Iron Dome explained – and why it is not a panacea

Find below a reblog from the Conversation‘s Raoul Heinrichs with friendly support of the Conversation webpage.

Explainer: Israel’s Iron Dome anti-missile system

By Raoul Heinrichs, Australian National University

The breakdown of an initial ceasefire between Israeli forces and Hamas last weekend played out to a familiar soundtrack: the wail of air-raid sirens and the menacing hiss of incoming rocket fire, followed in many cases by the concussive crackle of Iron Dome missiles intercepting their targets.

The Iron Dome anti-missile system first attracted attention two years ago, when it achieved between an 80-90% success rate.

But the sudden escalation of rocket attacks from Gaza in recent weeks, coupled with the success of Iron Dome in averting death and destruction by neutralising rockets headed for populated areas, has renewed interest in the system’s workings and wider strategic implications.

A ‘system of systems’

So how does Iron Dome operate? In the arcane lexicon of military technology, Iron Dome is a “system of systems” and comprises three principal components:

  1. a radar tracking station
  2. a control-centre
  3. up to three missile batteries.

Each component is responsible for a distinct phase of what military wonks call the “detect-to-engage” cycle. When a rocket is fired, it is detected in-flight by an advanced radar specially designed to track small, fast-moving objects.

That data is then passed via wireless connection to the control centre. Here, teams of Israeli military personnel assess the trajectory of the incoming rocket and determine whether or not it should be intercepted. Given the high cost of Iron Dome’s missiles, only those headed for populated areas are selected for interception.

When it’s necessary to intercept a rocket, a launch order is transmitted to the Iron Dome missile batteries, and a Tamir interceptor missile, using a sophisticated guidance system and information from the control-centre, is directed into the rocket’s path. The whole process takes between two to three minutes.

Iron Dome is capable of intercepting missiles launched from between four and 70km away.

Iron Dome was developed in just four years and has been in service since 2011. Surprisingly, the impetus for the project came not from Hamas.

Despite its prolific use of rockets in the years following Israel’s 2005 disengagement from Gaza, Hamas rockets mostly fell harmlessly on sparsely populated Negev. So long as casualties remained low, and damage to property limited, the rockets were considered more a political nuisance than a national emergency.

The birth of Iron Dome

This perception was shattered in July 2006, with the outbreak of war against Hezbollah in southern Lebanon. What began as a terrorist attack on Israel’s northern border quickly escalated into an all-out exchange.

Over the course of a month, Hezbollah fired around 4,000 rockets into northern Israel, necessitating an expansive campaign of air-strikes, a blockade and a costly ground invasion. By the time Israeli forces eventually brought the rocket-attacks under control, the damage was done.

The daily barrages exacted a human and economic toll and dealt a serious blow to Israeli morale. Out of the recriminations which followed, Iron Dome was born.

The problem with rockets

For Hamas and Hezbollah, rockets have long been attractive. They are cheap, highly mobile and their use requires no great technical expertise.

Rockets can be launched at Israeli cities from inconspicuous locations well within friendly territory, without the need for air-superiority. Rockets are also readily available from Iran, a country determined to undermine Israeli security. Most importantly, rockets are effective at instilling terror amongst the populations against which they are directed.


An Israeli Iron Dome interceptor blasts apart a missile fired from the Gaza Strip.
EPA/Jim Hollander

There are two main reasons Iron Dome offers Israel incomplete protection. First, each Tamir missile costs Israel between US$50-90,000, compared with only a few hundred dollars apiece for the rockets they intercept. Given such a profound cost imbalance, a sustained rocket campaign could have a crippling effect on Israel’s defence budget.

Second, rocket attacks are effective regardless of whether they hit their targets. The disruption they cause is what matters most. Civilians still take cover as rockets approach. Sirens sound, which is frightening and humiliating. The mere possibility that rockets could cause death and destruction is enough to sow terror on the ground.

Despite its apparent success, Iron Dome does not represent a significant technological breakthrough in missile defence. The reasons are fairly straight-forward.

