and rockets fired in large salvos may well be able to overwhelm the system.

While only a small portion of projectiles pierced the Dome (this appears to be supported by the videos of the attacks), the main aim is political. Israel faces a “damned if you do, damned if you don’t” dilemma: if they do not respond they appear weak, and if they do they appear as bullies. In this, the Iron Dome is actually a significant strategic disadvantage, as its existence makes any active military response far more difficult to justify. It is thus a good example of how even a tactically ineffective weapon can be strategically useful.

Hamas has further capitalized on the Irin Dome’s effectiveness by placing the rocket launchers in densely settled areas, thus provoking increased collateral damage in case of any retaliation. This may further limit the Israel’s will and ability to respond, and Iron Dome will allow Israeli leaders a narrative of success while they let dangerous problems (and many of them of their own making) fester. Deployment of the Iron Dome has in fact significantly affected how Israel fights. The 2008/9 Operation Cast Lead, which took place before the Iron Dome’s deployment, saw significant ground maneuver by IDF infantry and armoured forces. But both major conflicts against Hamas fought after Iron Dome’s deployment in 2011. – the 2012 Operation Pillar of Defense and the 2014 Operation Protective Edge – saw no major ground offensives, or even any ground-based effort to defeat Hamas in the field.

Previous Israeli defensive projects were all failures. The Bar-Lev line performed barely better than the Maginot line, sucking up resources in attempts to rescue troops that got trapped on the line. Only Arab incompetence prevented it from becoming an outright disaster. Maginot Line itself was a disaster: it sucked up full 6% of French defensive budget, while at the same time creating a false atmosphere of security and preventing the development of flexible defense-in-depth and mobile reserve concepts. The result was that in the 1940., France surrendered in 46 days. For comparison, Poland – despite much weaker militarily and attacked from two sides – lasted for 35 days. During 1991. Gulf War, Israel relied on the US Patriot missiles for defense. Yet Patriot only managed to hit one out of 39 al-Hussein Scud missiles fired by Saddam’s forces.

Iron Dome is in fact a political project. IDF does not believe in the possibility of victory through defense. But military offensives create problems for Israel’s leaders, who have to face international investigations and the anger of allies, both caused by the West’s idiotic ideal of a “clean war”. But politicians pushed the project to protect their voting bloc, and are now hiding behind it while Hamas’ and Islamic Jihad’s capabilities grow – they are now capable of easily reaching Tel Aviv and Jerusalem.

It is also questionable how long will the Iron Dome remain effective. Human beings adapt, and adversaries will figure out how to reduce the impact of the Iron Done. During 2014. Operation Protective Edge, short-range mortars were used as they had flight times too short to be reliably targeted. And conventional artillery of a state military such as North Korea can fire too many shells in too short period of time for the Iron Dome to stop it – up to 500 000 shells per hour for several hours.

Overall, the Iron Dome is a tactical success but a strategic failure. Much like the US myth of decisive air power, the Iron Dome is proposing a technological solution to tactical, strategic and even diplomatic-political problems. It allows the politicians to kick the can down the street and declare victory. The illusion that technological wizardry of the Iron Dome can offer a solution is a very dangerous one, and in fact allows everyone to ignore real solutions as both sides lose the incentive to come to a negotiating table: Israel due to reduced threat of rocket bombardment, and Hamas due to reduced threat of Israeli ground offensive.

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