Saturday, March 23, 2013

The Israeli Iron Dome

Israel’s Iron Dome, also known as the ‘Iron Cap’, is a mobile air defence system designed to protect populated areas across the country. After several years of development, the Iron Dome came online in early 2011 and has been criticised for its maintenance cost. The system was built by the Israeli company, Rafael Advanced Defence Systems, and was largely funded by the United States. In total, the US has set aside more than $200 million dollars to help Israel pay for the system, but financial concerns remain. There was haste to get system in to service to defend against Palestinian missile threats, particularly from the Quassam rocket type. The Israeli military have continuously praised the Iron Dome for its effectiveness during the current predicament with Gaza.

Questions have arisen about the operational effectiveness of the Iron Dome. According to Israeli officials, some 84% of targets engaged during the 2012 conflict in Gaza were hit.  Nevertheless, it has been suggested by Professor Theodore Postol of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), that the success rate of the defence system may have been “drastically lower". Mordechai Scheffer, who previously worked for the RAFAEL Armament Development Authority, emphasised that the IDF’s claim of an 84% success rate was optimistic, placing the true success rate as low as 5-10%. In addition to this, Dr Reuven Pedatzur, noted military analyst and a professor at Tel Aviv University, argued that an atomic bomb can be an immediate danger to Israel’s survival, and as there is no guarantee that the system will work, the system in itself is useless. While the Iron Dome has probably prevented a large ground operation against Israel, questions remain about the implications of the system for the Middle East Peace Process.

The biggest issue with the Iron Dome is the clear division between Israel and the Arab states which surround it (including the occupied Palestinian Territories). It is believed by some to be instrumental in the peace process, and in the view of the Israeli Ambassador to the United States, Michael Oren, “It gave us space and time”. The differentiation however fuels further separation and could be seen as a catalyst for an arms race, as it could encourage neighbouring countries to acquire larger quantities of missiles and rockets to penetrate the defensive cover.

The possibility of fuelling a further conflict maybe one thing Israel is willing to do in order to protect itself. The Iron Dome is the first part of a multi-layered defence strategy. The second, David’s Sling or the Magic Wand, is designed to target medium - to long-range rockets and cruise missiles. The joint US-Israel missile interception systems, such as Arrow 2 (operational) and Arrow 3 (in development) suggest there could be even more aggravation within the region. The Iron Dome could create the impression that Israel is prepared to tolerate enemy attacks to a degree. Moreover, these systems, including the Iron Dome, have the potential to tie Israel’s hands and could undermine trust in the country’s traditionally offensive approach.

All things considered, the lack of casualties among Israeli civilians could make any large-scale domestic or external military retaliation almost invalid. However, the Iron Dome does have weaknesses, one of them being unable to defend communities located in close proximity to the border of the Gaza strip. This problem poses a huge issue for the authenticity of the Iron Dome, as if it cannot protect the nation of Israel, what is the point of it being in existence? In a nutshell, Israel’s Iron Dome has the potential to promote differentiation and further fragmentation of the Middle East Peace Process.

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