The kind of rockets Iron Dome can intercept only fly short distances. Lacking any meaningful guidance system, they fly slowly along a low, predictable arc and are relatively easy to track and destroy.

Long-range ballistic missiles, by contrast, leave the atmosphere and re-enter at supersonic speeds. While they also follow a parabolic arc, they can be assisted by decoys, multiple manoeuvrable warheads, and electronic counter-measures – and the difficulty of interception can be increased by the launch of additional missiles.

For these reasons, and despite an impressive 90% success rate, Iron Dome remains a stop-gap measure tailored to the specific circumstances in Israel and of questionable value elsewhere.

The Conversation

Raoul Heinrichs does not work for, consult to, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organisation that would benefit from this article, and has no relevant affiliations.

This article was originally published on The Conversation.
Read the original article.

The others

I stole a face off A Soldier’s Mother for you. It’s none of the faces of Israeli soldiers killed that have been published by the Jerusalem Post. This one is, as far as I know as I write this, very much alive.

Col. Rasan Alian

Col. Rasan Alian

The reason why I brought his image here is because it reminds me of something I want to tell you about Israel. Something most people don’t know.

There are not only Jews in Israel. And there aren’t only Jews, Christians and Arabs either. A hand full of minority groups have been living in these lands for the-gods-know-how-long. Rasan Alian, for instance, is a member of the Druze community. Other groups are, for instance the Baha’i and Negev Bedouins. And really, all of them seem to be reasonably happy living in the modern state of Israel. Probably the Apartheid regime isn’t that bad after all …

Especially the Druze have quite a reputation in Israel. They are said to be the most loyal and fierce of all fighters and they are also very politically active. Col. Alian’s story as told by Paula Stern is but the latest example.
I have been told on many occasions that this is because Israel is the one place in the Middle East where the Druze can live their faith and culture freely and without fear of prosecution. And they are quite willing to risk their life fighting for the survival of the one nation that guarantees their freedom and safety. In all other lands where Druze are living, I was told, they have been subjected to one attempted genocide after the other.

The Druze are the major non-Jewish residents of the Golan heights. The original residents, one could argue. I wonder whether, in a truly democratic society that believes in the individual’s right to decide about their own fate, we should just let them decide what country they want to belong to. Wouldn’t that be an easy and democratic solution to the whole issue? But of course what may be just and truly democratic will never be attempted nor accepted in Israel’s disputed territory. The Gods forbid there may be an end to the conflict. Where else would all the warmongers and corrupt politicians turn to mask their own dirty laundry?

- Migdalit

HAMAS – Hides Amongst Mosques and Schools

Dear Hamas, you have done it. You have driven me back to this blog. And you have done so by adding rage to my stomach until it felt like exploding.

What I will be telling you in this post can all be backed up by sources. Contrary to what some media keep claiming this is not a lie and it is not propaganda. Many of the facts have been written about in this blog during years past because little has changed. Only that this time Hamas have clearly crossed all the boundaries. Boundaries that, mind you, most countries in this world would have put a lot, lot closer to home. If you manage to enrage Israel into risking the life of its youth in a ground operation you have done a really awesome job. Because contrary to what some people seem to think Israel does value life. It values the life of its citizens, its soldiers and, yes, it values the life of its enemy. To Israel every single life is sacred.

What I cannot, even after seven years of going through the same discussions over and over, understand is this: How can a country, any country, be expected to passively accept its sovereign borders being violated by a continuous stream of rockets? How can the so called international community look the other way for years and years and then erupt in disbelief when said country is forced to take measures to stop it? I just don’t get it. Here in Australia everyone is up in tears about a Malaysian airliner that has, somehow, got caught up in the Ukrainian / Russian war and was shot down, probably in an tragic accident. Don’t get me wrong, those 20-something lost Australian lifes are a tragedy. But how can one and the same population think about reinstating the cold war over this and the same time condemn Israel for protecting its civilians from an not ending stream of rockets?

