The IDF's new "Iron Dome" anti missile defense system had its first success recently with the downing of 9 Grad-type rockets fired from Hamas controlled Gaza. Two anti-missile batteries were deployed in southern Israel; one near Beer Sheva and the other near Ashkelon. The systems are designed to work both on a visual as swell as an automatic mode that will fire a deterrent rocket upon sensing the firing of a rocket being launched toward Israel. When the intercepting rocket nears its target it explodes and "kills" the oncoming rocket before it can reach its destination.
The system's development was pushed forward following the 2006 war in Lebanon in which more than 4,000 rockets, most of then short range "Katyushas", were launched by Hezbollah terrorists in Lebanon as well as Kassam and other rockets launched by Palestinians in Gaza. The program was given further momentum after the 2008/2009 Operation Cast Lead, which was the result of scores of Palestinian launched rockets into Israel, with several being longer range ones into Beer Sheva, Ashkelon, and even Ashdod.
According to Israel Air Force Commander Maj. Gen. Ido Nechushtan, who visited the Iron Dome battery in Ashkelon over the weekend of April 9-10: "we have started on the right foot with some successful interceptions. But this is only the beginning, and things must be kept in perspective." Nevertheless, he said the system has made "world history."
The Iron Dome system is still in an "experimental mode" and most of the firings so far have been made manually after seeing rockets actually fired from Gaza. But the fact that a few interceptions were actually done at night with the battery's automatic system makes it an historical first.
Israeli citizens have been cautioned not to expect the system to be foolproof as numerous rocket firings could still result in some of them getting through to hit their targets. There is also the cost factor involved, with each launched iron dome interceptor costing around $50,000 in comparison with many Palestinian home made rockets costing less than $1,000. The system is also primarily designed for use against shorter range rockets; with the older Arrow anti-missile defense system being designed for use against longer range incoming missiles like Skuds and those from countries like Iran.
Israeli missile expert Ofer Shoham, a reserve IDF Brig. General, cautioned people into not being complacent into thinking that the Iron Dome system is a fool-proof one. "The system cannot protect against thousands of rockets being launched, but can only buy some deterrent time" he says. As to the cost of system, he notes:
"It is incorrect to compare the cost of the intercepting missile (NS 100,000) to the cost of the launched rocket itself (NS 1,000-2,000), rather the comparison should be with the cost of the damages it can cause to property, hopefully not to persons, and the cost of actions that we would have had to take following such a rocket attack. We have no pretension of intercepting thousands of missiles, only of gaining time, limiting the threat and in the meantime, the army is also doing other things. We must not forget that the system also contributes considerably to Israel's deterrent capability."
In any case, residents of Israel's southern communities now feel a bit safer with the Iron Dome batteries in place.