Yes, the number of casualties is disproportionate between Israel and Gaza. But there is a quite simple reason for this and it is not Israel’s brutality. Not by a far shot. Israel leaves no stone unturned to protect its citizens. People in Israel have bomb shelters or reinforced rooms in almost every single house. They are warned by an early detection system by every means possible in the modern world. And, of course, Israel has Iron Dome. Iron Dome is not a panacea but I don’t even dare to think what would happen to the places I spent some of my happiest hours at if it wasn’t for Iron Dome. It has come just in time. It is a life saver – literally.

HAMAS

HAMAS

Hamas on the other hand … well … Hamas hides amongst mosques and schools. Just the other day weapons were found in a United Nations school. You want to guess what the UN did with them? Did they sound all the alarms and accuse Hamas of war crimes as they should have? Hell no, they didn’t. Your friendly UN personnel handed the weapons straight back to their owners in Gaza. To Hamas. And no-one outside the usual suspects of pro-Israeli bloggers and journalists seems to raise as much as an eyebrow about it. They are all way too busy bashing Israel, it seems.

Israel meanwhile – remember, these are the guys that treasure life – do whatever they can to protect the civilian population. Both their own and that in Gaza. They are dropping leaflets – hell, they are making phone calls and sending text messages so people have a chance to get the hell out of their houses turned weapons storage facility. But they choose to stay and one can but wonder whether the countless stories of Hamas keeping civilians in buildings marked for bombings at gunpoint are true. It somehow fits their style, doesn’t it? Israel has opened their hospitals to casualties from Gaza – they have been taking in severely ill Gaza residents for years. And rather than using it for a couple of PR brownie points Israel has even recognized that nobody can know you have been treated in an Israeli hospital if you want to return to your life in Gaza. So they have protected their patients and kept a low profile about it.

Israel is doing a lot more than can be expected. They are certainly doing a lot, lot more than any other governments have in recent wars. Have you ever heard of any of the above when allied forces bombed Baghdad? I haven’t. I am tempted to think that with most other armies on this planet we would be looking at 3’000 rather than some 300 casualties by now. If any the IDF should be praised for their effort. They are doing an awesome job.

Don’t get me wrong, Israelis aren’t angels. I am sure there are some soldiers in the IDF that have gone mad with rage. Really, I can’t blame them. I get really mad at times and I am thousands of kilometers away and have, thank the gods, never lost anybody or seen anyone of my friends suffer because of war and terrorism. I mean, what is Israel expected to do? Are they expected to stay put and, like lambs bound for the slaughterhouse, just wait for Hamas and Hizbollah to tear the country apart? Are they really expected to trust empty promises from the international community when they have deserted them every single time Israel was in need for a friend? If the UN wants to bring peace to the Middle East it’s quite easy: Put your money were your mouth is! Send peace keeping troops to Gaza and make sure they don’t fire any more rockets. Lock away Hamas leaders as the terrorists and war criminals they are, maybe. Don’t expect Israel to agree to more unilateral ceasefires that still keep ending in the same thing: We cease: They fire. That is not a ceasefire.

I just wish next time a journalist sets out to ride the bashing Israel train they take a minute to sit down and consider the following: What would you do if one single rocket was fired, with purpose to kill as many civilians as possible, into your country’s territory? Would you expect your government and the international community at large to sit tight and wait for the next one or would you expect them to do what must be done to keep people safe? Now multiply your answer by 1’500.

What would you do if it was your country? It’s not that hard to understand, is it?

- Migdalit

from 9/11 to MH370

“At the moment everyone is an expert on what happened to flight MH370″

these were the words that started a debate in a mostly US American frequented IRC chatroom I sometimes hang out in. I can’t shake off the feeling it ended with be having become some kind of a persona non grata. And that was not because I was told off for using the word “clusterfuck” in a chat room.

But back to the beginning. So everyone was speculating on what happened to that plane that has disappeared somewhere in the Pacific Ocean. Little surprise theories were ripe about aliens and black holes and whatnot. Some were more serious, some less. At some point I suggested it may have been the NSA since they seem to be to blame for everything these days but sure enough I got told off by the American experts. I was kindly informed that you blame the NSA when it’s something that can be done hiding cowardly behind a computer. If it involves actual dirty on the ground work you blame the CIA.
Fair enough. Point taken.

So all was fun and games until the discussion got somewhat more serious again and I suggested it did indeed look very much like an attempt on hijacking a plane gone very wrong. Now that got the US Americans all fired up. “Do you really think after nine-eleven you could still crash a plane into a major city?” As a matter of fact, yes, I do but I decided not to say as much. A wise decision but not wise enough as it turned out. Instead I put out the possibility it could have been (or rather should have been) a good old-fashioned attempt on getting ransom. It’s only been some fifteen years after all that it seemed some plane got hijacked for ransom every other month or so and there may well still be groups alive that remember the times when you could do other things with hijacked planes than crashing them into buildings.

“Completely impossible!” I was informed because “after what happened” plane hijackings were taken “very seriously” and nobody would hesitate any more before shooting down a potentially hijacked plane. Again I think that’s all – to put it the old school way since any US American readers may take offence on me swearing – a bunch of rubbish. And again I had the sense of not saying that much in front of my US American audience. “The plane hasn’t disappeared from the US though, has it?” I instead suggested. Now I opened the gates of hell. Or so it felt.

I was ‘unbelievably naive’ I was told and asked whether I knew ‘what happened on the 11th of September’ and duly informed that 3000 people were murdered. Maybe that should have been the point at which I realised that the case was lost either way and instead I should have taken to amusing myself by quizzing them about the number of Syrians that died on a monthly basis. Or the amount of their own fellow citizens that were poisoned by trash food and a pharma industry gone rogue every single day. I didn’t. Really I didn’t get the chance to either cause that’s when I used that evil word that was half the F-word of which Americans seem to be scared to hell and that was that with the discussion. And yes, I did apologise for ‘not watching my language’ in the interest of cultural sensitivity. Apparently the acknowledgement for cultural differences works only one way, though.

In all seriousness, after twelve and a half years does your random US American still think the world stopped spinning on the eleventh of September 2001? It was a terrible tragedy, don’t get me wrong, and it will be a date our kids will get to learn in school. With a little bit of bad luck they may get to learn it as a trigger for things to come much like my generation has had to learn about the murder of the Austrian crown prince. But still: the world did not stop spinning on the eleventh of September 2001. And just because the US decided to turn into one giant collective looking for revenge no matter what costs and cast aside human rights and the very freedom the terrorists had set out to destroy in the first place it does not mean that so did the rest of the world. Would the US shoot down any plane approaching a large city without a good reason? Maybe, who knows. But I doubt most other places in the world would do it. The world is not the United States of Earth yet. Not by a far shot.

Just the other day I watched a documentary on the 2011 Norwegian Utøya attacks. And as I watched and remembered the media coverage that followed and the way Norway was shown to cope I couldn’t help but think just how different the Norwegian reaction was to that of the US. One thing struck me especially: In the documentary they interviewed the Norwegian prime minister at the time, Jens Stoltenberg, a man who claimed to have himself visited the island every summer since his youth. But when asked how Utøya had changed Norway he said that people had become more considerate towards minorities, especially the Muslims Anders Behring Breivik wanted thrown out of Norway so desperately. Society, it seemed, had entered the time after in showing to the world just how democratic and open they are instead on going on a blind rampage against the potential Breivik’s of tomorrow and blaming each other forever for not having identified him earlier. Yes, mistakes had been made, especially in the time it took police to get to Utøya but society didn’t dwell on it. They grew stronger instead of breaking.

And if you’d ask me who will shake his head in disbelief on having achieved nothing and who will dance a little happy dance about having brought a global superpower to its knees I know the answer.

- Migdalit